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Quantum choice can be counterproductive

Multiple options could make delivering messages impossible, physicists show

By
3:29pm, September 22, 2015
too many choices

PARALYZED BY CHOICE  Having too many options can make everyday decisions difficult. But choice makes some tasks impossible in the quantum world, new research shows.

When abiding by the laws of quantum physics, having options can make an otherwise simple task impossible. A new paper demonstrates that transmitting quantum messages becomes more difficult if the intended recipient offers the sender multiple options for the time and place of delivery.

The strange finding, described online September 16 at arXiv.org, joins other paradoxes such as Schrödinger’s simultaneously dead and alive cat in highlighting the counterintuitive situations allowed by the rules of quantum physics. While the idea of being paralyzed by choice isn’t new (think of trying to pick a meal from an eight-page menu), only in the quantum world can freedom make tasks totally unachievable. “I’m still not quite entirely sure why it works, but I accept that it does,” says MIT quantum physicist Seth Lloyd. “They get full grades for weirdness and paradoxicality.”

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