8.1 Quantum Quandaries

“Oh sorry Lisa, I didn’t realise there was a lecture going on.” The angel followed Pete’s gaze and her hand flew to her mouth as a loud giggle escaped her. Sat on a tip-up chair halfway up the theatre slouched a wirey, bottle-blonde man clad in a beanie and vividly coloured clothes of a material that looked a little too shiny to be possible.

“Pete, that’s not a student, that’s Professor Budweiser Stephenson,” she said with a fixed grin trying not to cause embarrassment. The young man looked up from his phone.

“Hi there, yeah, I’m like, a professor? Had a big role in the development of like, quantum mechanics?” Pete hid his puzzlement at this uncharacteristic academic.

“Hello Professor,”

“Call me Bud?”

“Okay, I take it you weren’t named after the beer!” grinned Pete, trying to break the ice.

“Actually, I like, was? I’m a physicist from a bit ahead of your time and then parents just name their kids after stuff they really like?”

“Oh, well, that’s nice,” said Pete hoping his blush wasn’t becoming visible.

“Yeah, so you’ve heard a bit quantum mechanics?”

“Everything that we think of as solid is as empty as outer space, because atoms are as empty as solar systems? There’s a tiny nucleus then unfathomable space, then some electrons hurtling around the nucleus in orbit.” 

“Well, I’ve heard of quantum computing, which will be a complete revo_” Budweiser’s habit of adding Australian question intonation to his feeble English accent kept throwing Pete.

“Well there was this guy called Young? He figured out with his double slit experiment that light could be a particle and a wave at like, the same ?”

“Amazing, that must have been very recent?” Bud pulled out a packet of crisps and began crunching the contents thoughtfully.

“Not really, he did it in 1801?”

“What? Georgians figured something out that advanced?”

“Yeah, Young was a clever guy, but then this other guy called De Broglie figured out that it wasn’t just light that could do that, all of matter did it.?”

“What even_”

“Then this really clever guy called Schrödinger worked out these like, equations? Totally legit ones, with predictive power, so are like, definitely true?”

“What do they show?”

“Probably easier if I, like, show you? Can you hold my crisps please Lisa?” The luminous angel, completely devoid of ego or pride and recognising no attempt to humiliate within the request, smiled and took the half empty packet from the physicist.

“Um, everything seems to be getting bigger?” said Pete with concern as the lecture theatre seat on which he sat began to expand into a sea of blue polyester forming a horizon in all directions.

“Not really, we’re getting smaller.” A single thread from the fabricated seat now loomed up like a towering wave on a raging sea. Then, blackness, complete black emptiness, with lights glimmering unimaginably far away.

“Wow, are we in outer space?”

“No, we’re in the chair, this is solid chipboard.”

“But, there is no chipboard, just this space.”

“That’s like, the point?”

“Sorry?”

“The universe doesn’t really exist?”

“Well of course it exists!”

“I’ve got like, two Nobel prizes for physics, one for proving that it doesn’t? Everything that we think of as solid is as empty as outer space, because atoms are as empty as solar systems? There’s a tiny nucleus then unfathomable space, then some electrons hurtling around the nucleus in like, orbit. Speaking of which you might want to, like watch out?” said Bud calmly. A bright light appeared in the distance and grew rapidly brighter until a massive ball of chaotic light hurtled past them, with terrifying proximity. Pete blinked, but all he could see was the light for a few minutes, so he spent the time patting down his hair which had stood on end thanks to the charge from what turned out to be an electron. Bud continued, unphased.

“So, like, your body, the ocean, even a granite cliff, they’re all as empty as outer space. Your mind just like, joins some dots and creates the illusion for you?”

“So when Hindus, Buddhists and so on say that the world is an illusion, or Maya, a curtain between us and true reality…”

“Those guys are like, totally right? They knew thousands of years before Young, so they’re like, really clever?”

“But, even if the mind has to fill in the blanks, there is still the solid reality underneath, atoms are real and solid and so on?”

“Not really, that’s what I wanted to show you, why I really shrunk us down? Take a look at another particle.” Another ball of light began to approach, only it wasn’t a ball this time.

“Because we’re in heaven, I’m able to show you something quite far out? What a particle looks like before it’s observed?” The light grew brighter, then Pete noticed something.

“Hold on, that’s not one particle, that’s lots, look different balls of light, but some are brighter than others.” The particles wizzed past, like an eerie formation of spacecraft.

“That’s the really crazy thing? That was just one particle.

“Impossible? Is it versions of itself from the past or future then?”

“No, it’s the same particle at like, the same time? That’s the crazy thing about Schrödinger’s equations, if you solve one for a particle, you get a like, wave function? That’s the path that the wave slash particle is taking, like watching a swell move across the sea? Well, if you take two different waves and add them together, it’s still a solution to the equations?”

“So that means… um, what does that mean?” Pete rubbed his jaw thoughtfully.

“It means that particles, so therefore all matter is in multiple places at once, before it’s observed? All you can assess is how likely it is to be in a particular spot? So the brighter lights you see are the most likely positions of the particle?”
“So…”

“So the universe doesn’t really, like, exist?” Particles only have a single location when we look at them? I’ll make us visible to the particle now?” The formation of light balls moving away from the two men instantaneously became one. Pete’s jaw dropped in amazement.

“Surely the equations are wrong then?”

“We’ve been through that man, nobody has ever been able to disprove them, even by my time. With the computing power available to me, I could have like, destroyed those equations if they weren’t one hundred percent true. So we have to accept the consequences for our understanding of like, reality or lack there of?”

“So, when we look at a particle and see it in one place, what decides what that place is?”
“Like, God does?”

“How do you mean?”

“Well, God is the source of all concepts? What Plato would call the forms? So, in order to learn lessons from our lifetimes, we’re shown things that we need to see and feel to learn? I got my second Nobel prize for figuring that one out?”

“So the universe is like a big sand tray, where everyone sees different things written in the sand?”
“Not a bad analogy man, yes kind of. But it’s not like everyone’s in their own world? Because there is a true reality, heaven, the world of forms and because at a sufficiently high level, we all share the same soul, the oversoul as that guy you met, Meherbaba called it? So like we all see something similar, but it is shaped by the oversoul, which is shaped by God? But we also have an individual soul, so different people can still see the universe differently?”

“I’m not sure I’m with you.” The microscopic world morphed into a very dark, narrow, cobbled street lined with red brick buildings. (to be continued)

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