Over two millennia ago, scholars from antiquity had already come to understand the power of simple mechanical elements. And from that understanding they formulated an enduring, common-sense notion of the nature of reality, described thusly in Plato’s The Republic:

Today researchers at the cutting edge of physics are still exploiting simple mechanical elements as tools with which to carefully probe our world. But unlike their predecessors, they are preparing those elements deeply in the quantum regime and, in the process, challenging ancient notions of reality. Ironically, today’s devices, though similar in many ways to those of antiquity, steer us to a completely different worldview—one in which an object, possibly even a macroscopic one, can indeed act in two ways at the same time.

Two key developments, born of two converging perspectives on the physical world, have enabled the advance. From the top-down perspective, nanoscience and the semiconductor industries have...

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