Love in the Multiverse

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Things used to be so simple. Love had always been hard, but now it was almost impossible. Everyone thought the ability to travel to a parallel universe for the price of a first class airplane ticket would be incredible, and it was, at first. People visited dead relatives. They checked out what would have happened if they skipped marriage or had dropped out of college and started a band like they wanted. It was mostly harmless.
 
I, like the rest of the world, was shocked when Para Industries introduced the technology to the public in late 2050. We’d all seen adventures in parallel worlds play out on screen, but few people were actually familiar with Everett’s Many Worlds Theory or that quantum physicists believed it was really possible. 
 
 
Stella, my girlfriend, is the one who explained it to me. Then, she laughed, “I can’t believe you didn’t know that. You have a Fringe box set that you rewatch at least once a year.” I felt my face go warm remembering how I responded. “I...I thought they made it up. Stop laughing at me!” She had reached forward and rested her hand on my knee before leaning in to kiss me and whisper “You’re adorable when you’re flustered” into my ear. 
 
 
It was less than a year later when she died in the car accident. I was never the same. I felt myself die inside when I heard the news. Every cell in my body wanted to escape, to be anywhere else in the universe but inside me. I was inconsolable for months and clinically depressed for a year. After two years, I was finally getting better. I still thought of her everyday, but the memories were more happy than painful. 
 
 
Then, the university scientists announced that they had made contact with a parallel universe and could send small objects over. Their counterparts in the other universe had made the same discovery and could send the object back. I became obsessed with researching parallel universes and how each came to be. I learned that, according to Many Worlds Theory, every decision creates another universe for each possible outcome. Stella was alive somewhere! My heart filled with hope. If the scientists could send objects, maybe they’d be able to send people.
 
 
Five years later, Para announced their MultRail travel service. For $5000, anyone could hop a ride to other universes Para had made deals with. The downside was that you didn’t know much about where you were going before you got there. The Para guide could give you basic information about the climate, economy, and socio political environment. They could also let you know if the person you were looking for was alive or dead but not much else. It was enough. If Stella was alive somewhere, there was a chance. The trips booked quickly. Who doesn’t have a loved one they’d like to see again or a choice to revisit? It took me months to cobble together the money. I sold everything I had that wasn’t essential. I took extra shifts at work. I moved into a cheaper apartment with roommates. If there was another Stella out there for me, I wouldn’t be back here anyway. 
 
 
I called a Para travel agency to make a down payment and put my name on the waiting list. My heart sank when they told me it was going to be 18 months before my turn. Still, I would have waited forever if I had to.
 
 
It was 3 months later when things started to go off the rails. The MultiRail was starting to destroy relationships and break up families when one partner decided to take a trip to see a lost love in another world. The divorce rate shot up to 70%. The rate of depression went up. Para couldn’t access every possible reality, so there were many people who discovered they couldn’t be with a lost loved one, whether they were dead or just not interested. Some desperate people spent their life savings searching for what they wanted.
 
 
Five months before my trip the government announced that it was forcing Para to shut down Multirail, effective in 4 weeks. Para was ordered to return down payments to anyone whose departure was after that date. I received my check a few days later. 
 
 
I started drowning my sorrows at the bar. One night I heard a guy behind me complaining about how he was getting fired in a couple weeks and couldn’t find a new job. I turned around. He was wearing a Para name tag! It didn’t take me long to decide what to do. I sauntered over to him, smiled, and said “Hey, can I get you a beer? I overheard you’re losing your job.” He hesitated a moment before agreeing. I signaled the server..
 
 
We talked until closing time. I kept the drinks coming. On the way out, I made my move. “Hey, so I’ve always wanted to see one of those MultiRail stations. Is there any way you could show me?” He slurred a “I can’t.” I leaned in, grabbing his lapel. “Are you sure? I’d be really grateful.” I tilted my head, biting my lip at the word grateful. He looked disoriented a moment before agreeing. We took a taxi to his office. My heart was beating fast as he unlocked the door. 
 
 
“This is it,” he said, gesturing toward a huge, bronze archway. “You just put some data in this computer, push enter, and poof another universe.” I walked over, leaned in close, and whispered “Would you show me?” He looked at me, hungry, before turning to type on the keyboard. A minute later, the archway came to life with a blue glow. Before he could turn around I picked a lamp up off a desk and hit him over the head.
 
 
I whispered “I’m sorry,” before rushing over to the portal. I put my hand on the archway. I closed my eyes and stepped through, “Stella.”
 

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Quantum Theories: A to Z

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.

M is for ...
Multiverse

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.

S is for ...
Superposition

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

G is for ...
Gluon

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

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 ...
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!

I is for ...
Information

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

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.

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.

K is for ...
Key

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

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.

C is for ...
Cryptography

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

I is for ...
Interferometer

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

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.

S is for ...
Sensors

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

Q is for ...
Qubit

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.

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.

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 ...
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.

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.

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.

A is for ...
Act of observation

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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!

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”.

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.

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.

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.

G is for ...
Gravity

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.

R is for ...
Randomness

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

K is for ...
Kaon

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

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!

C is for ...
Clocks

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.

U is for ...
Universe

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

T is for ...
Time

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 ...
Computing

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 ...
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.

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.

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