Let’s discuss one of the craziest scientific and philosophical questions raised by quantum mechanics. How is it that by simply looking at something, we cause it to change? Does the human mind, through its power to observe, control quantum mechanical systems?
First, the science. A quantum system is in no definite state until you observe or measure it. Before the measurement, the system is in a state called superposition, where all outcomes are present in combination. In lieu of a set location in space, an electron orbiting an atom is actually spread out; some percentage of it exists in one place, and some percentage in another, and another. In fact, there is a minute amount of it everywhere in the universe!
In isolation, the location, energy and momentum of a quantum system has this “slightly everywhere, yet precisely nowhere” nature. However, if you look at it, you’ll see a very precise measurement of any of these properties. Your observation forces the quantum system to coalesce and take a stand at some precise value. (This is often referred to as “collapsing the wavefunction.”) An orbiting electron is most likely to appear where the highest percentage of it existed before, and less likely to appear where less of it existed before.
This raises some big questions.