Dice

Dice

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God blows on the dice and lets them fly. In the moments before they land he feels the familiar flicker in his veins, the opium of hope. The pressure lifts, things expand: his lungs, the wrinkled walnut of his heart, the casino’s stuccoed firmament. He can barely remember the last time he won, or what it felt like to be lucky; the eyes turned towards him, sideways in envy, or openly flirtatious, looking for someone to sidle up to. He’d once placed bets and ordered drinks with such expansive ease — lifting his hand, inclining his head — certain of attention.
 
Now the looks he gets are suspicious ones. Though he doesn’t blame them. He’s let his beard grow out. His clothes could use a wash. His old habit of peeling them off his body to a froth around his ankles as though he were undergoing an extravagant metamorphosis, secure in the knowledge that they would be cleaned and pressed and folded and returned, is as impossible to believe as his one-time winning streak. Now he avoids day-to-day domestic confrontations. He undresses behind locked doors, keeps himself to himself.
 
The dice land and stop, sucking his lungs shut. Out for an up-pops-the-devil seven. He catches the eye of the woman across the table. Her eyes slide off his. Women tend to edge away from him these days. It has been some time since he felt the thrill of an arm brush against his, the accidental-on-purpose contact of skin-to-skin that drives the circuitry of desire. He imagines how they see him. Pitiable, almost an old man, respectable enough — he has not yet begun with loud proclamations and wild gestures — but with a little too much white of the eye showing for people to feel comfortable around.
 
The casino lights are as relentless as a headache, but he lingers. Better this than the dense breath of his bedroom, sour with sleep and disappointment. He feeds some coins into a slot machine, cranks it and watches the shapes line up, the cheerfully mismatched images wink at him. To his left and right people are bent to the task, their eyes lit full of ghosts. He scratches through his wallet, counts up the last change and comes short. The evidence of the night’s damage knots his stomach.
 
Outside, under a sky blank with smog, a night market has appeared on one of the pavements. He stops at a table piled with second hand books; flips through them, hoping for an inscription, a name or date or better yet, a love-note or photograph. He found the latter once, in a fat novel which came highly recommended but turned out to be dull. He kept the book, if only for the photograph, the thought of it hidden between pages, pressed between other books on the shelf, intimately anonymous, gives him a breathless falling feeling. So many possible variations of a life, playing themselves out beyond the horizon of his own.
 
The stall’s owner is giving him a stare that suggests he should move on. He looks around for something to distract his wife from the anger that flares against the friction of his presence. There is a flower stall, bright blooms in their cellophane skirts. But she is worn out of flowers. He has watched enough bouquets wilting in their waterless vases to know this for sure. Besides which he hasn’t change for more than the cheapest bunch.
 
Across from him a woman is shuffling a deck of cards, their hush-hush-hush is both lullaby and siren song. He can’t resist it, the lure with chance at its heart. How much simpler life would be if all decisions were made by card or by dice. He would wake each morning to a clean slate, deal himself a breakfast, black for porridge or red for eggs. Throw a two for marriage and a one to end it. And each time — in that moment before the card is revealed, the dice rolled and settled — the suspension of everything in its purest potential. More than the exhilaration of winning it is this moment of infinite possibility that is his particular addiction.
 
He holds out what is left of the money in his wallet. The woman with the cards counts it and nods. She spreads the deck. Next to her, laid out individually on a table, is another deck. On each card is what looks like a large snow globe. In each of the globes’ glass domes is a miniature universe, intricately wrought, complete with stars and comets, galaxies and planets. God is pleased with what he sees. It is precisely the sort of whimsical trinket that his wife loves and that clutters the mantelpieces of their home. He picks a card. It is the seven of hearts. His eyes go to the table, the corresponding seven, on it the globe. It pulses with light and he catches glimpses of colour, a red sphere, a flash of blue.
 
He is suddenly impatient to hold it and when it is handed to him, shakes it. The stars hum slowly to motion, the tiny planets agitate and settle, agitate and settle, slave to his hand. He feels things unclench inside of him, a shudder of surrender and sensation of expanding warmth that is something like the relief of emptying his bladder, something like love. He wraps his hand gently around the globe but cannot quite contain its light, which shines through his fingers in a bright blood halo. He lets it swing to his side, measuring the heft of it, its satisfying gravity; then he turns towards home.

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Quantum Theories

L is for ... Light

We used to believe light was a wave, then we discovered it had the properties of a particle that we call a photon. Now we know it, like all elementary quantum objects, is both a wave and a particle!

N is for ... Nonlocality

When two quantum particles are entangled, it can also be said they are “nonlocal”: their physical proximity does not affect the way their quantum states are linked.

C is for ... Computing

The rules of the quantum world mean that we can process information much faster than is possible using the computers we use now.

M is for ... Many Worlds Theory

Some researchers think the best way to explain the strange characteristics of the quantum world is to allow that each quantum event creates a new universe.

Z is for ... Zero-point energy

Even at absolute zero, the lowest temperature possible, nothing has zero energy. In these conditions, particles and fields are in their lowest energy state, with an energy proportional to Planck’s constant.

D is for ... Decoherence

Unless it is carefully isolated, a quantum system will “leak” information into its surroundings. This can destroy delicate states such as superposition and entanglement.

I is for ... Interferometer

Some of the strangest characteristics of quantum theory can be demonstrated by firing a photon into an interferometer: the device’s output is a pattern that can only be explained by the photon passing simultaneously through two widely-separated slits.

S is for ... Schrödinger’s Cat

A hypothetical experiment in which a cat kept in a closed box can be alive and dead at the same time – as long as nobody lifts the lid to take a look.

H is for ... Hawking Radiation

In 1975, Stephen Hawking showed that the principles of quantum mechanics would mean that a black hole emits a slow stream of particles and would eventually evaporate.

E is for ... Entanglement

When two quantum objects interact, the information they contain becomes shared. This can result in a kind of link between them, where an action performed on one will affect the outcome of an action performed on the other. This “entanglement” applies even if the two particles are half a universe apart.

F is for ... Free Will

Ideas at the heart of quantum theory, to do with randomness and the character of the molecules that make up the physical matter of our brains, lead some researchers to suggest humans can’t have free will.

I is for ... Information

Many researchers working in quantum theory believe that information is the most fundamental building block of reality.

K is for ... Kaon

These are particles that carry a quantum property called strangeness. Some fundamental particles have the property known as charm!

R is for ... Randomness

Unpredictability lies at the heart of quantum mechanics. It bothered Einstein, but it also bothers the Dalai Lama.

M is for ... Multiverse

Our most successful theories of cosmology suggest that our universe is one of many universes that bubble off from one another. It’s not clear whether it will ever be possible to detect these other universes.

Y is for ... Young's Double Slit Experiment

In 1801, Thomas Young proved light was a wave, and overthrew Newton’s idea that light was a “corpuscle”.

J is for ... Josephson Junction

This is a narrow constriction in a ring of superconductor. Current can only move around the ring because of quantum laws; the apparatus provides a neat way to investigate the properties of quantum mechanics.

V is for ... Virtual particles

Quantum theory’s uncertainty principle says that since not even empty space can have zero energy, the universe is fizzing with particle-antiparticle pairs that pop in and out of existence. These “virtual” particles are the source of Hawking radiation.

R is for ... Radioactivity

The atoms of a radioactive substance break apart, emitting particles. It is impossible to predict when the next particle will be emitted as it happens at random. All we can do is give the probability that any particular atom will have decayed by a given time.

C is for ... Cryptography

People have been hiding information in messages for millennia, but the quantum world provides a whole new way to do it.

U is for ... Uncertainty Principle

One of the most famous ideas in science, this declares that it is impossible to know all the physical attributes of a quantum particle or system simultaneously.

S is for ... Schrödinger Equation

This is the central equation of quantum theory, and describes how any quantum system will behave, and how its observable qualities are likely to manifest in an experiment.

P is for ... Probability

Quantum mechanics is a probabilistic theory: it does not give definite answers, but only the probability that an experiment will come up with a particular answer. This was the source of Einstein’s objection that God “does not play dice” with the universe.

U is for ... Universe

To many researchers, the universe behaves like a gigantic quantum computer that is busy processing all the information it contains.

A is for ... Atom

This is the basic building block of matter that creates the world of chemical elements – although it is made up of more fundamental particles.

B is for ... Bose-Einstein Condensate (BEC)

At extremely low temperatures, quantum rules mean that atoms can come together and behave as if they are one giant super-atom.

W is for ... Wave-particle duality

It is possible to describe an atom, an electron, or a photon as either a wave or a particle. In reality, they are both: a wave and a particle.

L is for ... Large Hadron Collider (LHC)

At CERN in Geneva, Switzerland, this machine is smashing apart particles in order to discover their constituent parts and the quantum laws that govern their behaviour.

T is for ... Tunnelling

This happens when quantum objects “borrow” energy in order to bypass an obstacle such as a gap in an electrical circuit. It is possible thanks to the uncertainty principle, and enables quantum particles to do things other particles can’t.

Q is for ... Qubit

One quantum bit of information is known as a qubit (pronounced Q-bit). The ability of quantum particles to exist in many different states at once means a single quantum object can represent multiple qubits at once, opening up the possibility of extremely fast information processing.

B is for ... Bell's Theorem

In 1964, John Bell came up with a way of testing whether quantum theory was a true reflection of reality. In 1982, the results came in – and the world has never been the same since!

S is for ... Superposition

Quantum objects can exist in two or more states at once: an electron in superposition, for example, can simultaneously move clockwise and anticlockwise around a ring-shaped conductor.

O is for ... Objective reality

Niels Bohr, one of the founding fathers of quantum physics, said there is no such thing as objective reality. All we can talk about, he said, is the results of measurements we make.

W is for ... Wavefunction

The mathematics of quantum theory associates each quantum object with a wavefunction that appears in the Schrödinger equation and gives the probability of finding it in any given state.

X is for ... X-ray

In 1923 Arthur Compton shone X-rays onto a block of graphite and found that they bounced off with their energy reduced exactly as would be expected if they were composed of particles colliding with electrons in the graphite. This was the first indication of radiation’s particle-like nature.

R is for ... Reality

Since the predictions of quantum theory have been right in every experiment ever done, many researchers think it is the best guide we have to the nature of reality. Unfortunately, that still leaves room for plenty of ideas about what reality really is!

P is for ... Planck's Constant

This is one of the universal constants of nature, and relates the energy of a single quantum of radiation to its frequency. It is central to quantum theory and appears in many important formulae, including the Schrödinger Equation.

G is for ... Gluon

These elementary particles hold together the quarks that lie at the heart of matter.

A is for ... Alice and Bob

In quantum experiments, these are the names traditionally given to the people transmitting and receiving information. In quantum cryptography, an eavesdropper called Eve tries to intercept the information.

D is for ... Dice

Albert Einstein decided quantum theory couldn’t be right because its reliance on probability means everything is a result of chance. “God doesn’t play dice with the world,” he said.

A is for ... Act of observation

Some people believe this changes everything in the quantum world, even bringing things into existence.

H is for ... Hidden Variables

One school of thought says that the strangeness of quantum theory can be put down to a lack of information; if we could find the “hidden variables” the mysteries would all go away.

G is for ... Gravity

Our best theory of gravity no longer belongs to Isaac Newton. It’s Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity. There’s just one problem: it is incompatible with quantum theory. The effort to tie the two together provides the greatest challenge to physics in the 21st century.

T is for ... Teleportation

Quantum tricks allow a particle to be transported from one location to another without passing through the intervening space – or that’s how it appears. The reality is that the process is more like faxing, where the information held by one particle is written onto a distant particle.

Q is for ... Quantum biology

A new and growing field that explores whether many biological processes depend on uniquely quantum processes to work. Under particular scrutiny at the moment are photosynthesis, smell and the navigation of migratory birds.