JUNIOR’S BUBBLE

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“Come Junior, we have to go.”

“Oh, Mom, do I have to?”

“Yes, you have to. Your father was very clear. We have to go now.”

“I don’t want to go. I want to work on my bubble.”

“Bubble?”

“Yes, I want to make a bubble.”

“Oh, yes?” Mom said, smiling. “How do you propose to do that?”

“I want to clump enough dots together into a black dot. When enough of them get clumped, it will reach a critical mass and burst into a bubble.”

“I see. I am very happy to see you try. But even if you ever succeed, it will take a very long time. Leave it.”

“Time? What is time?”

“Time pertains only to clumps. It is a measure of sequences of events. It measures before, after and in between.”

“I don’t understand. Do I have time?”

“No one has time, Junior. It is only a measure and it only applies to large clumps of dots. The assemblages we call ‘matter’.”

“What is time made of?”

“Nothing! For example, you were working on your bubble, right?”

“Right.”

“That was before. Now we must join your father. After that we will travel.”

“Travel? Where?”

“To the biggest bubble we know.”

“Who was the creator of that bubble?”

“Nobody knows.”

“What is so special about that bubble?”

“Replicators!”

“Mom, there are replicators in every bubble.”

“Yes, but in this bubble there are very special replicators in many planets.”

“How special?”

Processing! They process.”

“All replicators process, Mom. It is what makes them replicators.”

“No Junior. These are different. Most replicators we found in this and in every other bubble process according to rules they don’t deviate from. These rules all pertain to either their survival or replication.

How are those species different? Can we call them species?”

“Yes, you can call them species. These species somehow managed to transcend the rules.”

“How do you know?”

“They expend large amounts of time and energy on actions that don’t advance their immediate survival or replication. They ask questions. They explore. They discover things. There is one species your father is particularly interested in observing. They became the dominant species on their planet, a planet  particularly hospitable for life.”

“Life like us?”

“No Junior. Very, very different life. They are bound to clumps.”

“You mean they cannot convert themselves to information?”

“No, they emerged from clumps and bound to clumps they remain.”

“So why is father interested in them?”

“Because they process very well, as far as replicators can process. They built many machines to compensate for the limitations of their physical nature. Most important, they have deduced dots!”

“If they did, how come they can’t convert themselves to information?”

“They are in the very early stages. They have isolated several different dots, grouped them in families, figured their masses, spins, charges and some of the relations between them. But they haven’t figured how to use the dots yet.”

“Have we ever been in that stage?”

“Almost certainly.”

“But we don’t know?”

“No we don’t.”

“How come we don’t? Where did we come from, Mom?”

“The current thinking is that we cannot possibly not have emerged from some kind of clumped form, but there is no record of it.”

“We are information, Mom. How can we possibly not have this information?”

“Since we move freely from bubble to bubble and each bubble contains billions of galaxies, each with billions upon billions of stars and planets, this information is either lost or almost impossible to find.”

“We replicate too, don’t we?”

“Silly! We made you, didn’t we?”

“How did you, Mom?”

“We assembled an information packet. A combination of mine and your father’s. It is up to you now, to develop programming and acquire information.”

“Can’t we track our replicators all the way back to where we started?”

“No, we can’t. Too many of us no longer exist.”

“ What do you mean no longer exist?”

“Death.”

“What is death?”

“Cease to exist.”

“Will I die too? How?”

“Yes you will, given enough time. We live for a very long time. We are not subject to any of the tribulations the clumped replicators must overcome in order to survive and replicate. We swim freely in the energy and matter that we need and freely convert one into the other. What will happen to you and all of us is that over time, information degrades. Very little and very slowly, but it compounds. Some portions of your information will not disassemble and reassemble properly. There will come a time when you will no longer be able to be you.”

“What happens then?”

“Your dots disperse.”

“Why are you Mom and Father Father?”

“It is arbitrary. I just have more nurturing aspects than your father, that’s all.”

“Does this species that Father is so interested in observing have something to do with all of this? Do we have to go?”

“Yes, and yes.”

“Why”?

“You just learned time pertains to clumps. Without clumps there is no time. Clumps are made of dots. Most dots are solitary. Most form and unform quickly. Some though, clump into bigger dots and remain bound by a strong force. Most remain just that, three bound dots forming a bigger dot. But some attract orbiting dots. These attractors can then attract each other and remain bound in groups. Groups of different numbers can be called ‘elements’. Elements make the basic structure of clumps. They in turn can combine into a large number of different clumps. The realm of these clumps is where those replicators exist. Your father wants to explore that realm because it is his biggest discovery.”

“What is that?”

“Dark matter! It accounts for about 20% of gravity in all the bubbles we know. It has been a mystery, why the mass of all dots don’t amount to 100% of gravity.

“I suppose between sentient replicators and dark matter my bubble can wait. We have time, right?” Junior smiled and joined his mother. 

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Quantum Theories

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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 ... 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!

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.

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!

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.

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.

R is for ... Randomness

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

I is for ... Information

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

K is for ... Kaon

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

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.

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.

M is for ... Multiverse

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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

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.

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.

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”.

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.

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.

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.

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.

H is for ... Hidden Variables

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J is for ... Josephson Junction

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U is for ... Universe

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W is for ... Wavefunction

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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!

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.

G is for ... Gluon

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

A is for ... Act of observation

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

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.