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He is alone, hunched over the wide keyboard of an enormous computer. From time to time he makes a note of something. But for the most part he stares into the middle distance, his face inscrutable. The experiment is cruel. He knows this in some dark corner of his heart. But he has never felt the ties that bind others so strongly to each other. His childhood was spent in an unhappy orphanage followed by a retreat into science. It is this experiment that has given him a sense of belonging for the first time; he feels drawn to it. And so he presses the buttons, notes the joy and the sorrow equally and equably. The results are improving, they are able to map the correspondences more clearly now. But in order to make this progress they have had to trigger more violent responses.
A siren sounds loudly through the quiet. At the same instant the machine in front of him registers a sudden surge of oscillating blue lines. It lights up the dim laboratory. He leans forward. It is the strongest signal they have had so far. For a moment he wonders what they had to do to generate it. But he doesn’t let his mind dwell on it. There are men who are made for that kind of thing, born to the brute enjoyment of pain, hearts beating like fists in the dark caves of their chests. He needs them but he is not one of them. His life is drawn in the clean lines of science, its soothing bloodlessness.
He studies the data that has appeared on the screen in front of him. At the base of the page is a single sentence:
He feels a quick second of guilt. He knows that these experiments are discontinued not for the sake of mercy but only when the subject’s brain is of no further use, dealt so great an emotional trauma that the damage manifests as physical. The delicate superposition states necessary for the subtleties of subconscious and conscious thought collapsed permanently into absolutes. It must be a strangely flat sort of torture, he thinks, a mind already measured, incapable of rendering the infinite simultaneous possibilities of thought, with its layering of light and shade. A mind restricted to either—or. Imagining such blunt thought makes him shudder, sees him lift a hand to his own temple where a nerve twitches in sympathy. And worse, the nature of their experiment means two brains unwittingly suffer the same fate. It was — in fact — this very shared trauma that had given them their first hard evidence for the theory, the identical quantum scarring in each brain, like matching tracks in a bubble chamber.
The brains of twins, their electronic signals entangled from the womb, responding instantly to each other’s experiences. At first the signals had been too faint to notice the effect, screened out by the skull’s thick bone. But they soon found a way to amplify the brain’s waves without either twin even being aware that they were part of an experiment. Then all that remained was to subject the one to some strong emotion and see how the other responded. By now they have worked their way through the full range of emotional triggers, from love to fear. But it is loss that has given them the cleanest data, burning its way across the screen and then going out, blank as disbelief. Before he can stop it an image forms in his head, a mother, her child’s body flung high and lifeless by a speeding car. The nerve at his temple flutters.
But when the data assimilates in a graph, the image and the guilt disappear. He feels the feathery caress of excitement begin in his gut. It is almost a perfect fit. Each predicted peak matching its experimental result to the slightest degree. He watches as the peaks line up again and again. An inchoate exhilaration spreads in waves through his veins. He leans forward to save the graph. As he does the siren sounds again. He freezes in his chair, seized from nowhere by a profound despair. It is physical; the sensation sets each neuron vibrating at an unbearable frequency. He feels the vast potential of his mind contract and flatten. And then a visceral pressure in his head, as though the finger of a terrible hand were pressing down on his thoughts, stubbing them out as it would the spinning of a coin.
When it is over he sits for a long while before he can bring himself to move towards the phone. It is a waste of time, he knows it already. But still he dials the familiar number, asks to be put through to the department of records. The woman at the other end takes her time. At last her voice fills the silence. ‘It says here you were born just after midnight on April first,’ she says, her voice official. And then — reluctantly — she adds: ‘One of twins.’

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Quantum Theories

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.

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.

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.

I is for ... Information

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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!

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.

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.

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.

G is for ... Gluon

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

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.

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 ... Randomness

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

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.

K is for ... Kaon

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

A is for ... Act of observation

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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”.

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.

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.