The Qubit of Doubt

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             Everything was falling into place.  Carlo was all shave-headed and ready to go.  Dr Tamil was smiling encouragement with his wrinkled-up eyes.  But when Carlo reached across the desk to sign the final consent form, a strange thing happened— his left hand grabbed his own wrist and pulled it back.
            “Did you see that?” he said through a crooked smile.
            “That was involuntary?” asked the doctor, his eyebrows arched as high as they would go.
            “Yes.  How weird.”  He tried again, and again his left hand betrayed him.  He stared at it.  “That just sucks.”
            “Maybe we should take a breath.  This is a scary undertaking.  It’s not too late, if you want more time.”
            “No, I absolutely want this.”
            “Okay, then see if you can tell me exactly why.”
            “Same reason you’re willing to do it to me—I’m curious as hell and I think it would be the coolest thing ever.”
            “All right, how about your family?  Are you maybe putting them through some grief and feeling guilty?“
            “What family I’ve got is just fine with it, as long as they get their damn alimony child support.  I’m worth more dead, you know, so that’s not a problem.  Damn it, look, I’m no scientist, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to know what this world is about.  In another life maybe I’d be sitting where you’re sitting, but the way things turned out, this might be my only chance…. It’s as if I’ve been blind all my life, and now I’m going to get a chance to see.”
            The doctor’s face lit up.  “Yes, that’s how I see it.  We’re blind in so many ways, and along comes this artificial cortex which happens to be adapted from the very device we use to give sight to the blind.  People have seen entirely new colors with it.  Except, of course, for the duration of your experiment, you’ll be seeing a fourth dimension instead.  It’s a bit abstract.  Disappointing, maybe?”
            “No, I get it.  Four dimensions, with the weird metric of time—I’ll see in all its glory what Einstein could only imagine in a kind of Braille.”
            “And think what if means if it works.  Someday we’ll be able to conceive new truths that could never resonate into an unmodified brain.  Now that’s been a touchy issue.  Do you have any religious misgivings?”
            “Nope.”
“What about the idea of plugging your brain into a quantum computer?  Is that frightening to you?”
            “I wouldn’t want to plug into any other kind.  Not after all you guys have been telling me about how I already am a quantum computer.  I just don’t know where I’ll put it all.  I imagine I’ll be seeing your graphic inputs out the back of my head where I just see darkness now.”
            Suddenly inspired, Carlo made a lunge with the pen, hoping to catch his left hand by surprise, but it was too quick.  He looked at the doctor with pleading eyes.
“It isn’t me,” he said.   Dr Tamil started to speak, but Carlo pressed on.  “You know how, when you’re going to say something, when it’s there in your mind, as an idea, yet prior to being put into any kind of sequence-- not sounds, not finger movements, not the wiggling of a pen-- it’s a moment when it could become any of those things, but it’s none of them yet, and there’s nothing there to describe, no shape, no color, yet somehow you sense the meaning, because if you didn’t you’d never know what you might say and you could never dare speak.  What kind of existence is an idea like that?  Is that what you call an implicate order, where my brain dips into some quantum state?”
“We’re still working on ‘meaning.’”
“I can tell there’s some kind of meaning, a sense of opposition that stops me when I try to sign.  But what matters is-- whatever it is, it isn’t me.  Do you understand?  You don’t know how much our talks have meant to me.  It’s not often in my life I’ve felt so encouraged.  You treat me as if we could be colleagues in this.  Listen, I’m telling you my life depends on you now.  Please, hold my arm down and help me sign.”
So the doctor held down his arm, and to all outward appearances the experiment went as expected.  It was the inward appearance that hid an anomaly.  To his mind’s eye the strange geometry of space and time was revealed in a vision that needed no words or equations.  It had its own kind of beauty unlike any other in unmodified human experience.  But then, as he let himself be absorbed, he lost his balance and tipped over and saw his world-line from birth to death spread before him like a landscape.  The horror of it was that from this timeless perspective he couldn’t change anything.  He could only helplessly see the temporal version of himself make all the same mistakes.  Quantum correlations are allowed to transcend time, but only so long as they are hidden within the localized randomness.  So no one could ever realize the true source of Carlo’s conflicting hands, because that would have brought the correlations out of hiding and unraveled the whole illusion of local causality.
Still, it wasn’t all terrible.  The untimeless part of him went on with life as usual.  Besides, it isn’t really pain in itself that hurts, but only how its projection is welcomed, or not, by someone, or some thing’s, “brain”.   To the quantum cortex, who had never thought to wonder where its inputs were coming from, it was a sheer analogue of joy to be melded for a timeless moment to a new and alien wonder.
 
 

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Quantum Theories

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.

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.

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.

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.

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!

A is for ... Act of observation

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

A is for ... Alice and Bob

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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.

T is for ... Teleportation

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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.

G is for ... Gluon

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

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.

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.

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.

L is for ... Light

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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.

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.

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.

R is for ... Randomness

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

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.

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 ... Wavefunction

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Q is for ... Quantum biology

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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.

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.

I is for ... Interferometer

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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.

K is for ... Kaon

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D is for ... Dice

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C is for ... Cryptography

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T is for ... Tunnelling

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D is for ... Decoherence

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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.

R is for ... Radioactivity

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U is for ... Universe

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P is for ... Planck's Constant

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V is for ... Virtual particles

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B is for ... Bell's Theorem

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J is for ... Josephson Junction

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

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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.

E is for ... Entanglement

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S is for ... Superposition

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H is for ... Hidden Variables

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