Is Space Real, or Just Something We Misunderstand?

What does it mean for spooky action at a distance if distances aren’t real, but just the way they look to us?

Space is big. Really big. You just won't believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it's a long way down the road to the chemist, but that's just peanuts to space. — Douglas Adams

It’s not as if Albert Einstein ever read the infamous quote above from Adams’ beloved Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy — its first volume was published 23 years after Einstein died. But the physicist must’ve been thinking something similar when he called an odd, undetectable link between two particles in two different places in the universe spukhafte fernwirkung, which translates from the German to “spooky action at a distance.” Physicists have expended a great deal of effort trying to figure out how “quantum entanglement” or “non-locality” could possibly work.

Writer George Musser has an interesting suggestion for how two points that to all appearances are distant can still be connected: Maybe that distance isn’t actually there, since these particles exist in a “place” where space and time don’t exist.

If this is true, we’re seeing it all wrong, being creatures of space and time as we are. The universe may not even be a construction formed from an uncountable number of small building blocks. Why not something made up of huge things we just can’t perceive? Maybe they’re not really separated or far apart at all, since “far” has no meaning where they “are.”

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Photo credit: Getty Images / Stringer

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