Thoughts of Thoughts

Your rating: None
0
No votes yet

He sets down his drink. It’s a watery gin and tonic, light on the gin. The ice clinks in the small glass as the liquid sloshes about, muffling the much softer sound of the glass touching weathered, stained wood. The lights are bright, the music loud, the wafting fumes of cigarette smoke near overwhelming.
 
So he turns his head.
 
Both motions seem easy in principle, involving a few quick muscular changes. The triceps, for instance, is relaxed at the start of this whole narrative, but that simply won’t do for the purpose of setting down a glass. As a result, acetylcholine floods the muscle, binding to receptors on long chains of muscle cells.
 
From here, it’s all a rather big commotion. Those receptors, you see, open up ion gates in the muscle fibers, and that’s what the sodium ions have been waiting for. They hop the fence into the muscular cytoplasm, which in turn convinces a whole load of calcium ions to also flow into the cytoplasm, all while potassium ions decide that the neighborhood has gone to the dogs and take their leave.
 
All this changing of the ions leaves some proteins rather flustered. Tropomyosin in particular takes great offense to all this calcium and stops doing its job. This leaves myosin quite free to do its favorite thing, which is grabbing its friend actin, pulling it down over and over again, and shortening the sarcomeres in our hero’s triceps.
 
And if you think that’s a bit much, this is happening in all sorts of places in all sorts of muscles at varying rates depending on the needs of the load of bland G & T. 
 
It might not seem like it, but it takes a rather monumental amount of effort. For instance, that glass was wet and slippery, covered in the condensation from a hundred breaths of the strangers around him. It was only thanks to the decades of hard practice of picking up and setting down glasses of liquid and uncountable mistakes of unsuccessfully putting down said glasses that he was able to pull off this hare-brained maneuver at all. And that’s not even addressing the turning of the neck!
 
It’s a lot to think about, and quite frankly, it only gets worse.
 
We’ve glossed over quite a bit, really. It’s easy to say “He sets down his drink” as if the decision was as simple as a rock continuing to be a rock for millions of years, but the computational mechanism that led to him setting down his insipid drink is so utterly and mind-numbingly complicated that to even begin to express the intricacies of one-millionth of a second of action between a small cluster of cells too small to be seen is not even worth attempting to describe with less than a disproportionately massive quantity of words and is something that the vast majority of us lack the time or space or, ironically, brain capacity to successfully handle.
 
Muscles, complicated though they may be, are absolute peanuts compared to neurons. As much as we try to pretend otherwise, they’re not just little convenient wires looped around the bodies relaying ones and zeros. Each of them contains a massive quantity of nonlinear dynamics. Steady states and chaotic systems rule every thought, and neurons synchronize and desynchronize with very little consideration to how difficult they are to comprehend, and there are billions upon billions of them all interacting. You would sooner count the number of stars in the Milky Way than you would the number of neurons in the average McDonald’s kitchen, and they’re all communicating with each other in their own unique ways.
 
But why? Why did he set down the glass? What spiraling bit of electricity sparked a series of neurons that sparked another group in turn, jumping through this lobe and that wrinkle to turn into the decision to give up on the limeless travesty?
 
The more pessimistic among us will say it was bound to happen; that the universe is so specifically and tragically governed by a certain set of rules that what has happened was always to happen, what will happen will always happen, and that if you started us all over a dozen times we’d be exactly where we are today.
 
But somewhere, someone disagrees. Somewhere, some poor postdoc has just fallen asleep on their laptop, an open yet unread textbook to their left, a rapidly cooling vanilla latte wasting away on their right, and though their drool will make their ‘G’ key function poorly tomorrow, they dream of a world governed by quantum mechanics. In their world, nothing is certain, and particles are simultaneously in a hundred locations until you look at them, and God really does play dice.
 
And in that world, well, who’s to say? 
 
Maybe it was an action predetermined by the precise placement of a certain proton three seconds after the Big Bang that makes him set down his drink and turn to leave the bar..
 
Maybe it was an improbability born of a particular electron probability density that makes him pause as something catches his eye, makes him walk into the crowd instead of leaving, and makes him say, “Hey. Can I buy you a drink?”
 
Who’s to say?

 

About the Author: 
I make great use out of my B.S. in physics by writing short stories for reddit's /r/WritingPrompts as well as longer works on reddit.com/r/Badderlocks.
Share this fiction

Quantum Theories: A to Z

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.

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.

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!

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

K is for ...
Kaon

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

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.

G is for ...
Gluon

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

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.

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 

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!

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

R is for ...
Randomness

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

A is for ...
Act of observation

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

I is for ...
Interferometer

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

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.

I is for ...
Information

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

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.

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.

U is for ...
Universe

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

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.

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.

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!

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.

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”.

S is for ...
Superposition

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

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.

K is for ...
Key

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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