The Wrong Rocks

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He stood in front of the fifty-five gallon drum, ubiquitous in its black color and, of course, its contents. All the rocks inside to once again break into categories of size, on machines that shook and sifted with a screen for each category; rocks telescoping downward. Ear muffs for the rocky ocean, the vibrating metal a blur of patchy grey. Respirator for the rocks freed from the other rocks and considered, only, ‘fines’. A hardened lack of gloves. These were the rocks of his morning endlessly repeated, though from the Congo, Chile, Mexico, Nevada, Australia, or Utah. Different delicacies made softer and broken on shaker machines, denuded into hardness numbers and sizes. Tested in particular by slamming weights upon individual rocks or tossing groups of same-sized rocks in metal jars and mashing with metal rods. He stood staring at the totalizing of earth into numbers, making rocks disappear. No matter (pounding, sifting, counting) what he did, the rocks still verbed. They were hard, broke, counted, and turned to dust. But this mattering did not stay with the rock, or him. It was co-opted to mean something else – money, a CEO parachute, endless Priuses, real estate investments, roads; his computer. Forgotten before exploding from the ground via dynamite, trucked to conveyors, conveyed to truck-sized metal mills, sent across an ocean, counted by him. The mining industry fictions he dealt, although denuding of the very thing these rocks supposedly were – rocks – still could not extinguish what they were – rocks. Standing in front of that barrel, he knew: fictions mattered. They built cities and raped continental geomorphology, housed with real walls a species which considered them unreal and interchangeable – material devoid of subject. The rocks only meant as collections of human intention. As if when we die, the veil of meaning extinguishes from objects previously owned, the object itself itself just an object. But the rocks of his afternoon – quantum phenomena – would soon appear, the undistorted mirrors of classical physics receding as he drove toward the rocky water bladders of the massive uplift rifted from South to North. He wished, while measuring and re-measuring, he could lose the dualistic day – no longer fictionalizing subjects into objects in fleshy labor practices. Soon a nimbly scamper to Lizard Head, gait the gait of rocks his feet touched. He’d come back renewed, fangled with the infinite dimensionality the stars in his window winked in the particular sky’s dark blue haze of that early morning. Another dream of the same: rocks in piles strewn about in size categories, him naming them – ‘45’, ‘120’, ‘90’, ‘3/4 inch, 1.5 inch’, 1/4 inch. The vision succumbed to that hazed sky, moonless but lit by the same electricity under dream, rocks and gasses burning in restraint, each their own infinity. He could see shadowed edges of his rocked bedroom, cleaned by starlight and cooled by density of quartz, basalt, sandstone, and hints of obsidian that were equally glints in his irises. But in fluorescent unending, undimming light of work he’d stuck his arm in it again, a seething froth of gold and green and black bubbles massing in dark blue hues, popping out of nitrogen blankets. The flotation cell stopped again, shutting down in protest of motorized heat, renouncing the separation into tailings and concentrate of gold ore from Nevada. This cell was prone to breaking, braking for its own reasons. The chemicals and water and ore all in his pores; the least he could do was give them leeway to touch him. His day of research pinpointing what a rock was inside and making all its other verbiage disappear, ending: in an hour he’d be wandering in Afternoon rocks’ weathered and incongruously (to classical physical concepts) gardened hardness. Fleeing from one fiction (roads, glassed buildings, computers, wrecking balls, metal rods, chemicals sputtering and acid eating, mountains now bad architecture) to another (repentance, escape, breathing freely in constant running up a trail of sandstone and pines, therapeutic jaunts falling his feet down the same slopes, living at the possibly sharp edges of movement), he was still fraught with complex iterations of addiction. The goo on his arm and the death rattles of rocks dispersing into the night shift, they were still always rocks, not rocks, both, and neither. Even the intrusion of classical physics and its world-remaking-might could not extinguish the infinite qualities of all objects impossible as mirrors. And though he knew this split of morning and afternoon was a livable duality, the fiction falling through space would eventually recede and he’d one day break with the sun, coming into the day with another slight puke of the past licked on his lips. Sulfur and shiny black metallic withering away after a visit to strong peppermint gel, standing on dirty slate in the corner of his bedroom, the tiny sandstone catchment bowl under his brushings. From there he’d look out the window and watch as the way to the mountains reared back and stretched off its cooler sheets to jump into orange and red pools of day. A guzzle of water gurgled from the spring, coming down a rock aqueduct the size of his thumb to an old farm sink faucet from a Nebraskan road side. Hazelnut goop on fresh-ripped chunk of sourdough. A screen door lack of WD-40 swing open and a wood slap shut. Flying along, graced by foot-scraped rock edges each as distinctive black holes where no-thing resides, curving ever outward and away, spewing particulars. The same rock which he always touched on the way out would be a minute of sun later as it was August: sanguinely a new rock. The rocks that trip and break bones and scar skins; wholly incomplete, resplendent as irreducibly forbidden epistemologies – complementarities.

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Quantum Theories

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.

A is for ... Act of observation

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

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.

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.

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.

I is for ... Information

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

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.

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.

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.

G is for ... Gluon

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

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.

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”.

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 ... 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.

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.

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 ... 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.

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 ... 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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!

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.

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.

R is for ... Randomness

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

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.

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.

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.

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 ... 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.

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!

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.

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.