Grimalkin's Saurian Tale

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Mr. Hester Pincer the Third was my grade twelve philosophy and mathematics professor. He wore a dark, plaid jacket with patches on the elbows, and round thin-framed glasses that were too small for his large head. Out in the schoolyard, he would march through crowds of students while swinging a cherry-red walking stick to clear the way, hoping to accidentally strike one of us.
 
I did my best to avoid his daily, biting, verbal barrages, which he shot at us like tracers, scouting the room for his next victim, but I realize now there was no escaping his harassment forever.
 
My turn came one day when he distributed our marked essays on 'Why, according to Immanuel Kant, we do not exist'.  My paper was titled, 'Pseudo Reality', and I was unable to hide my joy. It was the first passing grade I had received from Mr. Pincer, and this, he had explained with disgust, was simply a result of bell-curving our marks to allow some students to pass.
 
He whacked his stick on the desktop and we all sat still.  The top of his head was flattened from wearing his hat, except for a bang of red hair that stood proudly on his forehead.  The bottom half of his face was covered by a curly, crimson fuzz, and he licked his mustache as if scenting the room with his tongue.  He scanned the room from wall to wall, his head motionless, eyes darting around undersized glasses, but then they fixed on me.
 
"Mr. Grimalkin," he said, smacking his lips with his tongue, "Please, do tell us what amuses you."
 
I had believed this to be a rhetorical question, yet he stared at the ceiling for what seemed an eternity.
 
"Mr. Grimalkin," he said as he rose and leaned toward me, "what is your interpretation of Schrodinger's Cat Paradox?"  He knew we wouldn't be studying Schrodinger until the following semester, and I knew I was about to spend a sleepless night preparing a paper for the next day.  Following an uncomfortable silence, he indeed instructed me to prepare something for the next class.
 
Erwin Schrodinger was a physicist. He had proposed, tongue in cheek no doubt, to illustrate some bizarre theory regarding particles on a quantum mechanical level. His illustration was to put a cat in a box, as well as a radioactive atom with a half-life of one hour, a Geiger counter, a hammer and a smidgen of poison. His reasoning was that, as the atom decayed, the Geiger counter would tick, which would activate the hammer and break the poison bottle, thus killing the cat, unless...  What Schrodinger had postulated was that when the poison was released, the cat was both dead and alive. This quasi netherworld fascinated him. Schrodinger was playing with this wild theory, but it seems that Mr. Pincer was somewhat more serious.
 
The next day I read my paper aloud. My conclusion was something to the effect that Schrodinger was toying with his audience, and that the experiment was meant as philosophical food for thought, a probabilistic rather than empirical observation. Besides, no one would be so cruel to a cat.
 
Mr. Pincer slammed his walking stick on the desk and tasted the air. He obviously did not agree with my position. I had not slept and my nerves were strained.
 
"Chill out, Mon!"  A voice sang out from behind.  I turned and watched a black student smiling, his unwavering eyes fixed on Mr. Pincer. 
 
He was an exchange student from Haiti who mostly kept to himself.  He smiled wider, exposing white teeth that illuminated a jovial face.
 
"Take a pill, Mon!" he continued, "I done dat experiment, and I will show dee answer!”
 
Mr. Pincer straightened, puffed his chest, his eyes challenging the boy from the top of his glasses.  As he was about to speak, a cloud crossed the room's only window and the classroom darkened. He stepped backward as if mesmerized, or frightened, as the boy's dark visage disappeared in the darkness, his fluorescent eyes and teeth seemingly floating in the back of the room.
   
The boy picked up his leather satchel and walked to the front of the class where he extended an open hand, inviting Mr. Pincer back to his seat. He reached into his bag and withdrew a thin rod, lit it with a match, then placed it on Pincer’s desk.  A sweet yet pungent odour permeated the room as he sprinkled dust onto the flame. Puffs of orange smoke mushroomed to the ceiling, where it rolled then broke apart forming strange images. The images took the form of bizarre animals, which morphed into trees, then faces, then a myriad of cats that were then engulfed by other puffs of clouds that floated toward them.
 
The boy raised his arms, and in a low, droning voice, began chanting unknown, eerie words. "Vodun, Baka, Sango. Vodun, Baka, Sango..."
 
What happened next I may have imagined due to fatigue and stress, but I have strong memories of a ring of students clasping hands, swaying to and fro, all chanting the boy's mantra in unison. My mind wandered to a distant land, to a place that surely does not exist in this reality. A place where trees are purple and birds are pink. Where the ground spews out orange smoke from crevices that mark the land like a vast minefield.
 
These memories are always difficult to recount. And to this day, I am haunted by visions of a strange world, a place that calls for me in my sleep. As for Mr. Pincer, the last I heard, he was still at the sanitarium where he spends most of his days in the arboretum. He appears healthy, but does not speak or communicate in any way. His mind is elsewhere, they say, in a faraway land.  He simply sits on a bench near the shrubbery and flicks his tongue at passing flies.

About the Author: 
Denis's work has appeared in various print and online literary journals. He is pleased to be writing again. In fact, he was last spotted hunched over his keyboard, coffee in hand and cat in lap, as they planned his next Quantum Short.

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Quantum Theories

K is for ... Kaon

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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.

L is for ... Light

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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.

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.

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.

S is for ... Schrödinger’s Cat

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Q is for ... Quantum biology

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T is for ... Tunnelling

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

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A is for ... Alice and Bob

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I is for ... Information

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

U is for ... Uncertainty Principle

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Q is for ... Qubit

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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.

S is for ... Schrödinger Equation

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G is for ... Gravity

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J is for ... Josephson Junction

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O is for ... Objective reality

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S is for ... Superposition

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B is for ... Bell's Theorem

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F is for ... Free Will

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A is for ... Atom

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P is for ... Planck's Constant

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H is for ... Hidden Variables

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M is for ... Multiverse

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A is for ... Act of observation

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

N is for ... Nonlocality

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I is for ... Interferometer

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W is for ... Wave-particle duality

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C is for ... Computing

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V is for ... Virtual particles

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D is for ... Dice

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E is for ... Entanglement

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X is for ... X-ray

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

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R is for ... Reality

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Z is for ... Zero-point energy

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T is for ... Teleportation

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U is for ... Universe

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G is for ... Gluon

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D is for ... Decoherence

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R is for ... Randomness

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R is for ... Radioactivity

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C is for ... Cryptography

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