Mustard and Entropy

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Mustard and Entropy
C. Thomson
OHHHHM went Carrie.
Her black side gleamed brilliantly under the harsh desert sun. She seemed completely impervious to the orange dust that clung to everything else like a bad smell. MacMurdo had grit in his teeth; he had grit in his eyes; he had had grit in his sandwiches for the last sixteen days, and something told him he was right on track for ploughman's des sables number seventeen.
'She looks fine, Marie, leave her be.'
'She looks fine to you, Murdo, because you have all the aesthetic sensibility of a cane toad.' said Marie.
MacMurdo snorted and swaggered off to rest his bulk under the shade of the equipment tent, leaving Marie to fuss redundantly at Carrie's perfect feet.
Everything about Carrie was perfect. Perfect to the Nth degree. To the N to the power Nth. MacMurdo sighed and tipped a little orange sand from his shoe into the palm of his sweaty hand.
She was the most perfect thing in the known universe – except of course for her perfectly identical sisters; Terry, Sherry and Mhairi. A tetrahedral constellation of unequalled radiance – though MacMurdo knew he would always have his own special favourite...
'Look, would you give it a rest, Marie?'
'Murdo, she's got to look her best – 24/7 – today could be the day, you know! Would you let her go on camera in this state?'
She went back to her pawing. Today could be the day.
And why not? History had taught that the coalescing quantum inevitability of history resonated far below the threshold of mere human perception. A day like any other could be transformed at a moments notice into the day of the decade – the century!
MacMurdo carefully poured the pinch of sand into a tiny cairn atop the plastic comms table. He admired the energy efficient structure of the miniature orange mountain before scattering it with a single sharp puff. He swirled his pudgy fingertips through the remnants and thought of Roebuck and his team stranded somewhere in the sweltering, pest ridden rainforest of Guatemala. MacMurdo smiled. There were worse places to be.
Marie scuttled about Carrie's hulking black shell like a dung beetle worrying at some unfathomable alien dropping. By some measurements, Carrie massed a little over half a billion tonnes, though the great majority of that mass was fortunately smeared liberally across non-Einsteinian space. The modulated quantum singularity in her heart - and in those of her identical sisters - though tiny by astrophysical standards, was the result of more than a century of back breaking (not to mention migraine inducing) labour by the combined scientific elites of the world.
Four entangled impossibilities dancing in geometric harmony at the four corners of the globe; dragging their quantum-gravitational fingers through the substance of space-time like rakes through a zen garden.
OHHHHM went Carrie.
With the edge of his palm, MacMurdo swept the remaining dust off the cliff edge of the table. A few grains stuck stubbornly under the aluminium trim, adding to the rusty rime about everything: a pale orange shadow outlining the dimensions of human presence. The rest melted silently back into the desert floor.
An ever hopeful vulture screeched somewhere overhead. Marie hummed a little tune as she buffed Carrie's already perfect carapace to a mirror sheen. MacMurdo watched her disappear mercifully behind the curve of Carrie's five meter diameter.
The ocean of end-stage probability stirred restlessly about MacMurdo's feet, as if eager to convey some urgent message. He looked out across the shifting, shimmering horizon and imagined Carrie's modulated 3-dimensional graviton pulse bleeding out through the bulk of the metaverse; slicing through unthinkable planes of non-space, non-time – to be felt upon the shores of some unthinkable non-place … or, just maybe, to be picked up by some alternate version of himself; cringing under a mosquito net in the middle of a monsoon...
MacMurdo was ever thankful for the sense of perspective granted by scientific knowledge. There were always worse places to be – and somewhere out there, he was already in all of them.
Marie reappeared, still humming dutifuly, her pale green summerdress ruffling in the heat and rising wind.
'For gawd's sake, woman; put that thing down and come over here before you get heat stroke.'
'I'm almost done, Murdo. Why don't you do something useful yourself and make us up some sandwiches, eh?'
MacMurdo grimaced. So it had come to this. Again.
OOO-UUHHHHHHM went Carrie, her baritone rising by a perfect fourth as she cycled from transmit to receive. Two PM on the dot.
MacMurdo rose with a breathy preamble and shuffled off towards the cool box.
'Don't forget the mustard on mine, Murdo!'
MacMurdo dipped his fingers into the lukewarm refrigerator and pulled out half a loaf of white bread, a block of cheddar cheese, a jar of sandwich pickle and a single sachet of prepackaged Dijon mustard.
'Phew. Hot one today, eh?' beamed Marie, pulling off her flopping sunhat and patting the dust from her dress as she sat.
'Hot.' agreed MacMurdo, setting two plates and two glasses of water on the tabletop.
Marie nodded and glanced back out to the huge black sphere humming serenely a dozen metres away across the baking plain.
'Ain't she a beauty, Murdo?'
'Perfect, Marie. Just like you.'
'Hah, you old sap!' laughed Marie. 'Best eat up, eh. Can't be going on camera on an empty stomach – today could be the day, you know!'
Today could be the day.
MacMurdo picked up the sandwich and bit.

About the Author: 
After recently graduating with a degree in Art and Philosophy, Craig Thomson currently works as a carpenter in his native Scotland. He still tries (and sometimes finds) time to write, make artwork and play his guitar.

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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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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 ... Randomness

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

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!

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.

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.

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.

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 ... Act of observation

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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 ... 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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”.

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.

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 ... 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.

G is for ... Gluon

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

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 ... 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.

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.

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.

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!

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.

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.

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.

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!

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.

U is for ... Universe

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

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.

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.