A Dream of Being in a Trefoil Tunnel

Average: 1 (2 votes)
Your rating: None

I can’t understand why I am in two minds. Neither can I tell why I am in two places. Nor can I tell if I am dead or alive or both. Bent over the operating table, a team of doctors and nurses jolts my motionless body. It jerks and falls upon itself again. On the nearby computer screen, the slow rise and fall of a flat green line tells me the doctors are battling against time. “He’s going,” I hear the lead doctor say as jolt after jolt fail to jerk the body into life.
Then, something incomprehensible happens: the doctors and nurses are of a sudden going about their task in slow motion but I am whizzing about up and down and all around the room at a velocity that seems like the speed of light! I feel massless as the ghostlike virtual particles that I’ve read about in quantum theory – the ones that purportedly pop in and out of the quantum vacuum. And I realize that I am, for want of a word that I prefer not to think of, a shade with zero rest mass.
Simultaneously, Einstein and Heisenberg come to my mind as I whizz about. I realize that the doctors aren’t really working in slow motion but because I am massless and travelling at light speed, from my point of view, time in the material world has slowed to an imperceptible crawl! Though I heave a sign of relief and am coldly comforted that the doctors aren’t slowing up because they are giving up on the material side of me, Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle tells me that like virtual particles, as the immaterial side of me- as a shade - I don’t have very long to live. But again, I take comfort in knowing that to an immaterial being, a second in the material world, is almost an eternity.
I survey the environment I am in – and almost immediately conclude that I am likely in a trefoil tunnel for I seem to be passing and re-passing endlessly through a passage with ends that bend into one another as in a trefoil knot. It occurs to me that I am both dead and alive like Schrödinger’s cat but in two parallel universes superposed upon one another as first envisaged by the late Hugh Everret and later, David Deutsch.
“He’s coming round,” I hear the lead doctor suddenly pronounce. At that instant, I vaporize into the quantum vacuum and slip into the body on the table. Days later, I sit up to write this poem:
 A Dream of Being in a Trefoil Tunnel1
In one out-of-body, space and time dream,
I am a shade swooshing in a trefoil stream-
In a tunnel wherein a whoosh up is a glide  
Round a bend that is a ride down an up-slide;
That is how a mind comes to know the plot:
I am in the smooth bind of a trefoil knot! 
And here in sleep, subliminal meet sublime,
Inside-out of the senses, outside-in of time! 
I go pass the upturns of days riding a light-beam, 
I go pass the downturns of nights at time-zero;
Light and shadow flee as one intermittent stream 
Of vaporeal velocities the mass of radii sub-zero; 
And ignoramuses the hulk of hippopotamuses,
And savants the brain of many polycephaluses2,
Atheists, quakers3, agnostics and whatnots, alike
Swoosh as zeros of nothing in the half-light.
Ignoramus et ignorabimus! 4 I wake but know not
If death be a cingulated5 sleep so dark and deep
One dreams not of waking but of staying asleep!
1. A tunnel ‘tied’ into an interconnected treble knot.     
2. Persons with many heads
3. Believers who literally tremble before their God.
4. Latin for ‘I do not know and will not know’
5. Banded, girdled

About the Author: 
I am a 'fan' of quantum theory but with no training in physics.

Newsletter Signup

Submit your email address so we can send you occasional competition updates and tell you who wins!

Quantum Theories

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”.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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!

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.

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.

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!

I is for ... Information

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

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 ... 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.

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.

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.

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 ... 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

R is for ... Randomness

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

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.

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!

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.

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.

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.

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.

U is for ... Universe

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

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.

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.

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.

A is for ... Act of observation

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

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.

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.

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.