A Chance Encounter

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He was a humble man, kind and honest.  He much preferred quiet contemplation over action, and was therefore also a very lonely man.
They met eyes and both flashed a quick smile.  His was reflexive, a function of politeness, nerves, and utter joy of sharing some small connection with her.  He had a strong sense that she was different from all others who easily ignored his existence; that her outer beauty was the result of an inner light unable to be contained within mocha-coloured skin.  She made the whole human race tolerable simply by her association with it.
Palms sweating he walked with purpose, reminding himself of something he’d read about approaching women- do not hesitate nor meander, for this will display a lack of confidence and impart a sense of awkwardness in the courted subject.  He pulled a chair from the table and quietly asked “Do you mind if I take a seat here?”
“Not at all, please be my guest,” the man’s angelic new acquaintance replied.
“I couldn’t help but notice your reading material.  The Trouble With Physics by Lee Smolin.  I’ve read it too”.  Maintain eye contact, he told himself.  But it was difficult.  He felt unworthy.  “Three times actually,” he added.
“Wow, thrice.  You must really love it”
He let out a self-deprecating chuckle.  “Actually that has a lot more to do with me needing repetition to begin to comprehend it.”
“So what did all this tell you?” she asked, pointing to the book.
“Most notably, that we still have a lot to learn.”
“That’s good,” she said, “Humans need mystery.  We thrive on it.  There’s a reason religion has always held a place in the collective consciousness.  We need to believe in some kind of magic.”
He pondered.  “I think you’re right.”
“To a devotee of science, quantum physics holds some of the last remaining mysteries.”
By now he was finding her mind even sexier than her body.  Their conversation flowed easily, like a million-year-old river.  The topics of religion and politics having been broached, (two things that ought never be among new acquaintances, or so the warning goes), eventually the talk had come full circle back to physics, the heartbeat of it all.
The excitement was evident in the man’s voice now.  His words came out like jumping beans.  “Quantum theory, it really boggles the mind doesn’t it?  Answers to questions from the dawn of time on the tip of a tongue.  The missing pieces to the greatest puzzle ever.  There are men and women who spend their whole professional lives trying to work out the mathematics behind one particular string theory or M theory.  A billion misses, yet the one time it finally works out, ta da!  The theory of everything.  Trust me, it would all be worth it!”
“It’s a love story too.”  Her statement came with a sly little grin.
“Yeah?  How so?” he asked.  Each new sentence of hers felt like unwrapping a Christmas gift.
“Well, take what’s-it-called- quantum entanglement.  Plato understood it.  His idea of androgyny: two pieces of the same entity, severed, but always searching for its other half, aching to become whole again.”  They locked eyes, and he couldn’t control his blush.
She broke the short silence.  “So this unified theory, if it really exists, what is the endpoint?”  A question he’d asked repeatedly of himself, and only ever answered to himself.
“Matter, energy, every living thing, the grand idea of God, all melded into one.  There’d be a price though.  We’d have to pay for it by giving up our notion of free will.”
“Oh?” she raised her eyebrows.
He continued.  “Like matter, thoughts too are composed of smaller pieces.  If not for the physics behind the interactions of molecules to detonate the neurons, no thought exists.  We’d know all the inputs and their effects, and therefore would be able to ascertain every conclusion.  Each life would become just a paint-by-numbers, the picture already drawn, just waiting for the colours to be filled in.”
“I suppose I’m just predetermined to buy into free will,” she remarked.  Another gift spoken for him.  “What if an unavoidable randomness is built into the laws of the universe?”
“Einstein’s famous quote of ‘God does not play dice’.  You think he was wrong?” he challenged.
“I think at the very smallest, most fundamental level- the quarks or preons, or whatever basic building blocks still elude us- the cosmos is just spitting out randomness.  I also believe Einstein viewed God as basically the laws of the universe, kind of like the system behind it all.  So yes, I believe he was absolutely wrong on that account.  Ha, listen to me, telling Albert Einstein he was wrong.  My hubris is surely out of control!  Anyhow, there would still be one variable left: time.  In its infiniteness it holds all possibilities; an infinite array of arrangements.  Maybe time is all the magic we need.”
“May I ask a personal question?” she asked. “What is it that you hope to gain from this life?”
This was a question he had pondered for a thousand consecutive nights alone.  She never stopped looking into his eyes, which were starting to well up with the churning of emotion inside of him.  “I want someone, one single human soul, to think enough of me to want to explore the deepest parts of me and seek to understand the essence of who I am.  I promise it’d be worth it.”
Such a sad, ugly past, unfathomably morphing into some kind of pristine future.  He wasn’t sure he deserved the extremes on either side of the space-time of this singular moment.  She reached across the table and took his hand in hers.
“C’mon”, she said, “let’s walk together.”
“Where to?” he asked, his voice faraway, on the edge of a blissful dream.
“Isn’t it obvious, silly?” she teased, again with that perfect smile.  “To wherever we end up.”

About the Author: 
Troy is a Canadian, and happy to be one, but also waiting for the day when everyone is referred to simply as a citizen of the earth. He has no children of his own, but two small boys and one small girl call him "uncle".

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Quantum Theories

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 ... 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.

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.

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.

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”.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

U is for ... Universe

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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!

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.

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.

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.

R is for ... Randomness

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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!

A is for ... Act of observation

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

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.

G is for ... Gluon

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

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.

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.

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!

K is for ... Kaon

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.