According to some interpretations of quantum mechanics, our universe is described by a single universal wave function that splits and increases in size, creating a new reality for every possible quantum interaction. It's quite bold. We don't know how we get there.

Matter has a wave-like property, which is one of the earliest realizations of quantum mechanics. Light can behave like a particle and a wave, just like every particle has a wave associated with it, according to the first proposal by a French physicist.

Experiments where electrons were scattered off a thin foil before landing on a target were the first to confirm this idea. The way the electrons were scattered was different from a particle. There was a question about what a wave of matter is. How does it look?

Is it possible to live in a quantum world?

Early quantum theorists believed that particles could be seen in the shape of a wave. He created an equation to describe those waves. The idea flew in the face of more testing. When an electron reaches a target, it lands as a single, compact particle, so it can't be extended into space.

An alternative interpretation began to move in the right direction. It is the most popular interpretation among physicists. The wave function, the name physicists give to the wave-like property of matter, is not present in this model. It's a mathematical convenience that we use to describe a cloud of quantum mechanical probabilities for where we could find a particle.

Chains of entanglement

There are a number of problems with the Copenhagen interpretation. It's not clear how the wave function goes from a cloud of probabilities to not existing when we make an observation.

Maybe there is something more important to the wave function. It might be as real as the particles themselves. The first person to propose this idea was de broglie. Hugh Everett looked at the problem again and came to the same conclusion.

The measurement problem in the Copenhagen interpretation is solved by making the wave function a real thing. A measurement is a series of quantum particles and wave functions interacting with other quantum particles and wave functions.

The electron doesn't know it's being measured if you build a detector that shoots electrons at it. It just hits the atoms on the screen, which sends an electrical signal down a wire, which interacts with a display, and so on.

Every particle has its own wave function. We can use the tools of quantum mechanics to make predictions about how particles and wave functions will behave.

A photograph of a cat and Schrodinger's wave equation.

A photograph of a cat and Schrodinger's wave equation. (Image credit: VICTOR de SCHWANBERG/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY/Getty Images)

The universal wave function

Because of their wave function, quantum particles have an intriguing property. The wave functions of the particles overlap when they interact. You cannot have two separate wave functions when that happens. You need a single wave function to describe both particles.

The united wave function is maintained when the particles are separated. Albert Einstein referred to the process as "spoochy action at a distance."

When we retrace the steps of a measurement, we see a bunch of waves. The electrons in the wire are entangled with the atoms in the screen. Every particle in the universe is entangled with the particles in our brains, with all the light coming and going from our planet.

All of the combined particles are described by a single wave function. There is a single wave function that describes the entire universe.

This is an interpretation of quantum mechanics. When we ask what happens during the process of observation, it's called this. We don't know what a particle will do, sometimes it will go up, sometimes it will go down, and so on. The universal wave function splits into multiple sections when a quantum particle interacts with another quantum particle in this interpretation.

This is the way you get a multiverse. You can create multiple copies of the universe through the act of quantum particles. There is a tiny difference in some random quantum process. There are multiple copies of the same article, all the same except for a small quantum detail.

How does this splitting unfold? What started as a way to understand the behavior of subatomic particles may govern the properties of the entire universe.

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