Asymmetry

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I am walking around a track, maybe one of those indoor running tracks that circle above a gymnasium.  Only I can’t see down into the middle, I can only move ahead. I feel that it would be best if I don’t look back. Nothing is following me, I just don’t want to see where I’ve been.
 
Ahead is a small group.  An older woman points to me. “There!  There’s the man I was telling you about!” She is excited to see me, almost proud.  She leads me into a small room.
 
The room has two large chairs like you find in a barbershop.  It is dimly lit.  Music is playing softly. The older woman takes me to a chair and I sit, gratefully.  I am so very tired.
 
“You could tell he was from somewhere else.  He shimmered.”
 
The other chair is occupied by a beautiful woman.  No, beautiful is the wrong word.  Her face is serene, smooth, perfectly symmetrical. Her eyes study my face, and she smiles.  Her smile engulfs me.  I hear the old woman’s voice, but I see only this face.
 
“Look, it’s happening again!”
 
The eyes in the perfect face flutter, roll inwards, a tear rolls down her cheek.  I panic, for I feel I have done something wrong, and I don’t want this to end, but I feel the bottom drop out from under me.  I fall and plunge under water, a dark veil covers me, I am powerless as I struggle for air but a heavy weight is on my chest when –
 
I force myself awake, gasping for air, heart pounding.
 
I’m disoriented at first.  I look around.  I’m alone, in a small room, like in the dream only real this time. I am able to slow my breathing as I acclimate. Beethoven’s Opus 109 is playing softly in the background, and I remember I had requested it.  I find Beethoven more mathematically pure than Mozart, and it calms me.  This was an experiment, I know, but I am still fuzzy on the particulars.  I took a sleep aid, so I’m sure that’s part of the problem.
 
I walk to the door.  I pass by a mirror.  The face looking back is not beautiful, but it is mine.  The dream is already fading from memory, but I think the smiling woman was me.
 
I open the door into a hallway, also dimly lit.  Strange that a doctor or doctoral candidate or even a TA hasn’t stopped me yet.
 
I move to the next door, and enter a mirror image of my room.  Sitting in a chair, eyes closed, is a man. A handsome man, with regular, symmetrical features.  I should know him, he is my partner, my pair, my sparticle.  We are entangled in this experiment, we should be perfectly tuned.  But he is asleep, and I am awake, and I don’t know him.  Something is wrong.
 
Behind his eyelids, his eyes flutter in REM sleep.  I may not know him, but I know what he is dreaming.
 
In his dream he is in a room, a quiet room.  The room has two large chairs like you find in a barbershop.  It is dimly lit.  He sits in the chair across from me.  He looks so very tired, his eyes preoccupied, his face unshaven.
 
Yet I feel a great attraction to him, a pull.  I smile. I can see this pleases him.  We are connected.  I have a power over him that I did not ask for, and do not want.
 
And then he starts to shimmer, to slip from me.  Even as I study his face, his eyes, his mouth, it all changes subtly and I can no longer hold his image still in my mind. I feel myself falling away, tears in my eyes.  A terrible feeling of despair, crushing hopelessness, as I tumble backwards blindly until --  
 
I’m awake!  Jesus, that was scary!  I’m sweating, my heart is pounding.  I feel like I’ve just run a marathon. I’ve never had a dream like that before, a dream within a dream.
 
The room I’m in looks a little like the one in the dream.  The track was my health club, the chairs were like my barbershop’s.  And the woman – she looked familiar, definitely someone I’ve met before.  I felt really close to her, but I can’t really place where she’s from. 
 
I‘ve got to find someone to help me straighten things out -- whatever they gave me to knock me out is still messing with my head.  I know it’s important to record what I can remember from the dreams. I’m in some sort of experiment and they want me to be as detailed as I can be, so where the hell are they?
 
I go to the door and step into the hall. Nobody. Typical. Your taxpayer dollars at work.  Hello, I woke up early, I need to pee, and I need to write this stuff down!
 
I’m really pissed off now.  I walk down to the next room and throw the door open.  There’s a woman in a hospital gown with her back to me.  She’s standing in front of a man in a chair, his face turned away from me.  That’s the bastard!  That’s the guy who shimmers!  I’m going to kick his--!
 
I wake up quickly.  I take in the room in a moment, the dim lighting, the soft music.  I raise my hands and look at them.  They are distant, foreign, but they respond to me.  I touch my face, feel stubble.  I have been gone for more than a day, perhaps several. 
 
I look up at you.  We are complete.  We were apart, and now we are found.  Our eyes meet.  I know that look.  It was a success, yes, but there is a problem.  I am so terribly sorry.
 
There is a sound.  The knob turns, the door is thrown open.  We both turn away.  We dare not look.

About the Author: 
Frank Rose lives in Chicago and has read Scientific American since he was young. He is not so young now.

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Quantum Theories

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.

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.

X is for ... X-ray

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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.

I is for ... Information

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

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.

Q is for ... Qubit

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U is for ... Universe

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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.

A is for ... Atom

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C is for ... Computing

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J is for ... Josephson Junction

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L is for ... Large Hadron Collider (LHC)

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Y is for ... Young's Double Slit Experiment

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D is for ... Dice

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G is for ... Gluon

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H is for ... Hidden Variables

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Z is for ... Zero-point energy

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P is for ... Probability

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A is for ... Alice and Bob

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L is for ... Light

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T is for ... Tunnelling

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O is for ... Objective reality

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S is for ... Schrödinger Equation

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I is for ... Interferometer

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P is for ... Planck's Constant

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R is for ... Randomness

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H is for ... Hawking Radiation

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Q is for ... Quantum biology

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K is for ... Kaon

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N is for ... Nonlocality

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U is for ... Uncertainty Principle

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V is for ... Virtual particles

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C is for ... Cryptography

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R is for ... Reality

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S is for ... Superposition

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B is for ... Bose-Einstein Condensate (BEC)

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M is for ... Multiverse

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F is for ... Free Will

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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!

A is for ... Act of observation

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

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.

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.

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 ... Radioactivity

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