The Zeno Paradox

The Zeno Paradox

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A side street in Tokyo. Neon lights in heavy rain. A shady bar with a barman who never speaks unless you don't pay for your booze. A lonely guy sits in the darkest corner of the bar with a half empty bottle of Yamazaki. Cigarette smoke slithers around his unshaven face, eyes focus on some memories swirling in the dark behind the window. This is the place where men come to absolve their sins before disappearing into the night. 

The bar door swings open. A man in a trench coat steps in, pauses to look around. His long shadow stretches towards the lonely guy as if trying to tighten its icy fingers around his throat. The barman gives the newcomer a quick glance only to get back to his world of endless nights when time stands still like the rows of bottles behind him. 

"I hate rain", he mutters to himself.

 

The newcomer sits in front of the lonely guy. 

"William?". The guy takes a long drag of his cigarette, savours the smoke for awhile, turns his head towards the newcomer and exhales straight into his face. 

"Who's asking?", he says. 

"Wilson. Do you have it?" 

William doesn't reply immediately. He pours himself a glass of whiskey, double shot, looks through it at Wilson, puts it on the table, adds more and then gulps it down like it is his last. 

"Yeah," says William, inhaling the cigarette. "I have it," he adds, exhaling a thin streak of smoke. 

"Give it to me." Wilson's voice sounds greedy. William looks straight into his eyes and says almost caringly, 

"I'll give it to you but you must listen to my story first." 

"Keep it short, pal," replies Wilson. 

"I loved Gail more than anything, more than myself. I first saw her in a small dancing studio at night. It was raining like today." William's voice becomes shaky. He takes another shot of whiskey. 

"She was practicing some moves in front of a big mirror. She looked so beautiful, like out of this world. Her body moved across the dance floor with a grace I'd never seen before. I was standing there, glued to that big window and I knew that Gail was the woman I wanted to be with." He grabs Wilson by the arm and says feverishly "Can you understand that? Can you?!". Wilson shakes off the hand. 

"Take it easy, man" he says dryly. 

"We were like Bonnie and Clyde. Lovers, friends. It was a blast but nothing good lasts for long in this twisted universe. Gail fell terminally ill." William stops, lights another cigarette. Smoke seems to make it easier for him. 

"I couldn't watch her body wasting away", he pauses, eyes fixated on the swirling cigarette smoke. "Have you heard about the Zeno paradox?" 

"No" replies Wilson.

 

"Zeno claimed that nothing moves because to get from A to B you need to cover half the distance, then the half of the half and so on. Every half requires a finite time to travel but there are infinitely many of them so you won't cover the distance in a finite time." 

"Nonsense" says Wilson. 

"Yeah.... Infinitely many pieces can give you a finite thing", William pauses, "Not in the quantum world." 

"What do you mean?" William gets Wilson's attention.

 

"In the quantum world there is no reality. Observation creates it and this means you can manipulate reality by simply looking at physical systems" William puts out the cigarette. "If you observe them frequently enough you can freeze them forever."

"That's how the machine works?" interrupts Wilson.

"Yeah, something like that."

"Where are the blueprints?" Wilson's eyes flicker with greed.

"I haven't finished yet." William lights another cigarette. "I thought I could keep Gail in a state of suspension until they found a cure."

"And...?" 

"I asked her to dance for me one more time and..." he swallows tears. 

"What?" asks Wilson impatiently, pouring William another drink. William ignores it.

"Then I set this... machine... in motion." William's voice quivers again. He gulps down the glass of whiskey and goes motionless like a mechanical toy with a discharged battery.

"And?" Wilson prompts him.

"At first it worked beautifully. Gail's body froze in time... She looked so beautiful." 

"And?!" asks Wilson's impatiently.

"A few days later I noticed some small changes in her face. Blemishes." He pauses. "The blemishes started to become fuzzy and larger, slowly transforming Gail's body into... into..." William swallows hard, his Adam's apple forcing its way up and down like a piston of a worn out engine, "into something undefined, smeared in space." William's hand wipes some invisible grease off his face.

"Couldn't you stop the machine?" interrupts Wilson.

"It was too late. I would have had to reverse the whole time evolution but I didn't have enough computational power." William takes out a notebook. “Here’s the blueprint for the machine.” He throws it on the table. "Can I go now?"

"Where is she now? I mean Gail" asks Wilson ignoring William's question.

"I'd like to believe that she's become entangled with the rest of the universe" he pauses, looks into the night behind the window. "And that one day I'll be able to bring her back, see her dancing again..."

Wilson picks up the blueprint and puts it into an internal pocket of his trench coat. "You know I can't let you go. We need your expertise. Without you it would take us too long to build the machine." Wilson wraps his fingers around William's arm. "Just don't do anything stupid."   

William looks at Wilson and smiles, his eyes hidden in the shadow.  

A side street in Tokyo. Neon lights in heavy rain. A shady bar with a barman who never speaks unless you don't pay for your booze. A lonely guy sits in the darkest corner of the bar with a half empty bottle of Yamazaki. Cigarette smoke slithers around his unshaven face. A fuzzy, slowly expanding blemish appears at the corner of his eye. 

About the Author: 
Dagomir Kaszlikowski is a Principal Investigator and Associate Professor at the Centre for Quantum Technologies at the National University of Singapore. His research concerns the foundations of quantum physics, particularly the nature of quantum correlations. He also makes short films that take inspiration from science.

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