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How Reality May Be a Sum of All Possible Realities

It’s a radical view of quantum behavior that many physicists take seriously. “I consider it completely real,” said Richard MacKenzie, a physicist at the University of Montreal.

But how can an infinite number of curving paths add up to a single straight line? Feynman’s scheme, roughly speaking, is to take each path, calculate its action (the time and energy required to traverse the path), and from that get a number called an amplitude, which tells you how likely a particle is to travel that path. Then you sum up all the amplitudes to get the total amplitude for a particle going from here to there—an integral of all paths.

Naively, swerving paths look just as likely as straight ones, because the amplitude for any individual path has the same size. Crucially, though, amplitudes are complex numbers. While real numbers mark points on a line, complex numbers act like arrows. The arrows point in different directions for different paths. And two arrows pointing away from each other sum to zero.

The upshot is that, for a particle traveling through space, the amplitudes of more or…

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