Entanglement Tango

Average: 4.6 (10 votes)
Your rating: None

I think we always suspected Alice Brinks and Bob Certamen of being an entangled pair. Possibly their entanglement came about in their first years as friends and classmates in college physics, or possibly becoming lovers in graduate school precipitated the entanglement. Certainly they always looked the part. A short, pale fireplug of a blond man and a stocky, shapeless black woman, the pair looked, each, like a negative of one another. In any case, evidence of their entanglement thrust itself into the consciousness of the world’s collective scientific mind with their first Nobel. Alice and Bob had just finished defending their doctoral dissertations when her incisive logical mind and his wall-hurdling intuition blended to debunk the gauge gravitation theory and, employing the Brinks-Certamen Tensor and the Certamen-Brinks Approximation, put the world on the right track to finding the elusive graviton.

I suppose it’s only human nature that such a perfect blending of personalities should come to a tragic end. Naturally, each blamed the other for their public disintegration. The tedium of who left which cap off of what or which chore did not receive its due attention to detail seems insignificant in light of all that followed. Perhaps the first real blow was struck by Bob—possibly with no ill intent. He claims it was simple hygiene; she, that he deliberately sabotaged her television appearance. Both agree on the actual events, however. Just as Anderson Cooper was introducing Alice to his TV audience, Bob was in his bathroom, leaning toward the mirror, plucking nose hairs. Alice’s eyes, naturally, began tearing up. Then the sneezing started. And went on and on and on.

Bob refused to accept any blame in what he called (with a sneer) “Sneezegate.”

Alice’s response, to some, might seem a bit extreme. While Bob was teaching his popular Field Unification Theories class, Alice, wearing a double-thickness of Maxi-pads to protect her more delicate tissues, paid a young soccer athlete to kick her, hard, three times in the crotch. Bob, before the entire class, doubled over in pain, remaining in a fetal position for the next two hours and suffering lingering pain and swelling for several days.

If Alice’s actions seem extreme, what then can we say of Bob, downing an entire bottle of Jack and then deliberately tipping a seventy-pound anvil over onto his own left hand? Breaking every bone in his left hand naturally meant breaking every bone in her right. Alice was unable to sign autographs for her book tour, for which she vowed vengeance.

For months, Alice saw Bob only at faculty get-togethers.  She smiled at him, occasionally grinning with malice. Bob steeled himself. He knew she would eventually return the favor of the anvil. He considered wearing a gauntlet, but of course, that wouldn’t stop Alice’s damaging her own hand. How do you protect yourself from your entangled opposite’s self-destructive urges?

Nearly a year after the anvil incident, Bob seemed to have forgotten Alice’s vow. At a faculty sherry mixer, he joked with colleagues, even complimented Alice on her latest monograph. All those months prior, Alice had made a careful study of anatomy charts, mapping as well as possible, the location of all her own major internal organs. The day after the mixer, she injected a little lidocaine under her abdominal skin. The area sufficiently benumbed, Alice took a sharp, clean boning knife, and thrust it into her abdomen. The blade went in just to the right of her navel, puncturing her small intestine, but missing her kidney and all the major blood vessels. She called 911, claiming to have fallen on the knife. Then she lay back on her sofa, a gauze pad held to her wound and smiled to herself. Back on campus, in his office, Bob was rapidly bleeding out through a hole that had opened to the left of his navel, puncturing his aorta. We surmise his last thoughts were of Alice because, in his own blood, he wrote on the floor the shaky opening to an intended final address, “You contrary bitc…”

We don’t know Alice’s last thoughts, but I imagine it was something along the lines of “Oops.” She was dead when the paramedics arrived. Given how little blood she had lost, the ME found herself unable to explain Alice’s death.

About the Author: 
When I was in high school, I wanted to be Murray Gell-Mann, but he's still alive, so I've had to settle. I've been a nuclear reactor operator, technical writer, freelance editor, rhetoric teacher, and student of Medieval languages.

Newsletter Signup

Submit your email address so we can send you occasional competition updates and tell you who wins!

Quantum Theories

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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”.

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.

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.

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.

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!

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.

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.

A is for ... Act of observation

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

G is for ... Gluon

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

K is for ... Kaon

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

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.

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.

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.

I is for ... Information

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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!

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.

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.

R is for ... Randomness

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