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 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.    

0 Responses

  1. David Bosboom
    | Reply

    Well, Jeff, I'm glad my email got to you at the same time you were posting on your Blog! Timing IS everything it appears. Glad to read that the next "chapter" of the "Chaos Chronicles" is happening too. Stay well!

  2. Charles Nicolosi
    | Reply

    Count me in as Happy, happy to hear a snippet on Reefs of Time 🙂 *happy_dance*

  3. damyantiwrites
    | Reply

    Some very simple yet complicated lessons!

  4. Chris McKitterick
    | Reply

    Nice writeup, Jeffrey. It was such a fantastic experience – thanks for refreshing my memory with this list!

  5. MaryA
    | Reply

    "She is in a BOX"??? Jeff, I have personally verified that that cat lives in one of the new and tres-chique mini-condos! And from my observations, she loves it! (Dunno how that other guy's cat felt about its dwelling, though. Too, too dreadful or just out of this world?

  6. MaryA
    | Reply

    Ugh — close that parenthesis, please! Here's an extra! )

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