Jason's Moment

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Jason was just another quantum tourist on the Science Factory Strip. Around him in all directions, other quantum tourists gaped at buildings, stared at storefronts, or stepped inside to try games, simulators, replicators, multi-sensory facilities, or virtual realities. They perused tour books, queued at concessions, and moved and acted like tourists everywhere.
But they were not like other tourists. In a long forgotten past, the quantum tourists had embarked on a special tour, a one-way journey through a series of ‘moments’ that would raise them to ever higher levels of excitation and stimulation. The moments became all-consuming to the point where the tourists lost touch with their origins, each other, and even their own identities and existence. They cared only about the moments they were in and lived only for the ones to follow. And now, for them and for Jason, the final moment would come on a city street, called simply the Science Factory Strip.
So far Jason was not impressed. He sat alone on a cold city bench and picked up his tour book. He matched its pictures with the Strip’s street scene in front of him. The Golden Spheres Laboratories Building, a garish, mirrored edifice with protruding orbs and rings that rotated day and night, merited three stars in the book. Next to ‘the Labs’ stood the more highly rated Brent-Wallace Building with its massive prisms and holographic projections. It attracted some younger gawkers. On either side of the street as far as Jason could see were grotesque structures, each trying to outdo the other with their ‘innovative’ use of building technology. In fact, this part of the Strip earned the highest recommendation in Jason’s tour book, a prime pick. It was ‘the best free show in town.’ But Jason saw little to hold his attention. This is nothing.  I don’t get it.
Jason shut his eyes. He could still see the buildings, street, and throngs of tourists. He brought his index fingers towards his closed eyes until they blurred and rested on his eyelids. He withdrew his fingers and watched them come back into focus. Then he reopened his eyes. Cool, very cool, but the tour book promised much more in the hours to come.
Jason twisted his fingers around the slats of the bench and braced himself against the chill of the west wind. As the sky took on its pallid evening hue, the luminosity of the images about him increased in perfect sync. Colours gradually became more vivid, sharper, piercing, pulsating. The crowds too intensified, drawn by the tour book’s promise of a night spectacle that would be ‘second to none’.
‘Second to none’? Jason smirked. Yeah, right. So too, would be ‘first to none’ or ‘third to none’ since the book says it defies comparison.
Night fell. The action picked up. Images flashed on the sides of buildings, in the sky, on the street, and in any and every open space or void in the air around him. They were impossible to escape, impossible to avoid, whether his eyes were open or shut. Each pattern and shape and each brazen, dazzling display competed with its rivals to grasp the mind’s eye. Bigger, bolder, brasher, faster, more vibrant, sensuous, searing in intensity, infinite in variety, they created and recreated impressions and sensations, a relentless, virtual flood, drowning out the backdrop of the edifices and street.
Overwhelmed, overloaded, numbed, Jason’s mind was locked in a madly shifting, frenetic world. Disoriented, he lay on the bench like a boxer stunned by a blow to the head. He tried in vain to find some cohesion, some logic, something, anything that he could hold for more than a second.  He began to shake. Shivers were followed by uncontrollable spasms that spread throughout his body. The chill of the west wind engulfed him. 
Jason drew upon all his internal powers to refocus his thoughts. Yes, some simple arithmetic, for starters, then basic algebra, followed by integral equations, and on to more complex concepts and calculations. He gave himself the ultimate test: a survey of theories and applications of quantum entanglement. His faculties were intact.  No gaps or contradictions appeared in his reasoning. His mind was sound; he could survive this.
Elated, he sat up. I can leave here. I do not have to be here. I have free will. I can choose to leave.
Yet, the mindless images persisted, an amalgam of endless lights, glare, and unrelenting madness. Randomized and senseless, the beams and colours seemed to travel through him at will from all directions, until he was unsure if the emanations came from inside or outside his body. 
His instincts told him he must concentrate to escape. He tried to recall elementary trigonometric functions, to construct triangles in his mind and relationships, but even those simple tasks were now beyond him. Jason once again slumped across the bench and pressed its cold, hard slats against his forehead.
I can choose to leave here. I can go. I am not here. I am somewhere else. I have to go.  I can go, I can…but his thoughts dissolved in a sea of colours and images and were lost. 
Daybreak on the Science Factory Strip was subdued and forgettable. The stores had not yet refreshed their games and simulators. Gone were the spectacular effects of the night show. The streets were close to deserted. Indeed, the tour book said it was ‘best to avoid the post-dawn hours.’
On a cold, hard bench, a solitary figure lay prone, motionless, vacuous, and indifferent.  It was a presence of some kind, no more, no less. The passers-by did not notice it. There was no reason they would, or for that matter, to assume they could. One young man though was convinced he caught a faint, passing glimpse of a person on the bench. His wife rolled her eyes.
“You’re always seeing things, Jason.”

About the Author: 
After graduating with a science degree in mathematics, I embarked on a career that would take me in many other directions. Still, my first love will always be science. .

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Quantum Theories

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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 ... 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.

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.

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.

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 ... 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!

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.

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 ... 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.

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.

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”.

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.

G is for ... Gluon

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

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.

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!

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.

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!

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.

K is for ... Kaon

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

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.

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.

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 ... Act of observation

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

I is for ... Information

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

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.