Just to see what happens

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“Dr. Singh, I don't see anything”

“Give it just a few more moments” the elder explorer replied, but already the darkness was being pierced by pinprick-sized lights and they grew brilliant as the universe resolved around them. It was space. The vision before them became clearer as if someone were adjusting the resolution on a giant television monitor.

No television had resolution like this. The magnificent image before them wasn't a projection or a reflection, it was real. The Eagle Nebula stretched out before them from horizon to horizon in all of its glory. Massive columns of gas millions of years old, star nursery and the inspiration of the title “Pillars of Creation”.

“Impressive isn't it?” the older man asked. His answer was awed silence.

Let the grease monkeys and rocket jockeys explore Mars, the old man had declared decades ago, the real exploration will begin with the conquest of the Quantum universe.

“The biggest problem left is to name everything we find” Dr. Singh said, with humor in his voice. Gregory had been brought here to be one of the “Quantum Disciples” who had spent the past decades being derided as such. Of course they came to accept it with honor.

As the particles moved through space they came upon one of the stars that had been formed in the cluster but had been discharged. For a hundred years it had been moving away from the nebula at high speed for such an object but considering to the giant nebula it hardly seemed far at all.

“What do you see?”

Gregory wondered what he was supposed to see for a moment before gasping. The escaping star had taken some of the gas, dust and rocks from the nebula with it. Of course, it had its own gravity after all. The orbiting particles were already starting to flatten out into a disk. Someday that star-stuff would form into planets.

“So soon after leaving the nebula?”

“So soon” the old man asked, sounding tired “So soon we must leave our encounter”

Like a rubber band he snapped back to the laboratory in Singapore. Two others were assisting the old doctor, giving him water once he was sitting up. Dr. Singh tried to wave off his concerns “Missed lunch, shouldn't have done that”

Gregory followed the doctor and his two assistants to the next room where he sat on a plush chair. “Don't you have more to say after such an experience?” the amused old scientist teased.

Gregory had found the experience exhilarating, of course, but saddenng. The future had arrived, dreams had come true. Man had reached out and colonized the moon and set down on Mars, harnessed the resources of the asteroid “belt”, but it could not stifle its own primitive natures. The vast majority of the world simply did not care and would not understand. To them the exploration of the universe through the Quantum MFI was like a Hollywood illusion or maybe magic. For all intents and purposes much of the world was populated by a bunch of spoiled children.

He knew better than to try and drag the whole human race with him to the future but he was a generous and caring man by nature. He wanted them to know, to understand, to experience what he did. He found it sad they would rather wallow in their trivial pursuits and pleasures.

“You want me to join the Society” Gregory said, breaking the quiet as they drank their tea “You want me to become a disciple and help acquire and retain knowledge that the human race doesn't know it needs or wants yet”

“Like a monk in the Dark Ages when Europe had fallen back to a more primitive time. Someone must keep the flame of knowledge alive as we slide into a new Dark Age” The old man said “An age of fantasy and desire take the place of reality and the possible. We think along the same lines, you and I”.

“Yet, I have no idea what you plan for me” Gregory answered “You already have disciples, Mr. Chang and Miss Koh are already running the foundation on a day to day basis. So what do you need me for?”

“You must go out into the world and teach it” Dr. Singh said “You must keep it simple for them or they will tune out. You must fight the darkness that is on the horizon. So, how would you explain the Quantum MFI to an audience of... those people?”

“The Quantum Multi-Field Integrator allows our probes or ourselves to be in two places at once, here and any where else in the universe” Gregory said “In a way this allows us to compare a place like the Eagle Nebula as it is now and the way we see from Earth, 7,000 or so years ago”

“What would it cost the foundation to hire you as its missionary?” the old man asked, amused about something again. It was as if the old man already knew.

“I would want to use the Quantum MFI on a regular basis, do my own research, my own exploration” Gregory answered “I want to be able to see everything there is to see. I want to see life on other worlds, I want to travel to the farthest star and see the void on the other side.”

The old man nodded and smiled. He was like a genial old Buddhist monk in the old martial arts films who seemed to know everything. They became quiet again, Gregory mused that he might be meditating. “Every fourth month, you may use the Quantum MFI as long and as much as you like”.

“What will you do in retirement?”

“Travel” the old man answered “I will cease being in two places at once, I will no longer be here but there. I will die in the Quantum MFI, just to see what happens”

About the Author: 
Floyd G Looney, 41, is an avid consumer of science fiction and would be a writer if he ever finished a story.

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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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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 ... 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!

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.

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.

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”.

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.

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.

R is for ... Randomness

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

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.

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.

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.

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!

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.

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 ... 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.

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.

A is for ... Act of observation

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

G is for ... Gluon

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

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.

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.

U is for ... Universe

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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!

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.

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 ... 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.

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 ... Cryptography

People have been hiding information in messages for millennia, but the quantum world provides a whole new way to do it.