Jim Mastro

Writing, and all things in between

A New Way to Look at Quantum Strangeness

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So here I’m really going to go out on a limb. First, I want to make it clear that I am by no means a physicist. However, I do have a passing understanding of the most interesting (to me) major areas of that discipline: Relativity, Cosmology, Astrophysics, Particle Physics, and Quantum Mechanics. My understanding is not rooted in the arcane (and to me inchoate) mathematics involved, but rather in the overall concepts. It’s an understanding derived from reading numerous books on the subject, many of them written by physicists, including Stephen Hawking, George Gamow, Richard Feynman, and Michio Kaku.

You’ve probably never heard of the last one, but you should. His writing is clear and eloquent, and his ability to explain the densest, most arcane concepts is remarkable. I am currently reading his book, “Parallel Worlds,” which is concerned with the intersection of particle physics and cosmology. Physicists have understood for some time that you cannot begin to understand the unimaginably large without first understanding the unimaginably small. I have been interested in these subjects for as long as I can remember, certainly ever since high school. As an undergraduate, I took courses in astronomy and astrophysics, and had I not been a smidgeon more interested in marine biology (and had I been better at math), I might well have chosen physics as a career path.

So I am interested in the subjects for their own sake, because I am interested in all science, and because now, as a science fiction author, they give me great ideas that I can use in my stories. And I love ideas, especially big ideas. Here’s one I just came up with: Phased Uncertainty.

I’ll explain. In one of his chapters, Kaku was explaining one of the very strange things about the quantum world, in which particles can essentially be in two or more places at the same time. Electrons, for example, form an “electron cloud” around the nucleus of an atom. Their position at any given time is a matter of probability, but it is less a single point than a general area, and they can be in two places at once. But if you know the electron’s “position,” you cannot know its momentum, and vice versa. This is known as the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle.

The big question is, if sub-atomic particles behave in this way, why don’t large objects? Why can’t a virus, to give Kaku’s example, be in two places at once? Richard Feynman solved the “how” of this question, but I’m not sure he solved the “why.” I mean, why don’t macro objects like viruses or tennis balls behave like sub-atomic particles? After all, they are composed of sub-atomic particles, each one of which is in a state of uncertainty where there is a small but measurable probability that it is across the room, or on the other side of the world, or on Mars for that matter. Individual particles can be as uncertain as they want, but once they are part of a larger object they seem to all agree to “be” in one particular place.

Here’s what I think. I think sub-atomic particles that are part of a collective object are in a state of phased uncertainty. Each one of them individually still has a vast set of probabilities, where they could each be in a million different places, but as part of a collective they have “agreed” to occupy a single “phase” wherein their greatest probability of existing in one spot is the same for all of them. All of their other probabilities are much smaller, but more importantly, they are out of phase. They are all over the place. One particle might have a slight probability of existing in the next room, while the particle next to it might have a corresponding probability of existing in the scientist’s shoe. In order for the entire object to suddenly be in another spot, all particles would have to “agree” collectively on a different phase. So, for example, Kaku’s virus is in one spot because all of its particles are in phase, such that each one has the greatest probability of existence at that one spot and all their other probabilities are both much smaller and out of phase. If they could somehow collectively decide to occupy a different spot, they would all have to simultaneously change to a different phase, such that their collective probability of existence is greatest somewhere else, on the other side of the petri dish, for example. Or in someone’s lung.

I don’t think this is impossible, though it is obviously highly unlikely. But what if there were some way of forcing it? What if you could alter the collective probability of an object, changing its phased uncertainty such that it is much more likely to be in an entirely different spot? This would constitute the perfect means of teleportation, though that word would be a misnomer, because you wouldn’t actually be moving a person or object (i.e., teleporting). The object or person would just suddenly “be” in another place (across the country, perhaps) because you’ve made it such that the object or person’s highest probability of existence is “there” instead of “here.”

I’ve never seen phased uncertainty mentioned anywhere, so this might be an entirely new idea. (Right! What’s the probability of that!) Any physicists out there care to comment?

In the meantime, you will see Phased Uncertainty in one of my upcoming novels.



Author: jimmastro2

I've rescued wild dolphins, trained seals and sea lions, scuba-dived in the gloom under 15 feet of ice, done stand-up comedy, directed plays, and spent winters in Antarctica. I've been a biologist, professional dancer, laboratory manager, college professor, drummer in a band, professional diver, research assistant, photographer, surfer, and water skier. Now I write full time (except when I'm directing plays -- or surfing). Originally from San Diego, I now live in New England with my wife, son, and a small dust mop masquerading as a dog.

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