Arguments and Entanglements

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The conversational hum in the Faculty Club dining room dimmed as visiting professor Jessica Banning walked to an unoccupied table. A black wrap dress accentuated the graceful rhythm of long strides and displayed an exceptional figure. Charles King’s eyes darted back to his soup, and his face clouded over.
His table companion stared. “Her appeal is obvious. So what’s the problem?”
“I was talking with her after her last seminar. She was so argumentative, so dogmatic. I have the impression she thinks people who believe in the Standard Model are poor physicists.”
“C’mon, Charles. Just because you disagree on quantum theory doesn’t mean you can’t connect. Look at Carville and Matalin. You’ve been divorced a year. Get back in the game.” He downed the last of his wine. “Got to go.”
King sat several minutes, rehearsing, then took his wine and approached Banning’s table. She extended her hand.
“Dr. King. Won’t you join me?”
“Please, it’s Charles.” As he pulled up a chair it screeched, and wine sloshed from his glass, making a Rorschach stain on the table cloth. “I’ve been enjoying your seminars.”
“Really? From our discussion after the last one I would have thought they made you uncomfortable.”
“Well…I do think the ontic structural realism theory has problems.” He opted for honesty while masking the strength of his disagreement.
Jessica leaned forward. Her green eyes flashed. “And what, exactly, would those be?”
“First of all...” He froze for a moment, unsure how to proceed. “Dr. Banning, I didn’t come over to argue. I wanted to—want to—ask you to dinner.” He was astonished that he was so direct and now far ahead of his plan.
“Please call me Jessica.” She took a sip of coffee. “We could argue at dinner, I suppose.”
“We could. But it is possible to talk about more than quarks and leptons.”
Jessica smiled. “Of course. But I do want to know what you think. Why not have it out now?”
As he had feared: engaging smile, but combative attitude. “Tell you what, Jessica. You agree to dinner and I’ll agree to a discussion…at dinner. I’ll give you a quick preview now, but have to leave soon for a meeting.”
She studied his face, looking for—she didn’t know what. Why am I always so thorny in these situations? Do I want to start dating again or not? I do like his pluck. She finally said, “OK, deal.” There was silence as she took a sip of coffee, then she said, “The electron has a probability of being anywhere, but I believe it is now in your court, Charles.”
He chuckled. “Yeah. OK. Jessica, I try to be open to new theories. It’s just that the ontic idea—all that exists is relations between things, not the things themselves—seems counterintuitive in the extreme. Sure, quantum theories have plenty of difficult pills to swallow: entanglement, particle-filled vacuums, a lot of stuff. But how can a rational person step away from the existence, the real existence, of objects, be they bosons or…bicycles?” He felt embarrassed by the pretentious alliteration, and regretted the harshness of his rhetorical question, but soldiered on. “No objects? Only relationships? I mean, where does ontic take us in understanding the universe? How do we think of the DNA molecule, or solar wind, or colliding galaxies? There’s such a gap between your view and the reality scientists deal with every day!” Damn, don’t make it so personal.
His iPhone beeped. “It’s later than I thought.” His chair screeched again. He winced. “So Jessica, I’ll e-mail you about dinner.”
Returning to the hotel, she felt the familiar anxiety creeping in. It’s a bad idea. I’m not ready. Oh? Then why are you wearing this dress? As she entered her room and turned on the laptop, she admonished herself to keep her shields down and present a softer target.
They dined at Star’s. Before the appetizer was finished they were in a contentious discussion of quantum physics that didn’t end until Charles finally said, “This is a little intense, isn’t it? How about this for a segue to something calmer: I know a lot about what you think, but not much else about you. What led you to become a physicist?”
Jessica’s shoulders and face relaxed for the first time. “My grandfather taught at Florida State when Paul Dirac was there. His stories about that strange genius fascinated me. I think that’s what got me interested.”
Charles pointed his finger at the table. “And here you are. No colleagues as strange as Dirac, but plenty of strange theories, right?”
“And I latched onto one of the strangest. But I’ll let you in on a secret: I’m not a true believer. I take what sounds like a rigid position on ontic theory because when I get a strong reaction, like yours, it helps me clarify my thinking. I’m actually somewhat agnostic about a lot of quantum stuff. How about you? What got you started? I can tell you love physics.”
“I do. And I have a secret of my own. Well, not much of a secret. I love to dance.” He waited for her comment, but none came. Push on, he told himself. “Jessica, I know a great salsa club. If you don’t know salsa, they start with lessons. How about it? Just think of yourself as a delocalized electron. Get a little wild.”
Jessica stared at what was left of her dessert. Shields down, she told herself. “I don’t know how, but…OK, what the heck. If Feynman can play the bongos I guess I can learn salsa dancing.”
As they got up to leave, Charles’ chair screeched, but he didn’t notice.

About the Author: 
During my career as a chemist I had diverse writing experiences: In marketing I wrote brochures and technical manuals. In engineering I wrote papers in peer-reviewed scientific journals. I now write essays, poems and short stories from my home in Sonoma, California.

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