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The butler assured the gentleman that his employer rarely had anything to do with any sort of nature, whether of reality or otherwise--she was emphatically a house-mistress--but since he had come all this way, and it was bitterly cold, and the farmer who had transported him via cart from the train station was now a wee dot in the distance, the butler thought it only proper to invite the scruffy little fellow in for tea. The butler knew the man would try to inveigle his way down to his mistress’s study, but he also knew that anyone unfamiliar with the manor’s intricately knotted passageways would more than likely keep ending up in the aviary no matter how hard he tried. So, he took the man’s hat and coat and indicated for the man to take a seat in the velvet upholstered armchair next to the fire in the front parlor, barely bending his ample, rotund frame with a quick, stiff bow before heading off toward the kitchen.

The visitor, however, was no more inclined to sneak off into the grand old house than he was to sit in the armchair, seeing as how he had already gotten lost several times en route and had already been sitting for six or seven hours. His inclination was toward rumination, and he slipped his pipe out of his jacket pocket and took several unconscious, smokeless puffs as he stood and warmed his backside before the fire. By the time the butler returned carrying a tray laden with a pot, teacup, milk and sugar bowl, the visitor’s thoughts had lead him to a fresh offensive.

“My apologies again for barging in,” the scruffy little fellow said. “It’s just that, I write fact-based articles for a living, and if I don’t get the facts right, I don’t make that living. I’m trying to verify something, and I can’t do that if I don’t look. Sometimes I look in the wrong place.”

“It’s quite all right sir,” said the butler. “You’re only fortunate anyone was within earshot of the bell. If you like, I can ring for a car to ferry you back to the station.”

“That’d be very kind,” said the visitor. “I’m anxious to give this clearly intelligent soul a fair hearing. Nobody wants to be known as a crackpot.”

The butler nodded and turned to make the call, but then he paused for a moment to frown, considering something, after which he turned back to face the visitor.

“This person to whom you refer, sir,” said the butler, “I take it, then, they stated some facts that you wish to verify, in order to protect their reputation.”

“Someone at a journal I write for on occasion showed me a letter they were about to ridicule in print,” said the visitor, “and I convinced them I at least ought to hear said correspondent out.”

“But this had to do with, as you said earlier--“

“This person claims to have developed a way of observing something without it reacting to being observed,” said the visitor.

“But surely there are many methods of achieving that, with hidden cameras and such,” the butler said.

“Not if what you’re observing is very, very small--so small that the very minims of light you’re observing it with can actually affect it.”

The butler reflected on this for a moment, raising an index finger to his plump lips.

“Suppose . . .” the butler began. “Suppose, sir, you were to find a way to observe whatever it was without light.”

“You would still have to send something to whatever it is that will then report back to you,” said the visitor. “When whatever you send gets to whatever it is you’re observing, the two things will come into contact and affect each other. And, you can forget about leveraging any precision in the case of such small things--that’s been proven to be impossible.”

“No doubt you are right, sir,” the butler said. “Here. It occurs to me, though, that if one could open a window somehow from somewhere else and reach through at just the right moment with the--what would you call it--not-light from there . . .”

“I’m afraid I don’t follow,” said the visitor.

The butler shook his head. “Nor, do I, exactly. No. Well--I will call that car for you, sir.” And with another stiff bow, the butler left.

It now struck the visitor as he took a sip of tea that, despite having stood in front of the fire for some time and now imbibing the hot beverage, he suddenly felt quite cold. He scanned the room for any open windows. The two of lead glass at the far end of the parlor didn’t look capable of being opened, but, given their age, perhaps some of the panes were beginning to separate. And, through them--how had he not noticed that enormous oak before? As he stared at the tree, he noted he could now see his breath. Separating panes surely wouldn’t be responsible for that. His eyes then fell upon what clearly looked to be frost in one corner of the room, and, his curiosity getting the better of him, he chose to leave the warmth of his post to investigate. He had only taken a few steps in that direction when the butler returned.

“It seems you’re in luck, sir,” the butler said. “The groom needs to go to the ironmonger’s in the village--he will take you to the station.”

The visitor glanced back over at the corner of the room that had piqued his interest--the frost he had seen only moments before had vanished, and, for that matter, also the oak he had seen outside.

“Thank you,” he said. “But, I wonder, if I might call again tomorrow?”

The butler nodded. “If you can find us, sir. If you can find us . . .”

About the Author: 
Brian Howrey forges stories, using words, music, actors, images, electrons and/or whatever else is available.  His theatre work has been performed at a variety of venues in the U.S. and abroad. His novel ‘The Word Snatchers’ is out in beta.

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Quantum Theories

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.

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 ... 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.

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!

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.

A is for ... Act of observation

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

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.

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”.

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.

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.

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.

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!

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

K is for ... Kaon

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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!

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.

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.

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.

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.

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 ... Randomness

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

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.

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.

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 ... 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.

G is for ... Gluon

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

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.

U is for ... Universe

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

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.

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.