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!
** QUANTUM SHORTS 2019/2020: PEOPLE'S CHOICE
August 6th, 1945. Shinichi pedals fast on his tricycle. He is four years old but wants to be older. Maybe if I go fast enough, I will speed up time. He rockets down the road, fast, faster, fastest!
And then the sun eats the sky. He has gone so fast the world has broken. His body is weightless, absorbed into the everywhere-light. His skin starts to scream and burn. He cannot see anything.
That night, Shinichi’s father buries him in the yard with his tricycle.
His mother will not stop crying until she too is dead. She walks away from her child’s grave, skin hanging from her burns like shredded paper, slow enough to stop time.
July 16th, 1945. J. Robert Oppenheimer is still damp from the night’s relentless thunderstorms, his suit hanging wetly from his rail-thin frame. He is chain-smoking in the base camp hut, cluttered with scientific instruments and anxious physicists. Five minutes to detonation. It’s going to work, he tells himself. Two billion dollars, 130,000 jobs. The culmination of 300 years of physics. The thing that will make me immortal.
One minute to detonation. Oppie’s body feels electric, his mind is a balloon. He hasn’t eaten or slept in more than a day. He snubs out his cigarette, stops breathing. Five. Four. Three. Two
The sky is ripped apart and the pre-dawn becomes noon, every inch of the desert valley illuminated in violent, magnificent light. Oppie’s mind swims with his mother’s paintings, the sound of his father’s laugh. Jean, the love of his life, dead in her bathtub. The book of Donne poems she’d given him, wet in his pocket. His baby daughter, whose name for half a second he cannot remember, his secret desire to give her away to someone who can love her.
Now comes the sound. A horrible roar, the scream of unholy birth, reality itself being shredded. The shockwave knocks several of the other men flat. The light begins to dim.
Later Oppie will claim that a line from the Bhagavad-Gita ran through his head: “I am become death, the destroyer of worlds.” But really, all he thinks is this: Things used to be so simple.
July 12th, 1939. Two eccentric Hungarians drive a rickety Dodge past the World’s Fair in Queens. There is no time to stop at the World of Tomorrow or see the mustached cat named Hitler. They are going to Long Island, but make several wrong turns and end up frustrated and lost.
The one with glasses says, “Let’s just give it up. Perhaps we are making a mistake by bringing the matter to public attention. These wrong turns could be fate, you know?”
“Don’t be silly. Someone must know where to find him.” He calls out to a boy playing by the side of the road. “Young man! Do you know where the scientist with the funny hair lives?”
Einstein serves them iced tea and frowns as they tell him the atom has been split.
“It will cause great destruction,” one of the Hungarians warns. “Don’t you see what Germany could do?”
Einstein agrees to write a letter to the President, warning of this discovery’s terrible potential. The President assembles a committee, then another committee, then an office of development, and so on. Two years later, the mountains of New Mexico swarm with the nation’s best physicists. Their singular purpose: to build an atomic bomb.
There is a cat in a box. Near the cat is a lump of slightly radioactive metal. If the metal emits radiation, a geiger counter will drop a hammer onto a vial of cyanide, and the cat will die. If the metal does not emit radiation, the vial will remain sealed, and the cat will live. None of the quantum particles in the box have a specific position, but rather a set of possible positions, which collapse into one reality -- cat alive/cat dead -- when an observer opens the box. So Schrödinger says.
But what if the observer is simply an additional set of possibilities? Who, by the very act of observing, becomes entangled with the cat and the geiger counter and the cyanide to create a new set of possibilities, which interact with other possibilities, which interact with others, until the whole universe is connected, entangled, changed?
In this case there is no collapse, only divergence. The cat is alive and the cat is dead, but in different realities, different arrangements of possibility. Reality divides along the fault lines of every action, every decision, every thought. Every quantum event launches limitless parallel worlds.
July 12th, 1939. Two eccentric Hungarians take several wrong turns and end up frustrated and lost. “Let’s just give it up,” the one with glasses says. “Perhaps we are making a mistake. These wrong turns could be fate, you know?”
“Maybe you’re right,” the other sighs. The corn on his foot is bothering him. “Perhaps best to let history unfold as it will.”
On the way home, they stop at the World of Tomorrow and see the Hitler cat with its little black mustache.
July 16th, 1945. J. Robert Oppenheimer sits at home in Berkeley, sipping a martini and preparing next fall’s lecture notes. Jean slips into his lap and he cradles the roundness of her belly, eager to meet the new life they will soon bring into the world. He will not be remembered in the history books, will never be a great physicist. But he will be a father. And that is enough.
August 6th, 1945. Shinichi pedals fast on his tricycle until he falls and scrapes his knee and cries, and mother comes to kiss him and take him inside. For dinner they have sticky rice and fruit and meat, and father tells a story that makes the whole family laugh. After dinner Shinichi is sleepy, but fusses when mother tries to put him to bed. He wants to stay awake. He wants to experience everything in the whole wide world.