The butterfly effect is a theory which suggests that the smallest change can wreak havoc down the line. According to the theory, which holds little weight, if a butterfly flaps its wings in the UK, it could cause a tornado in the US down the line. This merges into a time-travelling theory, which suggests that if one were to go back in time and alter the past, even at the smallest level, it could completely change the timeline with massive ramifications.
For example, would the world be massively different if one were to go back to the 1920s and kill Adolf Hitler before he committed the atrocities?
However, by analysing the tricky world of quantum physics, scientists have revealed that any potential time travellers would not have to worry about changing the past, as the timeline essentially heals itself.
In a simulation, scientists from the Los Alamos National Laboratory, New Mexico, a piece of information was ‘sent back in time’ where it was damaged.
However, as the piece of information made its way back to the ‘present tense’, the information was largely unaltered, proving that the timeline corrected and healed itself.
Nikolai Sinitsyn, a theoretical physicist at Los Alamos National Laboratory, said: “On a quantum computer, there is no problem simulating opposite-in-time evolution, or simulating running a process backwards into the past.
“We can actually see what happens with a complex quantum world if we travel back in time, add small damage, and return.
“We found that our world survives, which means there’s no butterfly effect in quantum mechanics.”
To perform the simulation, experts used a quantum computer which was able to simulate forwards and backwards cause and effect.
While standard computers use ‘bits’ quantum computers use ‘qubits’ to process information.
Qubits are units of information which are described by a “one”, a “zero”, or a mixed “superposition” of both states.
In the simulation, a qubit was sent back in time where it was ‘measured’ thus altering the information.
This is because, in the quantum state, which even the top experts admit they struggle to comprehend, once a quantum atom is measured, it alters it, moving it out of the quantum state.
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When the qubit was back in the ‘present tense’, the researchers noted that it had shown no evidence that it had been tampered with.
Mr Sinitsyn said: “We found that the notion of chaos in classical physics and in quantum mechanics must be understood differently.”
However, the research is strong to get one’s head around, so no need to fret – quantum mechanics is notoriously difficult to understand, and even the best brains in the world still cannot fully grasp it.
The late Richard Feynman, who is considered one of the godfathers of quantum physics, once said: “I think I can safely say that nobody understands quantum mechanics”.
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