Add new comment

What is Contextuality? Plus asks Jeremy Butterfield

Imagine if your body weight depended on the colour of your underwear. Strangely, something quite similar happens when you make measurements in quantum mechanics.

The predictions of quantum mechanics have been tested endlessly in experiments and they hold true, but could it be that the theory simply isn't complete? Could there be hidden variables — some extra information — which, if we include them, give us a theory that isn't random or fuzzy? The answer is yes, but not without a price. Such a theory will always exhibit something called contextuality: the outcome of a measurement will be heavily distorted by your experimental set-up, so try as you might, you can never be an impartial observer.

We talked to Jeremy Butterfield, philosopher of physics at the University of Cambridge, to find out more.

Explore the concept of contextuality further with the articles in our Context is everything package.

Filtered HTML

  • Web page addresses and email addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a href hreflang> <em> <strong> <cite> <code> <ul type> <ol start type> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
  • Want facts and want them fast? Our Maths in a minute series explores key mathematical concepts in just a few words.

  • As COP28, the 2023 United Nations Climate Change Conference, kicks off we look at how maths can help understand the climate crisis.

  • How do you create dramatic film out of mathematics? We find out with writer and director Timothy Lanzone.

  • Mathematics plays a central role in understanding how infectious diseases spread. This collection of articles looks at some basic concepts in epidemiology to help you understand this fascinating and important field, and set you up for further study.

  • Find out why the formula we use to work out conditional probabilities is true!

  • We talk about a play that explores the fascinating mathematical collaboration between the mathematicians GH Hardy and Srinivasa Ramanujan.