The Unbearable Lightness of Moments

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When in doubt, just let go. There's plenty of room at the bottom.
Jakob squinted outside the window at the rippling clouds below. He adjusted his goggles, activated his GPS locator, and fidgeted with his gloves again. He had somehow diffused into this state, not knowing exactly how he got here. But he knew exactly what he must do next.
Brownian in its means, ballistic in its ends.
The noise of the propeller engine bled into the humming of lab equipment that had implanted itself permanently into his auditory memory, agitating his peace of mind like the thermal noise that constantly plagued his experiments.
Stare into the cloud chamber for too long and all you see are the afterimages, the ghostly trails of subatomic particles and missed connections. He had indeed been staring into the abyss for too long – the elusive abyss of absolute zero.
At absolute zero, a particle would violate Heisenberg's uncertainty principle because it would be at rest, which means it has zero velocity, so both position and momentum would be known exactly.
“Well, we know absolute zero is one of those theoretical curiosities like Zeno’s paradox. Purely speculation and experimentally unattainable.” Jakob would quip.
“But it’s so much fun to conjecture into that wild territory, don’t you think?” Isabelle would smile in her wide and perceptive eyes. Jakob always enjoyed their meandering intellectual discussions. “For example, there’s no real proof that magnetic monopoles can’t exist.”
“I have a very hard time believing they do exist. I would have found it by now.” Jakob intoned in a deadpan.
“Tsk, so self-assured, so serious.” Isabelle would poke his chest in playful jest, a poke that tipped the precarious equilibrium of his psyche into erratic oscillations.
Jakob scrunched his face and braced himself for the inevitable. With all the strength to pull apart gluons, he pried open the hatch and leapt into the 50-knot wind below.
“Hey! What….” The shocked yell of his pilot, colleague, and long-time friend Gavin faded like a decaying wavefunction as Jakob spiraled into the darkness beneath. He wasn’t supposed to jump out for another three minutes. As he hurtled in a downward trajectory while being tossed around by the jet stream, his limbs tingled from the cold numbness and the depraved descent into quantum decoherence.
If by my book we are still superpositions of the same quantum state, and I don't know how fast I'm moving, does that mean I can determine where you are exactly?
Jakob had done a few jumps in the past, but never after sunset. Tonight, all logic and reason scattered into evanescence.
That lab meeting in early June, Isabelle was introduced as a visiting scientist from a land many time zones away. Jakob remembered her intense radiance, her twinkling eyes, her melodious accent, the rhythmic cadence of her walk.
The synchrotron can be a lonely place, a solitary existence in an unfamiliar gray city. Isabelle was his window of sunshine that compelled Jakob to actually have lunch breaks. But even then, he hovered around the periphery for the first few weeks before he mustered up the courage to have one-on-one chats with her.
“That was an interesting seminar no?” Jakob ventured with a sheepish grin.
“Makes me wonder though… Do you believe in the Copenhagen interpretation?” Isabelle placed her coffee on the edge of the lawn they were sitting on.  
“I don’t disagree with it for now, but I’m still waiting for the juries on that one.” Jakob shifted into a lotus position and massaged his chin with his left hand. 
“I think we humans as observers of the world can never fully arrive at objective reality because we are not objective creatures.” She took a bite from a sandwich with mushrooming tomato slices. “We can only try to explain things we see. But there’re always loopholes because we’re wired to think about things in the classical domain.”
“So you think objective reality is a myth?” Jakob turned as the sunlight cast a diffuse silhouette of his semi-classically sculpted profile.
“We all have to believe in something don’t we?” Isabelle grinned as her translucent hair sparkled, and Jakob stopped pondering any and all interpretations of reality.   
“Hey, are you spacing out on me? I thought I space out a lot because I’m a theoretical physicist.” She was clearly enjoying this. “Okay I was kidding. Experimentalists can space out too.”
Snap out of it!
Jakob’s eyes popped open with a jolt and he reflexively pulled open his parachute. He could see dotted city lights blinking some kilometers out, playing hide-and-seek with the clouds. He speculated that he was near the local mountain range. He felt like an electron, here, there, and everywhere inside the nimbostratus clouds that whipped around his parachute with the aleatoric music of terminal velocity.  
Spinning in reverie, Jakob touched down onto a moonlit lake and barely remembered to inflate his vest. Oh right, the crater lakes. As the lake enveloped him in an unseasonably warm embrace, Jakob realized he could not tell up from down. Top and bottom were fused in his strange mental chimera filled with colorful bursts of pixelated light.
Is this reality?
Am I real?
…Am I vanishing?
An unknown number of tumbles later, the bursts of light converged to a bright spot that grew blinding with pain. How long was he submerged under the obsidian desert of nothingness, punctuated only by isolated particles of awareness?
“Dude you freaked the hell out of me! I almost crashed my plane and I had to haul up your royal behind!” Jakob had never seen Gavin so distressed.
“Uh... sorry about that… thanks?” Several hacking coughs later, “I’m glad you’re here though.”
“Why don’t we get ourselves to dry land?”
“Sounds like a good idea.”
“You owe me one. Huge. Five weeks of laser-aligning duties.” Gavin duckfaced.
Jakob mused. “Alright.” Small price to pay for a brief tango with oblivion and box seat to his own subatomic reality.

About the Author: 
(995 words) I do research that flirts on and off with quantum physics. I'm a chapter organizer of Pun-oholics Anonymous. I enjoy pranking/plan(c)king while (not) doing science.

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Quantum Theories

R is for ... Randomness

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

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.

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.

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.

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 ... Gluon

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

K is for ... Kaon

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

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.

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.

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.

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!

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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 ... 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.

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.

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!

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.

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”.

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.

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.

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.

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.

A is for ... Act of observation

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

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.

U is for ... Universe

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

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.