Like Minds

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I stared out at the sun rising in the front garden waiting for the second pot of coffee to finish brewing. The image of a car crashing into a figure suddenly flashed in my mind and the mug in my hand nearly slipped out. I heard the footsteps of my husband coming down the stairs and quickly put a smile on my face.
     “Honey, I think I’ve lost my—“
      “Passport?” I offered, shaking my head as he fumbled with the buttons on his shirt while dragging along his suitcase. “It’s in your briefcase by the front door.”
     James walked over and kissed me on the cheek. “What would I do without you?”
     I tried to smile. “Hopefully you’ll never have to find out.”
     He noticed my stress. “Something’s wrong.”
     “I had a nightmare,” I admitted, looking back at the sun streaming in through the kitchen window. “You were crossing the street and all of a sudden you—“
     “Got hit by a car?” he asked, his brow furrowed. “I had the same dream about you.” He thought for a moment and then shrugged it off. “Must have been that movie we watched last night,” he said.
     “Are you sure you have to go on this trip?”
     His answer was interrupted by the taxi honking outside. “I’ll be back from New York in no time,” he said, biting into a piece of toast on his way to the door. “Just make sure you don’t stop in the middle of any streets.”
     I tried to put aside my worry. “Be safe. Bradley’s counting on you coming to his first baseball game tomorrow,” I said, reminding him about the son he had to come home to.
     “I’ll be there.” And with a quick kiss on the cheek, he was gone.
     I watched the retreating car and my worry returned. James was half of me; no two people on the planet were as in sync as he and I. We grew up together, went to the same schools, married, and built a family. We had never been separated until just a few months ago when he received a promotion that involved travelling across the globe. In the last month alone he had been to Beijing, Alaska, and Berlin, and every time he packed another bag my mind went haywire, imagining the infinite dangers.
     But last night was completely new. I was jolted awake by the nightmare that was so painfully real; when the car crashed into James, it seemed as though I felt the impact.
“Mommy, can we please get some Cocoa Pebbles this time?” Bradley asked, stretching his arm out of the shopping cart to reach for the cereal box.
     “It’s not good for you,” I said. But I gave in when I saw the disappointment in his eyes. “Alright, just this once.”
     Bradley jumped out of the cart to help me carry the groceries as we left the store. “Wait for me before you cross the street, honey.” As I fished for my keys I found myself checking my watch and calculating the time in New York. I still hadn’t gotten a call from James.
     I turned to see my best friend Haley Monteith squinting at me.
     I smiled. “Hey, fancy running into you here.”
     She was frowning. “Something’s wrong. Your mind is troubled.” Haley was a psychic.
     “I had a nightmare about James last night. Maybe you can read my palm and measure my fate,” I said jokingly, offering my hand. She grasped it firmly, turned it over and gently ran her fingers over the lines.
     My smile faded as a look of horror took over her features. “Sky, oh my God, something terrible is about to—”
     I nearly toppled over from the impact of something slamming into me. The pain stopped me dead in the middle of the street, my hand flying to my heart. My eyes went blurry but cleared to reveal I was still standing next to Haley, completely intact. But I knew that 3,000 miles away my other half had suffered a different fate.
     I was jarred out of my pain by a child’s scream.
     I saw a flash and barely managed to step out of the way of the oncoming headlights—the speeding truck missed me by an inch. Bradley ran into my arms and we held each other on the sidewalk. I embraced the only thing I had left in this world and wept; how was he to know that one life was saved in exchange for another?

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Quantum Theories

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.

A is for ... Act of observation

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

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.

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.

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.

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”.

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!

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.

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.

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!

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!

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.

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.

K is for ... Kaon

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

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.

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.

I is for ... Information

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

U is for ... Universe

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

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.

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.

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 ... 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.

G is for ... Gluon

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

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 ... 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.

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.

R is for ... Randomness

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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 ... 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.

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.

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 ... 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.

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.