Love Stories

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I wished I were dead. I said that because two days earlier I was standing in a park beside my wife, Lilly, when the driver of a car fleeing from police lost control and struck her. One instant she was next to me, her eyes cast down as I tearfully tried to explain that I had been a total fool and I knew with perfect certainty that I loved her, had loved her throughout my short, miserable affair, and would never….There was a shout, a loud metallic sound, a rush of air and a violent thud. Lilly was gone.
 
It had been so close. The car easily could have hit me instead of her. I found myself wishing it had.  
  
The evening of the day I buried Lilly, I sat alone in the silent house we shared for seven years and I knocked down a Scotch. As I did, my gaze went to a foot-square whiteboard in the kitchen. Lilly and I left reminders and notes to each other on it, and now, in the dim light, I thought I saw writing there. Thought, but doubted it, because I had erased the board. I could not bear to see her messages every time I went into the kitchen. Now, barely visible in Lilly’s familiar script, was my name: “Sam”
 
I stared at the whiteboard for half a minute, not understanding what I saw. As I did, the handwriting gradually faded and vanished. 
 
I rose, grabbed a marker, hesitated, and scrawled Lilly’s name on the whiteboard. A few seconds later the following appeared: “Where are you?” It was her handwriting. 
 
“Kitchen,” I responded. “Where are you?”
 
The word “kitchen” appeared a moment later, and faded. It seemed to disappear slightly faster than it had before.
 
“What’s happening?” I wrote on the board, and then I turned and walked away, not daring to hope, and in truth, terrified. 
 
I turned to the smartest person I knew. By fifth grade, Jimmy was a precocious wunderkind, and when he reached ninth grade he went to MIT with a full scholarship, leaving everyone in his intellectual dust. Now, my brother was a force to be reckoned with in the physics community. 
 
He lives nearby, and twenty minutes after he arrived a message appeared on the whiteboard: “Are you still there?”
 
I responded, and by the time I finished, the message was almost invisible. 
 
“Jimmy, do you know what’s going on?” I said. 
 
Jimmy examined the whiteboard, glanced around, and asked me what I knew about quantum mechanics.
 
“You told me it was about subatomic stuff, and it was pretty weird,” I told him. “What does it have to do with any of this?”  
 
Jimmy nodded. “Weird yes, but no weirder than what’s going on here.  Look, I’ve seen the messages, so I know you’re not crazy. That leaves us with two possibilities. Quantum mechanics, because your situation smacks of what I’m about to tell you, or ghosts. I can help you with the first. The other, well, you’re on your own, bro.”
 
What was I supposed to say?
 
“OK, quantum physics suggests that at any moment there’s a huge, maybe infinite, number of ways for things to play out,” Jimmy explained. “Somehow we pick or detect one of these possibilities and it becomes our reality, the universe we know. All the other possibilities become parallel universes, and some of them are only slightly different from ours. So, in one of them the South defeated the North in the Civil War, in another they fought to a stalemate, and so on.
 
I shook my head. “Are you saying Lilly is alive in one of these other universes?”
 
“These alternate universes are supposed to be completely separate, with no contact between them,” Jimmy said. “But I know you and Lilly had a real connection in spite of your, well, your problem. Look, maybe there’s something between you that our physics can’t account for.” He paused. “One thing I do know, you look like crap and guilt is going to tear you apart. I’m worried about you, bro.” 
 
As Jimmy spoke, a faint scrawl appeared on the whiteboard.  It read: “Are you alright?” Then it was gone.
 
I poured another Scotch, took a marker in hand, and stood before the whiteboard. In a trembling hand, I wrote: “No. So sorry. I was a fool. I love you.” 
 
I watched the board for perhaps thirty seconds, and then a message in Lilly’s handwriting appeared, fainter than before. “Before car hit you, was going to tell you I was fool too. Also had affair. Stupid. Stupid. Stupid. Love you so much.”
 
Jimmy shook his head and looked embarrassed.
 
I quickly wrote, “Two fools. Love you too. I’m not dead.”  
 
“That makes me happy,” was the response, barely visible now.
 
“What’s happening?” I asked Jimmy. “Her writing’s fading.” 
 
Jimmy considered the whiteboard for a moment. “Your universes were most similar and most closely coupled right after the accident. But as time passes, they become increasingly different from each other, and less coupled.”
 
“And then?” I asked.
 
Jimmy shook his head. “They become too uncoupled for anything to pass between them. No more messages.” He paused. “I’m sorry, Sam.”
 
I quickly scribbled, “Miss  you so much.”  
 
“…mis…y…to” was the faint reply a moment later.
 
“love you always,” I wrote.
 
“y…a..w…” was the barely visible reply, which quickly faded. 
 
I scribbled Lily’s name again and again, until I felt Jimmy’s hand on my shoulder, and he gently took the marker from me.  
 
The board remained clean for a week, and then I took it down. By then I realized that somewhere Lilly and I were happy and together, and somewhere else we were miserable and everything in between. But for a precious few moments in two of the universes we occupied, we had truly found each other. It was enough. 
 
About the Author: 
This is a co-authored story. Michael Miller is an occasional science fiction writer who has reported on science and technology. Barry Levine has a Ph.D. in physics from Harvard, has directed research at Bell Laboratories for over thirty years, and is currently writing a scientific thriller.

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Quantum Theories

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

U is for ... Universe

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

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!

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.

G is for ... Gluon

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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!

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.

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.

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.

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.

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 ... 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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 ... 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!

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 ... 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.

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”.

R is for ... Randomness

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

I is for ... Information

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

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.

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.