Am I Dead or Alive?

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Senn opened her eyes and wondered if she were dead. She rather thought that she wasn’t, but one could never be sure about such things. She blinked up at the strange half-light filtering in through the curtains. Coupled with the dull, persistent roar in the background, it certainly did not seem very much like the realm of the living. She sat up, and looked about her room — nothing else looked much out of the ordinary. If this were a dream, she might have considered pinching herself to see if she felt anything. At least that would have been rather straightforward. But as she shook away the last dregs of sleep, Senn knew that this was decidedly Not A Dream. Although she was still quite undecided about being dead.

On the bright side, it would mean no more funding proposals to write.  

Last night, she’d gone to sleep amidst the raging of an uncommonly strong typhoon; a typhoon that was still here this morning, still gleefully trying to drown the island and uproot whatever trees it hadn’t already. She felt fairly sure that it was morning. With the half-light and blinding rain, it was difficult to really tell the time of day. Or even what day it was. Briefly, the notion that she maybe was dead strayed back into her thoughts. She was dead, and her soul (or whatever remained of it after postgrad) was simply hallucinating her last moments alive. But how could she have died?

Maybe the roof had caved in overnight and the downpour and debris had smothered her in her sleep.

Maybe the house next door collapsed onto hers (highly unlikely), or one of those beleaguered trees had been flung about enough to crash into her house.

Maybe, maybe, maybe.

But she was dry and — as she had noted before — there were no signs of destruction to be seen, with the wind and rain continuing to pummel a very intact house. A particularly vicious gust sent the windows rattling, jolting her out of her musings with a grimace. She was going daft, Senn thought, to be entertaining such ridiculousness. A small part of her brain helpfully supplied the fact that in theory, some alternate version of her probably had been killed by the typhoon in another reality. She promptly quashed it. Wrangling with theories on the quantum multiverse was decidedly not her field of physics, and it wasn’t something she’d want to get into first thing in the morning either.

She sighed. Being trapped indoors was clearly starting to get to her. The loss of electricity — and more importantly, internet connectivity — two days prior hadn’t much helped things either. If alternate worlds did exist, it would have been nice to be in the one where the typhoon had missed the island altogether.

All this extreme weather had been so dreadfully exciting at first. But it was now the fourth day since the typhoon had made landfall, and frankly, Senn was starting to miss being able to hear herself think. Tempting as it was to sleep the rest of the day away, some vestige of good sense had her dragging herself out of bed to do something to keep herself sane.  

As it turned out, that something was eating a granola bar while attempting to find a part of the house with a steady cell signal. Reception had been spotty, but during brief lulls, she was able to snatch glimpses of the outside world. Even if the connection was too slow to do anything other than check the typhoon’s progress across the island or send a short message to family to reassure ‘Yes, I’m still alright’, it was something. Today, though, it didn’t seem like she would be having any luck, so she switched her phone off to conserve its battery.    

Without a task to occupy her, she found herself thinking again. Now that she wasn’t half-asleep, Senn knew that she was quite alive and well, if slightly tired of granola bars and retort pouch food. However, as she turned over the situation in her mind, she realised that for all anyone knew at the moment, she was both dead and alive in her house. Of course, she hoped that people would assume she was alive. Unlike the classic cat experiment, there was a distinct lack of poison or other dangerous substances, unless you counted the weather. Did it matter if the cause of death was outside the system? Probably, but she'd wager a typhoon to be as capricious as anything. 

Stuck as she was, and isolated in this ‘box’, an outside observer could very well call her a ‘particle’ in superposition. But it didn’t really work that way, did it? Senn could scarce recall much of the quantum units she’d taken as an undergraduate, but she was vaguely certain that there was something (the Many-World interpretation possibly?) that didn’t mesh with the premise of superposition states. It was all well and good to be the observer outside, but what about being the observer on the inside of the box? What happened then?

It’s a lot to think about, she conceded. Perhaps she'd corner one of her colleagues who worked with quantum theory when she finally got back to work.

Senn was so caught up in her musing that she didn't realise how much time had passed —  and that the storm had finally abated, leaving an unsettling stillness in its wake. There was still that strange half-light, and in the silence, it only made everything feel even more otherworldly, as the world had changed during the typhoon.

Senn took a deep breath, and stepped forward to open the door.

About the Author: 
Amanda M. L. Ho has a degree in physics, and likes to hope that one day, she will be able to combine her love of physics with writing.
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Quantum Theories: A to Z

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