The perennial problem is that these two disparate paradigms have yet to be reconciled. Scientists have been searching for a way to reconcile these two paradigms for decades. Yet–pace “string theory”–such efforts have been to no avail.

What implications resolving this quandary may or may not have for quantum computing remains to be seen. After all, a new theory may offer vital new insights that will enable us to develop this still-hypothetical technology. Indeed, the emerging demand for quantum computing may be just the incentive we need to finally, at long last, develop a unified theory. For, as Shakespeare noted, necessity is the mother of invention.

Take heart, for this irreconcilability may be about to change. Increasing attention is being captured by a new theory called “Quantum Darwinism”. The theory was first proposed in 2003 by Polish theoretical physicist, Wojciech Zurek. Felicitously, QD is gaining traction…and may lead to significant breakthroughs. But how so?

One of the stranger aspects of the quantum world is superposition: the ability of a quantum system to exist in more than one state at a time. Any given system seemingly only snaps into one state or the other–effectively moving from the quantum world to the classical world the moment that it is observed (whereupon its “waveform”, with a range of potentialities, is said to “collapse”). It is only in that instant that one of those potential states is actualized. This process is also referred to as “de-coherence”.

QD accounts for this peculiar ontological transition. Moreover, it indicates ways in which this transition can be exploited for useful tasks (i.e. computation). The insight is actually quite simple: Rather than our observation being the thing that forces the quantum system into one state or another, QD posits that it’s the system’s interactions with the environment that bring about the collapsing of the waveform (i.e. “de-coherence”). This would explain why we don’t see macro objects in a quantum state. For they are always subjected to environmental factors.

Quantum systems have what are called “pointer states”: specific measurable characteristics (most notably: a particle’s location or speed). As mentioned, whenever a particle interacts with its environment, the wave-form collapses. Consequently, all the super-positions of those characteristics de-cohere; and a state of affairs is actualized. That leaves just the “pointer state”, which is observable because it “imprints” replicas of itself on the environment.

This is where the idea of “Darwinism” comes into play. For, as it turns out, only the “fittest” state (the one best suited for its particular environment) survives the process of de-coherence. Thus the environment can be thought of as an advertising billboard that floats multiple copies of the information about our universe. QD is about measuring these features, thereby resolving the indeterminacy endemic to quantum states.

QD is now being tested. This is done by looking for signs that a quantum system imprints replicas of itself on its environment. So far, the theory has been corroborated by experimental results. (!) So it seems we are now farther along on the road to reconciling the physics of the very large with the physics of the very small. And THAT might pave the way to the development of quantum computing. Let’s wait and see if this may, indeed, be the solution to a confounding mystery; and enable us to start working on quantum computation. Stay tuned.