The Words of If

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The Words of If
In an infinite universe, anything is possible

Ben Gribbin
John Gribbin

Ben Gribbin has worked as a live subtitler and blurb writer, but is really a poet. John Gribbin writes science fact that reads like fiction, and science fiction based on fact. He learned his trade on Nature in “the good old days.”

AFTER years of patient research, the Re'barra was ready. She gathered her closest friends and colleagues around her, and gave them the news. Her usually pale face was flushed and animated. The fire burned brightly , and the soft radiance of the incandescent lights in the lilies of silver caught the bubbles that flashed and passed in the glasses of her guests. She explained how she had built a machine to travel in time. Although at first they were reluctant to accept her story, she insisted to them that she had proof of her success . . .
Herbert stood up from his desk, pleased with his day's work. It sometimes, but all too rarely, happened like that, with images flooding into his mind faster than he could write them down. When it did happen, he always felt that he had written at his best.
Even now, he knew exactly what to write next -- but he was tired. It would keep until tomorrow . . .
Speaker pulled off the headset and tossed it down in disgust. S/he had had enough. Whatever the theory might say, the amplifier was clearly useless. Nothing s/he had been thinking seemed to have made any impact on the little animal whose image s/he could see so clearly on the viewer. Transtemporal communication was a bust; they
could watch, using the tachyon scanner, but it seemed there was no way to interact with the ones they watched . . .
Greg tapped at the keys of his computer, ideas flowing as fast as he could write. Imagine a world on the brink of ecological disaster, saved by receiving messages from the future. A time escape. But what happens to the future those messages come from if disaster is averted? . . .
Lizzy read the letter from her sister. “I find myself very unwell this morning, which, I suppose, is to be imputed to my getting wet through yesterday. My kind friends will not hear of my returning till I am better.” . . .
Jane sat at her table in the corner of the room, dipped her quill in the inkpot and wrote neatly on a fresh sheet of paper, mind on her story but ears alert for the sound of any approaching footstep, at which she would slide the writing out of sight under the blotter. To her, the characters were real; but she did not want anyone else to know that . . .
The central axis of the Space Station, with its docking arms extended, seemed to be slowly swimming in space. Unlike the structure from which it sprang, it was not rotating -- or, rather, it was running in reverse at a rate which exactly countered the Station’s own spin . . .
Hammering away at the keys of his typewriter, Arthur was only vaguely aware that he was humming to himself as he wrote. Strauss -- the Blue Danube. But it fitted his mood, relaxed but totally absorbed in his work, like a sportsman in The Zone. He already knew how the story would go, across the Solar System and beyond. It was just a question of getting the words down onto paper . . .
DSTCH7 analysed the results of its experiment on itself. The computer mind had a clear recollection of passing through both states before interference had reconfigured it into a single state. Confirmation that splitting had occurred, as predicted by the multi-verse hypothesis. From now on, this would be known as the multiverse theory, and the name of DSTCH7 would be forever linked with the proof, in all the universes it inhabited . . .
Ben scribbled the words hurriedly on to a scrap of paper. What a brilliant idea! What if stories weren't really stories, but actual events? Images filtering through from parallel universes? Yes, that would be a great idea for a book. Suppose only certain
people were attuned to these other worlds. They would be the great story tellers, like Jules Verne. He wrote on, hurriedly, wishing he could express his ideas as well as them. The half-eaten beef sandwich lay neglected on the table . . .
Xpercoatlqxl had an idea. A new experience for the horror fans. The image was sharp in his brains as he set to work, developing the idea of a creature with only four limbs and a hairless body, an intelligent biped that killed other living
creatures for food. He shuddered at the prospect, amazing himself with the fertility of his imagination . . .
Olaf woke from his dream, and reached for a pen, eager to capture the images, the subtle creations of the Star Maker, before they faded:
The Star Maker conceived cosmos after cosmos, each one with a distinctive spirit infinitely diversified, each in its fullest attainment more awakened than the last; but each one less comprehensible to me . . . Whenever a creature was faced with several possible courses of action, it took them all, thereby creating many distinct temporal dimensions and distinct histories of the cosmos. Since in every evolutionary sequence of the cosmos there were many creatures and each was constantly faced with many possible courses, and the combinations of all their courses were innumerable, an infinity of distinct universes exfoliated from every moment of every temporal sequence in this cosmos.

About the Author: 
Ben Gribbin & John Gribbin Ben Gribbin has worked as a live subtitler and blurb writer, but is really a poet. John Gribbin writes science fact that reads like fiction, and science fiction based on fact. He learned his trade on Nature in “the good old days.”

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Quantum Theories

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.

R is for ... Randomness

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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 ... 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.

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.

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.

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.

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!

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.

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.

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 ... 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.

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.

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”.

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.

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.

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.

I is for ... Information

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

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.

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.

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!

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!

G is for ... Gluon

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

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.

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.

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.

U is for ... Universe

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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 ... Act of observation

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

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.

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.

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.

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.