Mr Lonelyhearts Man

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I used to think that being dumped was like being dead, a state of numbness. But then I decided that the analogy wasn’t quite right: Being dumped makes you feel like the entire world is dead and you’re the only one left alive. And there’s a theory that can make that even more tragic: if the universe splits every time you make a choice then you’re stuck; you can reach for the exit handle as often as you like, but you’ll always stay strapped into the plane. You think the body has a survival instinct? Well that’s nothing. There’s a whole universe waiting for you where you’ll go on and on, alone.
Mads used to say this is what it’s like dating a physicist, all of those references she never quite got, never quite cared to get. No, we are not like blobs of silver in the Stern-Gerlach machine forever separating - up, down, spinning, around and around. Not us. I am not beauty and you are not charmed. You’re strange.
So, yeah. Here I am, a fish in a tank, a bird in a cage. Alone. Thinking that being dumped is actually more like a neutron bomb going off – life barely clings on, but everything else looks exactly the same, no harm done to the tall buildings, just damage inside. In the heart.
The last time I saw my friends they listened to my theory that the pessimism of human nature is summed up by our desire to contract everything we’ve done. Like how commentators shorten Earth’s entire history to a day and say it was only five minutes ago when we came down from the trees, and in the last heartbeat someone invented the Web. It’s as if people want to belittle achievement. Well, I’ve found a new truth: I am everything, a superhero, a God, Mr Lonelyhearts Man: I step off the tallest building and land safely with ease. Each and every time.

So why do we never stretch out events so that they last forever? Time dilation, you know, like when your heart beats faster than the speed of light. Boy meets girl when the Earth forms, asks her out as the big lizards choke, and 64 million years later gives her an amber necklace filled with fossilised blood. Yeah that’s how our elongated history would go, those few years with Madeleine become countless millennia in which the sea froze over and thawed several times.
 
As Christ died, words passed my lips and were shaped into I love you. The dark ages were spent waiting for a response. She mumbled something about being not ready at the start of the Renaissance. This is history feeling my pain. And while it’s true that the end of a life, or love will always unravel quickly, my way you can stretch and pull at the time as much as you want: a wrong word here or there as Columbus discovered the New World, the Romantic Movement born and dead while a tear ran down my face.
 
Our friends first suggested drinking while Gin addiction swept London. As influenza spread, my body went cold. We kept in touch during the great Depression. We tried to be friends. And then, just as things looked like they might pick up, all out war was declared. We formed factions and unraveled like civilization. As the Internet took off my friends told me that the love of my life may have hooked up with someone she met online.
 
So now I exist for myself. I am Mr Lonelyhearts Man. Ka-Pow. With a secret that’s both simple and devastating, if you’ll forgive some more phys-losophising? Sit comfortable, then, and put yourself in the paws of that cat in the box, with the radioactive decay linked to a cyanide dropper, playing radium roulette. What do you see?
 
Not much, right. But you’re still here. You survived. And that’s the point. Somewhere deep inside the imaginary machine with the laser-cut aluminium plates, the rivets on reinforced glass, and the complicated set of safety valves for when the lid comes off, the plunger dropped, and nothing happened.

I guess you’re shaking your head, oh and you’re shaking your tail. I like that, but I sense claws coming out too. You’re not buying it. That’s ok. It’s understandable. It took me a good while too at first. So let me try again, let me explain: See, the rules say that a press of the button creates two possible universes branching off, one in which the cat’s alive, the other dead. We all split at that point, like Mads split from me, and when the science guy peeks inside the box, that’s when he finds out which way he went. Half the time he opens the box and the cat’s dead. Half of the time it’s alive.
 
But the cat is making observations, too. Right? It’s got eyes. It’s got a brain. So what does it see, what do you see in its place? You see that you survive. You don’t need to wait for confirmation. Heck that’s how life started in the first place, just by looking, like how reading this is likely creating something inside you now. But be warned. If you have followed me this then you’ve also joined me on the edge of that tall building. How many times, go on, how many times do you think I’ve made that step off and survived?
I’m the cat that always lands on its feet, the luckiest man alive, Mr Lonelyhearts Man, but I’m trapped. And there’s a critical mass of pain I’ve made, so many other worlds where Mads has wept over my soul, well, some, at least, I hope. See, only desperate people get enlightened like this, only the down-and-outs discover they’re God, that they can live forever. But step carefully now, for while I’ve seen some miraculous things on my way down, all you’ve seen is me fall.

About the Author: 
Jake Carter-Thomas is famous in a parallel universe.

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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!

A is for ... Act of observation

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

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.

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 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.

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.

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.

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 ... Randomness

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

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!

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.

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.

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.

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.

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”.

U is for ... Universe

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

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.

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 ... 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 ... 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.

G is for ... Gluon

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

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.

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.

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.

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 ... 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 ... 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.

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.

K is for ... Kaon

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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 ... 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 ... Information

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

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 ... 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.

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.

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.