Heisenberg Uncertain-tea

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“This is it, our big break in the case,” thought Clive as he watched his partner drag the rebellious looking man into the little room they’d designated for interrogations.

“This would be where the whole mess which, had taken place at Boston Harbor a week earlier would be brought to justice and where he and Tom would earn that large sum of money from their contacts over at East India- Ah yes,” He thought, “The hard part’s over, now all we have to do is make this hot-head talk.”

He presumed this would be an easy job for him and his partner; both experienced in the field, inspectors for over 20 years in England, the obvious choices for this kind of job here in the Colonies. Little did he know that Daniel Everberg, the man currently being tied to a chair, was no ordinary subject when it came to questions.

“Here is how this is going to go,” began Thomas. “My partner Inspector Birtchwhistle and I will ask you a few questions about the occurrences that happened at the harbor the other night, you will tell us all we want to know, and then if you’re lucky we’ll let you run back to whatever patriot hovel your colleagues are holed up in. No funny business.”

Clive found Thomas’ strong statements reassuring, but was instantly disconcerted by the almost gleeful smirk that appeared on the captives’ face. “I beg your pardon, sir. But I’m afraid that won’t work.”

The inspectors exchanged glances. Clive leaned towards the man and said gruffly, “What do you mean it’s not going to ‘work’? I don’t think you’re quite aware of the situation, Mr. Everberg.” But the young man remained unfazed. Now they’d heard rumors of problematic behavior surrounding Mr. Everberg; tales about how four or five inspectors had questioned him, each failing to gain sufficient information, but they’d always assumed this was due to flaws in technique, errors on the part of the questioner…

However, as they gazed at the calmly smiling man in front of them, they weren’t so sure. Thomas broke the silence that followed his partner’s statement with a simple question. “Do you know the name and location of the chaps who wrecked the tea in Boston harbor?”

Daniel answered, “Now there’s a complicated question.”

Clive was shocked and quickly retorted, “What do you mean a complicated question!? Those are yes or no questions. I think we both know the answers here, sonny.”

Daniel chuckled as he said, “Well, that’d be something, wouldn’t it? Us both knowing the answers to your question. Well, fine. If you really want to know the answer is yes and no and no and yes or something similar to that… I wouldn’t expect you to understand.”

Clive and Thomas again exchanged glances. Thomas tried again, “So you do know the names of those involved with the incident?”

“Do I know their location?”

“For the sake of this conversation, sure.”

“That’s a no then. Definitely a no.”

"Fine. Then tell us the location and you’re free to go.”

“Ah, but it’s not that simple. You see, I’d rather like to give you the names of the perpetrators, you just need to alter the circumstances to access that information.”

“What?” Clive banged his fist on the table as Daniel continued coolly, “Actually you know what? Now I’m certain. I know their names.”

Thomas tried to remain calm as his partner fumed, “But a moment ago we asked for location. Let’s take this one step at a time. Tell us where they are. Then move on to their identities.”

“Where? Oh, I haven’t the foggiest, but I’ve got the names.”

Clive had had enough. “We’re officers of the law! If you have any information TELL US. This instant.”

“I have information. That much is true, but what I know depends on the instant you ask me. And on what else I know. It’s quite a complicated situation. I understand your frustration.” Thomas and Clive had reached the peak of their irritation. But Daniel continued, “Here let me help you out. If you choose one piece of information I’ll give you that, but otherwise I’m afraid I useless.”

Clive could not help but cry out, “We need both! The fellows over at the East India Company said they’d only pay us for name and location. Everyone said you knew this stuff!”

“Fine then,” Daniel proceeded always maintaining his casual manner, “Location’s a bust but let’s see if I can help you with those names.”

“Alright fine, give us the names then,” said Thomas failing to mask his utter incredulity. “Right, there’s Henry, James, Benjamin, Edward, Phillip—”

“BOY, DO YOU REALIZE THOSE ARE ALL FIRST NAMES YOU ARE GIVING US?!” Clive burst out; this time slamming his fist so hard he nearly bruised his hand.

“Yes naturally, but I suppose some of them could also be last names, I once had a friend named Penelope James so that one goes both way—”

“And what use would FIRST NAMES be to anyone trying to get ANY type of information about a person?”

“Well, I don’t know much about your business, but that’s all the information I’ve got about names right now. I can’t get the other part for you. It only works one step at a time, you see. If I have information about one part, I can’t get it about the other. Sort of funny isn’t it?”

“FUNNY!?!” This time both men yelled and banged their fists. Clive had successfully bruised his hand this time and Thomas was angrier than he had ever been in his entire life, his face turning reddish-purple in frustration.

“Well then,” Daniel said grinning, “It seems I’ve told you all I can. Good luck finding Henry, James, Benjamin, and all the rest!” With that he rose from the chair, apparently freed from the ropes that had held him and with a final satisfied wink he closed the door and vanished leaving two openmouthed inspectors behind.

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Quantum Theories

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.

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.

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.

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!

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.

R is for ... Randomness

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

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!

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.

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 ... 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.

G is for ... Gluon

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

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.

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.

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.

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”.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

U is for ... Universe

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

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.

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.

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.

I is for ... Information

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

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.

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.

K is for ... Kaon

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

A is for ... Act of observation

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.