Mind of God

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I rode my bicycle along the curve of the CERN accelerator; I would have my turn with this beast at 2:30 in the morning.  As a young upstart scientist, especially one with crazy theories, I was low on the priority list; so I got time during the testing period where they weren't sure whether the equipment was going to be fully assembled and tested.  As luck would have it, the accelerator was fully assembled and at full power;  Only some of the peripheral data-monitoring and recording equipment was on the fritz. 2:30 finally came; Besides shifting my schedule, I pumped myself up with Mountain Dew, which I had to smuggle since it was illegal in Switzerland, and did biking loops inside the accelerator tunnel.  
The office was a windowless concrete bunker; computer equipment was in racks, with lots of blinking lights; I always wanted to play Star Trek, and here I was.  The only thing wrong was the computer that recorded the data; It was diskless, and the network was down, but it had already booted, so if the power doesn't go out and it doesn't have a BSD, or whatever the Linux equivalent is, it ought to hold the data in its several terabytes of RAM, and flush it back to the disk farm when the network was again on-line.
Superconducting magnets spun up, protons smashed into protons.  Elements beyond 115 were created in the island of stability and showered with antimatter and gold.  I watched data appear on the screens at all levels of detail; raw numbers, line charts, and beautiful, 3-dimensional diagrams.
Suddenly, there it was.  The evidence I needed to unify the law of gravity with the rest of quantum physics.  Based on this, the gravitational constant -- big-G -- should fall out of the equations.  I broke a sweat, used every piece of analytical software and symbolic algebra tool imaginable, and solved the equations six different ways.  But the answer was always the same, and it wasn't consistent.
Then I tried alternate outcomes, the other ones I had predicted. They gave different values for big-G -- maybe twice as much, maybe multiplied by root-2, and what-not.  But when you averaged them out -- yes, when you averaged them out with the probabilities I had predicted, yes -- there you have the correct value. 
Subsequently, the same result occurred over and over.  This wasn't supposed to happen. It was supposed to happen with the probabilities that I predicted, but in this case the first result was repeated again, which gave a value for big-G -- a value -- of zero.
And suddenly the inspiration hit me:  Schrodinger's cat, or the two-slit experiment, those are just individual objects that are in a state of superposition. But the underlying reality is this: The laws of physics themselves are in a superposition, until they are "observed" -- or, more precisely, decoherence forces one outcome or the other, at least in one universe, to be a part of consistent reality. The Big Bang; the weak anthropic principle; the "perfect" values of the physical constants that we hold so dear: That's why the universe is so good for life, and possibly somewhere in the multiverse, electrons have a little more mass, or a little less charge, or a little more of this and a little less of that.
But now, one of the superpositions was gone. The wave function had been collapsed, and recorded in this branch of the multiverse, because I finally decided to "observe" it. There was nothing special about being a conscious observer, of course, except that I had skewed the probabilities of events to induce one that would not happen by random chance for trillions of years.
In a panic, I commanded black-hole protocol alpha -- the one that didn't exist -- to the accelerator. Magnetic fields and showers of particles would try to destroy whatever sample was in the chamber, and then safely shut down the accelerator. I quickly unplugged the Ethernet cable; then I cut the power to the computers in the room. I found the kilovolt plug and ran some wires to the 220 volt pins of the big-memory computer; the characteristic smell of burning electronics wafted up.
That left only one system with any trace of what happened. I thought of suicide but my self-preservation instinct was too strong. Not life had to be extinguished, just memories.
I grabbed the half-gallon bottle of peppermint schnapps and drank it down. I grabbed my trusty bicycle and headed east-south-east, staying south of the Route de Meyrin and using Route du Nant-d'Avril, to reach my room downtown before the schnapps kicked in completely.  I drank and biked to prevent the Earth from flinging out of its orbit with the exploding sun not far behind.  Nautical twilight yielded to civil twilight as the solstice sun threatened to rise over the mountains.
The cuckoo clock chimed ten times as my head throbbed.  The Geneva drunk tank was plush, and hot tea was waiting for me and my fellow inebriants.  I was in a prison jumpsuit and not my regular clothes.
"Good morning, tourists," said the uniformed officer as he unlocked the jail door.  Then he turned to me and I didn't even need to ask. "You jumped into Lake Geneva, after screaming something about the end of the world. We get that a lot. You will see the judge and pay a 1000 franc fine -- more of a fee, actually."  And he had my clothing, washed, pressed, and dried.  If there's any place to be in jail, it's Switzerland.
I biked back to my room in the noonday sun. My memories were vague, but I knew that I didn't want to know.  When I got back, I couldn't resist stepping on the scale. Congratulations, I had lost 3 pounds since yesterday! And maybe it was the hangover, but I couldn’t help but to feel just a bit light-headed.

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Quantum Theories

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.

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.

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.

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 ... 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.

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!

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.

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”.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

A is for ... Act of observation

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

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.

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.

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.

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!

G is for ... Gluon

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

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!

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

U is for ... Universe

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

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.

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 ... 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.

R is for ... Randomness

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

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.