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Biophys J. 2001 May;80(5):2056-61.

"Either-or" two-slit interference: stable coherent propagation of individual photons through separate slits.

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Blânchette Rockefeller Neuroscience Institute, West Virginia University at Johns Hopkins University, Rockville, Maryland 20850 USA.


In quantum theory, nothing that is observable, be it physical, chemical, or biological, is separable from the observer. Furthermore, ". all possible knowledge concerning that object is given by its wave function" (Wigner, E. 1967. Symmetries and Reflections. Indiana University Press, Bloomington, IN), which can only describe probabilities of future events. In physical systems, quantum mechanical probabilistic events that are microscopic must, in turn, account for macroscopic events that are associated with a greater degree of certainty. In biological systems, probabilistic statistical mechanical events, such as secretion of microscopic synaptic vesicles, must account for macroscopic postsynaptic potentials; probabilistic single-channel events sum to produce a macroscopic ionic current across a cell membrane; and bleaching of rhodopsin molecules (responsible for quantal potential "bumps") produces a photoreceptor generator potential. Among physical systems, a paradigmatic example of how quantum theory applies to the observation of events concerns the interactions of particles (e.g., photons, electrons) with the two-slit apparatus to generate an interference pattern from a single common light source. For two-slit systems that use two independent laser sources with brief (<1 ms) intervals of mutual coherence (Paul, H. 1986. Rev. Modern Phys. 58:209-231), each photon has been considered to arise from both beams and has a probability amplitude to pass through each of the two slits. Here, a single laser source two-slit interference system was constructed so that each photon has a probability amplitude to pass through only one or the other, but not both slits. Furthermore, all photons passing through one slit could be distinguished from all photons passing through the other slit before their passage. This "either-or" system produced a stable interference pattern indistinguishable from the interference produced when both slits were accessible to each photon. Because this system excludes the interaction of one photon with both slits, phase correlation of photon movements derives from the "entanglement" of all photon wave functions due to their dependence on a common laser source. Because a laser source (as well as Young's original point source) will have stable time-averaged spatial coherence even at low intensities, the "either-or" two-slit interference can result from distinct individual photons passing one at a time through one or the other slit-rather than wave-like behavior of individual photons. In this manner, single, successive photons passing through separate slits will assemble over time in phase-correlated wave distributions that converge in regions of low and high probability.

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