Quantum phenomena are notoriously difficult to grasp. The present paper first reviews the most important quantum concepts in a non-technical manner: superposition, uncertainty, collapse of the wave function, entanglement and non-locality. It then tries to clarify these concepts by examining their analogues in complex, self-organizing systems. These include bifurcations, attractors, emergent constraints, order parameters and non-local correlations. They are illustrated with concrete examples that include Rayleigh–Bénard convection, social self-organization and Gestalt perception of ambiguous figures. In both cases, quantum and self-organizing, the core process appears to be a symmetry breaking that irreversibly and unpredictably “collapses” an ambiguous state into one of a number of initially equivalent “eigenstates” or “attractors”. Some speculations are proposed about the non-linear amplification of quantum fluctuations of the vacuum being ultimately responsible for such symmetry breaking.
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