Diffusion

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It's as if you had been startled awake driving home, nodding off when abruptly, a near-accident announces that miles passed you by, all without your knowing. You jolt upright, suddenly well-aware of the error of your surroundings.

In the mirror opposite, you raise and meet your own eyes. They're wide now, and your face looks drained of blood. A pale light from outside the room illuminates white tiling, the clean porcelain of a sink, the spark of water gushing out of the tap. There's nothing wrong with this place –it's your bathroom. What's wrong is you. You don't belong here. And that'd be easy enough to ignore, sure. But it would also make your demise all but unavoidable. You close your eyes and force in a deep shaky breath. You exhale slowly, and confront your gaze again, teeth clenched. You're nothing like your mother, you declare to yourself.

You're in the bathroom. But where you're supposed to be is the kitchen, some seven meters away, at the counter. You were just pouring scalding tea into a mug there, holding it as it became full, almost to its brim. You're somehow in the bathroom now, or maybe still in the kitchen?

Your thoughts are interrupted by an abrupt pain in your hand, setting your nerves alight down the length of your arm. You fail to suppress a yell and stagger against the wall. Gripping the bathroom sink to remain upright, you clench your jaw and through tears, look down. A reddish welt covers your left hand, as if from a burn. The sound of shattering porcelain rings sharply from the kitchen.

You wince as you ball your hand into a fist. Breathing hard, you resolve to turn the throbbing pain into clarity –it's time to start the livestream.

Your subscribers are used to the odd hours. Your persistent work keeps them coming back. The games you choose to stream, your collaborations, your on-camera personality –all of these an outcome of thorough analytics. And your viewers, in turn, reward you with the power of their eyes. Money too, but that's secondary. You average 500 onlookers per stream, but honestly, even one would suffice. To make you feel seen. Whole. To remove the ambiguity in where and who you are.

You didn't choose your quantumness. It was hereditary. But unlike others with the condition, including your helpless mother, you will never succumb to it. You refuse to. And you resent them all, especially her – the selfish and weak who spread this malady by starting families, only to ultimately diffuse across their homes, across the universe. 

Your skin tingles, your breath is shaky, but you feel in control. Long ago you resolved to survive this, to be nothing like her, if only out of spite. You command all the scattered parts of yourself towards the office, to your computer. You straighten your webcam and click the computer's power switch on.

The screen remains black, and your eyes widen in its reflection.

You press the switch again. Check the power cables. The fuse. The screen remains black. You feel the blood leaving your face as the tingling in your skin becomes a sharp buzz. Your eyelids grow heavy and your head lowers on its own.

You spasm, screaming as you suddenly find yourself on the living room couch. There's less of you here now, as you feel your body spanning both this room and the office. Your heartbeat echoes across the house. You furrow your eyebrows as your thoughts and emotions become as indeterminate as your flesh. Clarity resists you. Concentrating fully with every step, you ultimately force all parts of yourself back to the office. You breathe shallow rapid breaths and tremble. It's a lot to think about –everything that could possibly go wrong– but this is why you bought an emergency power bank with your first loan. You find yourself in front of it (or maybe outside the office, looking in?) as you lift its monitoring panel. The light is on –fully charged. You roar in affirmation and reroute the power. Your computer screen flickers on.

You had heard the weather warnings, you had to have known that your condition could exceed your preparations. Did you ignore them on purpose or did you drive yourself towards annihilation subconsciously? You can't focus well enough to know. But you realize that seeing your internet down fills you as much with terror as peaceful acceptance. A superposition of emotional states growing broader, encompassing even the feelings you committed to never acknowledging. The buzzing in your skin swells to a crescendo. You span three rooms now, maybe four, and your consciousness fragments between them. Bringing yourself back together again is outside your capacity. You had so many other fail-safes, but they can do little for you now.

The Thing-That-Had-Been-You gushes, pours out across your apartment like a wave. You're contained within the building for now (you had chosen it for the thickness of its walls and lack of windows, after all), but already you can start to feel slivers of yourself tunneling out, the feeling of wind and rain on your skin.

All of the following then occurs:

Ending 1

You fragment a countless number of times. As you cry, helplessness in an infinite number of places, you feel every possible feeling. A full spectrum of experience too incoherent to bring together across your parts, which now tunnel out of your apartment, flooding the world. You jolt upright: you're in your bathroom, in a gallery, in a sewer. You're terrified, inconsolable, ecstatic.

Your subscribers move on.

Ending 2

By some impossible mercy, the fragments of you ricocheting off the walls meet microscopically uneven surfaces and in a statistical miracle, synchronize in their reflections. Your parts all meet in the bathroom, coming together like a rogue wave out of an empty sea. You stand whole again, the buzzing in your skin calmed, and meet your gaze in the mirror. You see your mother's eyes.

About the Author: 
Piotr Roztocki is a PhD candidate in quantum photonics, living in Montreal, Canada.
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Quantum Theories: A to Z

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.

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.

A is for ...
Act of observation

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

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.

U is for ...
Universe

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

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.

M is for ...
Maths

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

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. This column from Quanta Magazine ​delves into the fundamental physics behind quantum computing.

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.

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!

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.

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”.

K is for ...
Kaon

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

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 ...
Key

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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.

S is for ...
Sensors

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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.

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.

R is for ...
Randomness

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

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.

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.

I is for ...
Interferometer

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

C is for ...
Cryptography

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S is for ...
Superposition

The feature of a quantum system whereby it exists in several separate quantum states at the same time.

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.

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.

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!

G is for ...
Gluon

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C is for ...
Clocks

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G is for ...
Gravity

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Q is for ...
Quantum biology

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M is for ...
Multiverse

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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.

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.

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 ...
Qubit

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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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

T is for ...
Time

The arrow of time is “irreversible”—time goes forward. On microscopic quantum scales, this seems less certain. A recent experiment shows that the forward pointing of the arrow of time remains a fundamental rule for quantum measurements.

I is for ...
Information

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

E is for ...
Ethics

As the world makes more advances in quantum science and technologies, it is time to think about how it will impact lives and how society should respond. This mini-documentary by the Quantum Daily is a good starting point to think about these ethical issues. 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5qc7gpabEhQ&t=2s 

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!

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