It's All Here Now

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There he was again, poor Eli Milrot, being laughed off the podium by his colleagues. Well, not really his colleagues; Dr. Milrot wasn't a physicist. He was a biological anthropologist, drawn into physics via philosophy. Over the years he'd become known as the buzz bomb of science; 'You never know where he's going to hit or when he'll go off.' they would laugh. I have to admit when I first heard him speak I thought he was nuts. Back then he claimed that with sensitive enough instruments, fossil light that had been orbiting an evaporating black hole for a few of its weeks―millions of our years―could, through well-known quantum processes, gradually peel away and stream into space. If carefully collected and processed, faint images of dinosaurs roaming Earth's ancient surface might possibly be teased out. Everyone laughed. I laughed. But Eli never claimed to know how to do it, only that it could be done. He presented relativistic/quantum equations explaining the concept but they were largely ignored. Nevertheless, five years ago the purposeful Chinese launched a paint-can-sized probe called the Lǎo Guāng to orbit Neptune. From there whispers of Eli's fossil light might be captured streaming from a black hole, across the way in the Orion Nebula. It took a long time for the Lǎo Guāng to reach Neptune. Everyone had forgotten about it.

Today they were laughing at Eli's Theory of Everything. He explained that the universe didn't originate with a big bang, a collision of higher dimensional branes, a holographic balloon, or a white hole from another universe. Instead, everything from the Milky Way Galaxy, to the observable universe and beyond, was actually scrunched inside a bizarre, enormously complex, multidimensional, quantum fluctuation resembling a singularity, that absolutely everything, everywhere and everywhen is, and always has been confined to this vanishingly small region where all known and imagined laws lose meaning. Eli waved his arms wildly in the air and spewed out his words. “All of this is an illusion created by the highly energetic, momentary interactions of a rare confluence of miniscule, quantum dimensions.” In his excitement, he sprayed the front row slightly. Someone at the back called out “No, it's dysfunctional cognitive process!”. Eli squinted into the darkness and growled, “You, sir, are the ones who wanted quantum relativity!” He held up a small piece of rumpled paper crammed with notations. “You can't have them together any other way.” I was sure that the ruckus could be heard out in the hall―maybe even down in the parking lot. It was at times like this that I thought of Fritz Zwicky, who back in the thirties kept popping up at conferences to be laughed at as he described then unheard of supernovae, neutron stars, even hints of dark matter. Now it was Eli Milrot's turn. I resented my suspicion that they let him speak at these events for comic relief. Sadly, though ideas like these sounded crazy to the current way of thinking, sometimes they turned out to be absolutely correct. Unfortunately, all Eli had to back up his claims were four words on his tiny scrap of paper:





There were a lot of smaller scribbles where he had parsed the cryptic phrase. Things like “What is now?” and “Are the terms It's and all redundant?” not to mention “Where is here?” and “M=E/C2”, which he'd subsequently scribbled out. I guess, if you insist that consciousness can only exist if we are blind to all but three dimensions of space, and that the apparent vastness of time is nothing more than “an eensie weensie, one-dimensional bit of a zeptosecond”, then you must expect resistance. He discounted the notion of entropy altogether. “Of course things are going to appear to get less ordered,” he'd say. “if that is the only way you are able to see them.” I believe this was all clear to Eli, but he couldn't render it comprehensible to this community. The simplicity was too complex.

Dr. Milrot sulked darkly in the back seat of the car all the way back to his study. He hardly spoke five words for a week. It was like this every time.

In Hollywood's early days, story meetings would include someone called a wild man. When the writers got stuck on a story point they would wake their wild man up, tell him the problem, and he would say something like “Then two hippos come crashing in” and go back to sleep. This input contributed greatly to studio profitability. It wasn't long ago that the idea of a particle being in two places at once was thought to be impossible―which by the way, Eli insists is impossible. He keeps telling them that the idea of probability distribution is only a guide to estimating where the particle is and how fast it is moving without actually disturbing it. When reminded of entanglement and Einstein's disdain for 'spooky action at a distance,' Eli replies “What part of it's all an illusion don't you understand? There is no distance.” They always laugh.

People ask why I stay on as his research assistant. Dr. Eli Milrot, as the saying goes, may be crazy but he's not stupid. I stay because I know that if we are not jostled occasionally by strange, new, even crazy concepts we will never venture into new territory. It is often people like Eli who have the brilliant accidents of thought that force us onward. I believe I can help keep this spirit alive.

This morning the first image from the Lǎo Guāng was released. No visions of dinosaurs, or even the earth, just some fuzzy dots on a black field that analysts are already suggesting could be an image of stars and galaxies as they might have been seen from Orion thirty-million years ago.

This news brightened Eli's day considerably and he finally returned to work on his “little” Theory of Everything.

About the Author: 
I used to be a film writer/director until I realized that film is a very inefficient way to get INTERESTING ideas to the public. Now I write short stories and novels. My work can be found here: Much of of it is free to download.

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Quantum Theories

K is for ... Kaon

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

U is for ... Universe

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

A is for ... Act of observation

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

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.

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.

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.

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!

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.

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.

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.

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.

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!

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

R is for ... Randomness

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

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.

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!

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.

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.

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.

G is for ... Gluon

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

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.

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.

I is for ... Information

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

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.

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.

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.