Quantum entanglement is a physical phenomenon which occurs when pairs or groups of particles are generated, interact, or share spatial proximity in ways such that the quantum state of each particle cannot be described independently of the state of the other(s), even when the particles are separated by a large distance—instead, a quantum state must be described for the system as a whole.
Measurements of physical properties such as position, momentum, spin, and polarization, performed on entangled particles are found to be correlated. For example, if a pair of particles is generated in such a way that their total spin is known to be zero, and one particle is found to have clockwise spin on a certain axis, the spin of the other particle, measured on the same axis, will be found to be counterclockwise, as is to be expected due to their entanglement. However, this behavior gives rise to seemingly paradoxical effects: any measurement of a property of a particle performs an irreversible collapse on that particle and will change the original quantum state. In the case of entangled particles, such a measurement will be on the entangled system as a whole. Given that the statistics of these measurements cannot be replicated by models in which each particle has its own state independent of the other, it appears that one particle of an entangled pair “knows” what measurement has been performed on the other, and with what outcome, even though there is no known means for such information to be communicated between the particles, which at the time of measurement may be separated by arbitrarily large distances.
Such phenomena were the subject of a 1935 paper by Albert Einstein, Boris Podolsky, and Nathan Rosen, and several papers by Erwin Schrödinger shortly thereafter, describing what came to be known as the EPR paradox. Einstein and others considered such behavior to be impossible, as it violated the local realist view of causality (Einstein referring to it as “spooky action at a distance”) and argued that the accepted formulation of quantum mechanics must therefore be incomplete. Later, however, the counterintuitive predictions of quantum mechanics were verified experimentally in tests where the polarization or spin of entangled particles were measured at separate locations, statistically violating Bell’s inequality, demonstrating that the classical conception of “local realism” cannot be correct.