The Cat’s Still Alive (and Dead)! — Schrödinger Sessions

Not really Schrödinger’s cat, but she is in a box.

I’ve just come back from an incredible weekend at the Schrödinger Sessions: Science for Science Fiction, at the Joint Quantum Institute at the University of Maryland, near Washington, D.C. The JQI staff hosted just over a dozen SF writers, and for several days stuffed our heads full of information about quantum physics. It was head-exploding. But in a good way!

Here are some of the things we learned from Chad Orzel, Steve Rolston, Chris Monroe, and others:

  • How to become quantum (which only works if you are very small, much smaller even than I was when I was at my low weight).
  • How (if you can master the first step) you can be in two places at one time—and also how to collapse that state so that you’re just in one.
  • How to trap a single charged atom (ion) in a vacuum trap and cool it to just a whisker above Absolute Zero. (And we leaned over and didn’t touch! equipment that does just that.)
  • How to quantum-entangle two or more particles in the above-mentioned apparatus. (Okay, I still don’t really understand how to do that.)
  • How to make light disappear with two polarized filters, and reappear with the addition of a third. (I sort of understand that.)
  • That sometimes the answer to the question “Why?” is “Just shut up and calculate.”
  • That probability is not a definition of a thing, but a statement of our knowledge of a system.
  • That probability is not a definition of knowledge after all, but of our ignorance about a system.
  • That there are two rules of quantum mechanics:
  1. Quantum objects are waves, and can be in states of superposition (more than one position at a time).
  2. Rule #1 holds as long as you don’t look!

Professor James Gates (familiar from countless PBS documentaries) told us why he doesn’t buy the extra dimensions suggested by most string theorists.

Professor Raman Sundrum (of the Randall-Sundrum Model) told us why he does, and furthermore why it’s possible we’re living in a holographic universe.

I learned that quantum physicists say “I don’t know” a lot.

There was tons more, presented by a bunch of professors. I hope I can remember it. Or most of it. Or some of it. Part of it, in fact, plays right into what I’m trying to do in my work-long-in-progress, The Reefs of Time. So I really hope I can remember that part.

Maybe I’ll buy the book by Chad Orzel, one of the workshop leaders, How to Teach [Quantum] Physics to Your Dog.

Down in there is a glowing cluster of verra verra cold ytterbium atoms.


The Cat’s Still Alive (and Dead)! — Schrödinger Sessions — 5 Comments

  1. Way over my head! Glad you enjoyed it. I’ll stick to soft science that other people can explain to me in words of one syllable.

  2. Why it’s possible we’re living in a holographic universe? Because we can imagine it, and in the universe of the mind, anything at all is possible.

    • Maybe. But what Dr. Sundrum actually meant was that the math that describes a holographic model of the universe fits the observational evidence re particle physics and cosmology. And that’s a fairly important test of whether a scientific model is worth considering.

      Interestingly, most of the important discoveries of quantum physics came first from the math, and was later confirmed by experiments.

      • Oh, I did realise that. I was just having a bit of figurative fun with the idea. After all, scientific research does seem to always be playing catch-up with its observations about the universe that artists already know intuitively.

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