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                My name is Bob and I was in love with a woman I never met. Photons passed between us, more information in a week than some couples share in a lifetime. Daily she affected my life, her fiddling with measurement predicted my outcomes. At first it was pure necessity, she was the observer at the other end of an experiment. I saw a number, a notation, a state of polarization, but no more. Then she was an antagonist, a nemesis, a reflection in the dark mirror, my opposite. It felt like there was animosity in her observation, robbing me of degrees of freedom, determining my state. Even then, I needed her. If opposites attract, we had billions of instances of attraction in the quanta that built our research and soon that was how it felt. The reversals seemed less capricious, more complimentary. Rather than forcing my observation, I felt destined to observe. No nearer to her in body, I felt connected in spirit, entangled with her.
                Anticipation is a state of exquisite uncertainty. Before you know, you dream, you hope, you wish, you imagine. Anything is possible. The good, the great, the sublime, even the chocolate-coated orgasmic are all possible. You will not just fall hopelessly into one another’s arms, but you will spend your lives in utter bliss. The dishes will never pile up in the sink or the laundry on the bed. Basements won’t flood and roofs won’t leak. Neither of you will age, develop wrinkles, or suffer the common cold. There will be no dandruff or back pain and your feet won’t stink. Before a future reality can exist, love or loss must be resolved. In longing, in the not knowing, loss too remains unknown and only the possibility speaks to your desires.
                The undisturbed state, though, cannot last. Human nature abhors the passive observer. We are scientists. By definition we must know. I had to know. Could I plot the probability of my answer over time? Was there an optimal moment to collapse the uncertainty and ask? After all the messages passed between us, the most difficult could not be carried by photons, but rather hundreds of thousands of times slower, by car and by foot and by human voice, all equally torpid to our chosen playthings. What difference does 3 or 60 or 700 miles per hour make to something that moves 186,000 of those miles in an hour?
                I brought the box. Black with a question mark painted inside. It meant everything to the right observer and nothing to anyone else. A series of contingent events began and smaller uncertainties resolved themselves. I knocked. The door opened. Alice’s long brown hair was in a ponytail. She wore stylish tortoiseshell glasses, cocked her head and smiled.
                “I’m Bob,” I said.
                “So nice to meet you,” she said extending a hand. I shook her hand, nervous. Then I held out the box.
                She took it and my body tensed. On the edge of a precipice, she held the answer in her hand and opened it. Soon there would be only the answer. Good or bad, happiness or disappointed, but no longer anticipation. The moment would coalesce and everything would have to account. The dishes, the laundry, flooded basements and leaky roofs, dandruff, wrinkles and smelly feet would all have their day in one reality or the other.
                Peering inside, she smiled and closed it. Was a smile enough? No. Did she understand?
                “Are you asking me out?” she asked.
                “I thought it would be obvious,” I said.
                “Never make assumptions,” she replied and smiled.
                “Yes, I am,” I said.
                “You’re sure you want that, you can’t put things back the way they were once you know,” she said and I knew she understood.
                “I have to know,” I said.
                “I know you do and so do I. Let’s get dinner.”
                Collapse. And from that event, a new crop of uncertainty sprung. Like the heads of the hydra, once each event is resolved, two more spring from it. New perfect futures can turn somersaults in the mind while others, now precluded, we forget.
                Our future of a million billion uncertainties began with one desire. My name is Bob and I wanted to send a message to Alice.

About the Author: 
Paul is a network engineer and part-time fiction writer who lives in Lakewood, Ohio.

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Quantum Theories

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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 ... 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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!

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.

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.

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.

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!

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.

A is for ... Act of observation

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

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.

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”.

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.

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 ... 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.

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!

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.

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 ... 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.

G is for ... Gluon

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

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.

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.

U is for ... Universe

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

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.

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.

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.

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 ... Randomness

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

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.

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.