Recipe for a Universe

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This time it happened in the middle of a lecture. I kept on course, but answered that last question without really getting to the root of the inquiry. How could I, when the heat on my back and hips whispered a more troubling question… where did my youth go? Hot crawled up my back like a vengeful monkey while I moved on to explain hidden variables. I had been well prepared for this lesson, but my metaphors panicked and fled, leaving an empty awkward space between me and my students.  
“Hot flash, darling.” it taunted “You’re officially getting old.”
I was fully in its grip as it circled my shoulder blades and climbed my neck. Face flush and trying to ignore that my blouse was plastered to my back, I took another question, but stumbled ridiculously, merely scratching at the surface of entanglement. I would have given a C for that answer.
“Time’s up. See you tomorrow.” No one protested the early dismissal. And the flash retreated just as quickly as my students.
I collapsed into a seat in the deserted front row, grabbing a syllabus to fan myself. This wasn’t the first demoralizing intrusion of the semester and while it was true that my youth is mostly gone and I really am getting older by the minute, I really didn’t appreciate the now regular dramatic reminders. The worst part was the power of its symbolism, that emotional response to a physiological event. One that wasn’t even painful, just uncomfortable and embarrassing. There must be a way to separate the two. I needed to observe it differently. I needed to face the next flash head on.
I didn’t have long to wait. That night, the flash came as I was falling asleep. I woke drenched in sweat but remembered my resolve and resisted kicking my legs free of the covers. I concentrated on fully feeling it, fully examining it.  Under the sweat and anxiety, there was something familiar. I had felt this before, and it wasn’t unpleasant. I tried to capture the memory, but the flash retreated.
With each episode, the vaporous memory would ride the flash up my back, only to dissipate before I could recognize it.
Until it came to me in the supermarket. I stopped in my tracks by the sauce jars and semolina, and waited, hands gripped on the shopping cart.  Heat spread across me and I closed my eyes. Hot. Like the sun. Like the sun on my back. Like the sun on a beach. Like sunbathing and getting too warm and needing to roll over, or better yet, take a dip in the ocean.
Incredible, I thought. It feels like vacation.
I learned to close my eyes on each subsequent flash and summon the same picture: me lying on a secluded beach, smelling of coco oil, and listening to the surf. I began to look forward to each episode.
At the end of that semester, I had my class ask each other questions to prepare for the final. One student still seemed to struggle with the concept of multiverses. A young woman with a tattoo of a melting watch on her arm began to explain. She coolly eased into superposition and observation, saying all the right things, just as I felt the sun spread across my back. I lowered my head and closed my eyes, just for a moment’s indulgence, satisfied to hear her talk about being in two places at once.
Then I heard the roll and crash of the waves and the wind in the palms. I sat up slowly and opened my eyes to the brilliant white sand and azure sky. Sweat had dampened the back of my swimsuit and I was a little disoriented from the heat and sunlight. I stood up and made my way into the surf, grabbing the sand with my toes as each wave crashed into me. Each crest was an event, but it was also part of an endless salty wave.
I ran my fingers through my hair. Long hair, like I’ve never had before.
“But I still can’t wrap my head around the idea of more than one universe. If the concept is untestable with the laws of physics in this universe, how would we even know if we encounter an alternate universe?”
I opened my eyes to the complaint, this time to florescent lights in a classroom that ached to be repainted.
“Maybe we already know.”  
They were all listening now, some with obvious scepticism.
“Look, I won’t pretend to know how we could experience another universe or exactly what another universe might look like. But if it is the closure of possibilities in our lives that separates multiverses, then could it be that they are never far from us? And if there are a lot of them, it stands to reason that some of them may look pretty familiar. I’m just saying that there is an information gap associated with certain phenomenon. Dreams. Hallucinations. Meditative states. What if we didn’t need technology to access them? What if they are closer to us than we think?”
“Well for one thing, people would be checking out all the time,” one student argued. “You’d never know if someone was actually somewhere else when you were with them.”
“And that isn’t the case with everyone around you now?”
“But dreams? Hallucinations? Those are in our head,” countered another student. “They’re just chemistry and electrical impulses”.
“And what is the recipe for a universe?”
With that, the bell rang.
I waited at my desk for the last backpack to be zipped and carried out. An empty classroom holds the residue of so many students: so many possibilities. I found my seat in the front row, leaned my head back, and closed my eyes to the universe. The sun seemed to shine orange on my eyelids and I could hear the gulls in the surf. Then I opened my eyes to the impossible beauty of all possible worlds.

About the Author: 
Grace is a middle-aged archaeologist in Phoenix, Arizona. She knows a thing or two about hot flashes and science.

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Quantum Theories

A is for ... Act of observation

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

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.

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!

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.

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.

U is for ... Universe

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

K is for ... Kaon

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

R is for ... Randomness

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

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.

G is for ... Gluon

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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”.

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!

I is for ... Information

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

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.

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 ... 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.

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.

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.

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.

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!