Tree In A Forest

Tree In A Forest

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“If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?”

“Of course it does.”

“What about a noise?”

“I don’t see how that’s a different question.”

 

Places started to look the same after a while, and he had never been able to easily tell people apart anyway. All he needed was the text on roadside signs and shopfronts.

 Korean was pleasantly modular, Greek was familiar – though out of context of course– and English was like home. Each flashed before him and away again in a matter of milliseconds, mute bursts from a faulty projector onto a translucent screen, a Cartesian theatre drawing input from senses not his own.

It was worse that the sound system operated just fine, the incongruous noise of everyday life continuing about him assaulting the battered remnants of his concentration in surround sound. He’d be sweeping between X and Y, sometimes across the very globe, and he’d hear a gaggle of girls tittering on about nothing. Between A and B, and a group of boys laughing about some banal television show.

Sight and sound were defunct – he couldn’t extract any signal from all that noise – and he couldn’t be eating every moment of the day, so taste and smell were useless as well. Touch, though – touch would have helped.

Only, it scared him, because it was unknown.

 

“Hey. You’re Linden, right?”

Out of the chaos, suddenly: a presence behind him. Then a gentle hand on his shoulder, and he saw her face as if he had eyes on the back of his head. He shut his eyes and shied away.

“Don’t do that.”

The hand withdrew, startled. “Right. Sorry. Is it okay if I give you advance warning, then?”

“No. Yes. Maybe.”

“I just wanted to say hi. My name’s Hazel.”

Her features were mathematically proportionate and she was the societal mean of a nice girl – kind and pretty, her actions generic and expected. Except that she’d spoken to him.

But he liked her precisely because she was an outlier.

 

As it turned out, the world liked her, too.

The reporters called her a rising star, the reviewers called her talented, the critics called her sincere. And after they graduated, he receded back into the darkness of non-existence as she shot to fame, and posters, photographs, and newspaper clippings slowly took over his walls.

 

“Hey, Linden. What’s up?”

“I thought it would be appropriate to congratulate you. About the movie.”

“Thank you!” The pleasure was evident in her voice, even though he couldn’t see her just at that exact moment. “Knew you’d be watching.”

 

Although he hadn’t been watching, not deliberately. It was just random chance that he’d seen her getting signed. That was how it worked – random places, random people, little quantum tunnels lining up every so often for him to look through, giving him a glimpse of the not-here and, sometimes, not-now.

He had never bothered, before. Suddenly, though, her joy was not as distant a concept as it had been, and it felt right to try. And he found that once he began, he could influence how the tunnels aligned.

 

“You can control it, now?”

“A little, yes. Yes.”

“So you could see me, intentionally? At any time?” She looked vaguely horrified.

“Yes. Is that bad?”

It certainly seemed so. He tilted his head, knowing she couldn’t see him the same way he could see her, wondering how it was her face suddenly carried meaning, how it was he could read it now.

 

Most recently, in his search for her through the microscopic infinity of the tunnels, he saw a hospital.

It was blurry, so it was hard to tell, but it was also white. All white. No sun, no sky – just white. Therefore, it was a hospital.

He strained to see better, and saw her, as well. She had not changed; her original features could still be deduced from the ravages of sickness. Other blurs surrounded her, bustling back and forth, and he focused so much on the scene he could almost hear them as they did so.

 

“Linden, is that you? Please let that be you.”

“It’s me.”

“Did you-?”

“Yes.”

“I’m scared.”

“Why? It’s just a natural process.”

“I know, Linden, I know. It’s just…”

“Or you could adopt a religion. Apparently that helps.”

“I thought you said religion is just more interference? More noise?”

“I don’t know. Maybe I was wrong, after all.”

He heard her laugh, and he saw her smile, in a passing cloud of minimalistic apartment and streaked mascara. It was strange to him that she would do that, when she was so clearly scared.

 

“Will I see you again?”

He wanted to be accurate, so he pulled the tunnels into alignment to see:

Machines wailing, her flatlined heart, blurred figures surrounding her with their heads bent and shoulders shaking. This was not now, because they were still speaking, and he saw another her, clutching her phone in one hand, her other hand tight against the sterile sheets of her ward.

“Soon,” he said, knowing he meant “No.”

 

It has been years since he last allowed the visions to crowd him in their randomness, but he lets them in now, to drown out the newscast and knowledge of her end. A hundred different romances, tragedies, fights and families, which, while still mute, without sound, suddenly seem to him... familiar.

 

I guess they are different, those questions. Interesting.

 

“Well, this is it. I might never see you again. But, you’ll see me, right? Sometimes?”

“If I look hard enough.”

“You will look hard enough?”

“I will.”

“I’m going to hug you now. Is that okay?”

“Yeah. Okay.”

About the Author: 
Claire is only sometimes a writer, but absolutely loves it and only wishes she was better at it. She has published once and would very much like to do so again. Uploading free to view fiction aside.

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Quantum Theories

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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!

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

I is for ... Information

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

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.

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.

G is for ... Gluon

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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!

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!

R is for ... Randomness

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

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.

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.

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.

K is for ... Kaon

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

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 ... Act of observation

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.