Your rating: None
No votes yet
It’s weird, the things that can mess up a kid’s head. Take Ana, for example. She was convinced that every time she looked under her bed, the Universe split in two. In a parallel world in which a mirror Ana also looked under her bed before going to sleep and after saying her prayers and where, up until then, she’d never found anything bad, this time there would be a ghastly demon with wicked teeth and blood-stained claws, whose only desire was to catch and tear apart Ana, aged six and three quarter years.
    Little wonder she said her prayers before she looked. Little wonder she had nightmares.
    I told her that wasn’t the way the multiverse theory worked. That for every Ana that found a slavering beast, there was one that found a toy she’d lost, or one that forgot to look under the bed.
    She skewered me with her most outraged look. This Ana never forgot.
    But it’s hard arguing theoretical physics with a child yet to turn seven and, as I wasn’t prepared to deny the theory outright, it was clear this notion was not going to be an easy one to shift. It wasn’t simply that she had a binary, yes versus no, either-or view of the coin toss that happened in her imagination every time she lifted the skirt that kept under-the-bed out-of-sight. It was because what terrified her, wasn’t the finding a monster under her bed, it was the not finding a monster under her bed. In her head, every time she survived, she doomed the parallel Universe Ana to a grisly death. It was the guilt that was crushing her.
    “Why don’t you not look?” I reasoned.
    “I have to,” she replied with an air of ancient sorrow. “There might be a monster under the bed. I have to check. And even if I don’t, the other Ana will.”
    This had me scratching my head, figuratively speaking. I’m a psychologist by trade, not a physicist. Wouldn’t that require the Universe to have already split? And, once the other Ana looked, it would be her Universe that split again, not this Ana’s. Maybe this was something I could use.
    I thought of her parents. Reading between the lines, not a tricky task with those two, they wanted me to crush Ana’s creativity. To make her as easy to handle as she had been twelve months earlier. To make her ‘normal’. But normal wasn’t an option; it was clear this precocious child had the potential to far exceed the pretensions of her middle class parents.
    “Ana,” I said, “Who looks first? You, or the other Ana?”
    She suspected a trick and trod carefully. “We both...” then she corrected herself. “There is no other Ana, not until I look. Or there is, but it’s me and we haven’t split yet.”
    “If she is you, will she react to finding the monster the same way you would?”
    She sucked air through the gap in her front teeth. “I guess.”
    “And how would you react, if, when you looked under the bed, you found a monster there? What would you do?”
    I waited. The silence stretched between us. This was somewhere she hadn’t been before. “I don’t know,” she said quietly.
    “But you’d do something? You wouldn’t just sit there?”
    “No,” she agreed. “I’d run... hide. Scream, maybe.”
    “I’m sure you would. And what would your parents do, if they heard you scream?”
    “They’d come running,” she said, and they would. Any parent would.
    I let her think about this for a moment. “Ana, you’re intelligent, resourceful, and brave. And the other Ana, she is exactly the same. She is, after all, you. She - you - would not take it lying down. You’d fight, you’d run. Your parents would help. The one thing you would never be, is a victim. Don’t think I haven’t noticed the hobby horse propped up against the toy chest, ready for action.”
    “And the roller skates on the landing,” she said. 
    I wasn’t sure how the roller skates would help. Perhaps she hoped the monster would trip on them. She’d be upset if I told her that her mother wordlessly tidied them up each night. “And the skates,” I diplomatically agreed. “It’s not much, perhaps, but you’re doing the best you can. And so would the other Ana. No monster is going to get a free lunch in this house.”
    She laughed, a lovely little laugh, made all the more charming by its rarity of use.
    I pushed on. “So it’s not a foregone conclusion that the monster always wins. And if it does not-”
    “-Then there are two Anas!” she interrupted.
    This wasn’t quite where I’d been going. I wanted her to acknowledge that she wasn’t responsible for what happened in the other Universes. How could she be? But sometimes, usually in fact, you had to let your patient find their own path.
    “And then four, and then eight, and then...” she babbled on.
    A small chime rang out on my wristwatch. “Okay Ana. I think we’ve made good progress. We’ll leave it there for today.”
    A muffled voice came through the door. “Ana? Honey? Who are you talking to in there?”
    Ana called back, “No one, mummy.”
    Which was an illuminating denial. I jotted it down for future discussion, curious to see if Ana’s mother would come into the bedroom. “Okay sweetie,” she caved in, as I suspected she would. “But go to sleep now, you hear?”
    Ana waited until the footsteps faded away down the hall. “Goodnight, Doctor.”
    “Goodnight, Ana,” I replied, “sleep tight.” 
    And then I slid myself back under her bed, listening to her breathing softly slow and waiting for tomorrow night, when she would once again lift the covers, and - all being well - discover me lying there, ready for our next session.
About the Author: 
Liam is a London based writer and host of the award winning monthly literary event, Liars' League. He was a finalist in Sci-Fest LA's Roswell Award 2015, and has had work published in Leap Books' "Beware the Little White Rabbit" #Alice150 anthology, and in Sci-Phi Journal.
Share this fiction

Quantum Theories: A to Z

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 ...

This is the basic building block of matter that creates the world of chemical elements – although it is made up of more fundamental particles.

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.

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.

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.

Q is for ...
Quantum States

Quantum states, which represent the state of affairs of a quantum system, change by a different set of rules than classical states.

T is for ...

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.

W is for ...

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.

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.

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.

A is for ...
Act of observation

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

K is for ...

These are particles that carry a quantum property called strangeness. Some fundamental particles have the property known as charm!

S is for ...

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 ...

Unless it is carefully isolated, a quantum system will “leak” information into its surroundings. This can destroy delicate states such as superposition and entanglement.

I is for ...

Many researchers working in quantum theory believe that information is the most fundamental building block of reality.

X is for ...

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.

G is for ...

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.

I is for ...

Some of the strangest characteristics of quantum theory can be demonstrated by firing a photon into an interferometer

N is for ...

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.

E is for ...

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.

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.

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.

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”.

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.

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.

R is for ...

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!

T is for ...

The arrow of time is “irreversible”—time goes forward. This doesn’t seem to follow the laws of physics which work the same going forward or backward in time. Some physicists argue that there is a more fundamental quantum source for the arrow of time.

C is for ...

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

R is for ...

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

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.

T is for ...

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.

K is for ...

Quantum Key Distribution (QKD) is a way to create secure cryptographic keys, allowing for more secure communication.

L is for ...

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!

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.

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.

U is for ...

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

C is for ...

The rules of the quantum world mean that we can process information much faster than is possible using the computers we use now.

Q is for ...

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.

M is for ...

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.

D is for ...

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.

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 and is a technology to build qubits for quantum computers.

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.

P is for ...

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.

S is for ...

Researchers are harnessing the intricacies of quantum mechanics to develop powerful quantum sensors. These sensors could open up a wide range of applications.

G is for ...

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

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!

M is for ...

Quantum physics is the study of nature at the very small. Mathematics is one language used to formalise or describe quantum phenomena.

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.

C is for ...

The most precise clocks we have are atomic clocks which are powered by quantum mechanics. Besides keeping time, they can also let your smartphone know where you are.

Copyright © 2021 Centre for Quantum Technologies. All rights reserved.