Maybe he was a raving madman, a fool in search of harmony in a world turned upside down. Sometimes, however, magnificent thoughts could creep into the head of anyone, even a perfect fool.
… From Behind The Locked Door
There were three umpires discussing how they call balls and strikes.
First Umpire: “I call’em like I see’em.”
Second Umpire: “I call’em like they are.”
Third Umpire: “They ain’t nothin’ ‘til I call’em.”
… Unattributed Story I once heard
Murphy’s Law is usually stated in its negative form: “Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.” As it turns out, quantum physics has a more complete and thus happier way of putting it: “Everything that could possibly happen does, in an array of parallel realities.” Happier, that is, for those of us who find unhappiness in the present. I was inspired to write this because of a personal tragedy. I’m not in denial, I am hopeful. As strange as it sounds, I found some degree of solace in quantum physics while reading Six Impossible Things: The Mystery of the Quantum World by John Gribbin.
Quantum of Solace is a James Bond movie starring Daniel Craig based in part on the short story of the same name by Ian Fleming. According to the Wikipedia page [numbers refer to footnotes on the page]:
The film is related to the title in one of its thematic elements: “when the Quantum of Solace drops to zero, humanity and consideration of one human for another is gone”. Daniel Craig admitted, “I was unsure at first. Bond is looking for his quantum of solace and that’s what he wants, he wants his closure. Ian Fleming says that if you don’t have a quantum of solace in your relationship then the relationship is over. It’s that spark of niceness in a relationship that if you don’t have you might as well give up.” He said that “Bond doesn’t have that because his girlfriend [Vesper Lynd] has been killed”, and therefore, “[Bond is] looking for revenge … to make himself happy with the world again”. Afterwards, Quantum was made the name of the organisation introduced in Casino Royale. Craig noted the letter Q itself looks rather odd. Near the end of the film, the Camille Montes character and Bond have a discussion about their individual quests to avenge the deaths of their loved ones. Montes asks Bond to “let me know what it feels like” when he succeeds, the implication of the title being that it will be a small amount of solace compared to his despair. Bond’s lack of emotion when he does exact revenge shows this to be the case.
The movie, entertaining as it is, has little or nothing to do with modern physics but the title ties in nicely with Gribbin’s book. Quantum physics has shot a hole in reality as we know it. Gribbin defines reality as: “the idea that there is a real world that exists whether or not anyone is looking at it, or measuring it.” The physicist John Bell found a problem with that definition of reality. If it’s true then we must accept that particles very far apart from each other must impact each other instantaneously inconsistent with a constant speed of light. This is all heady stuff and I’ll leave you to read the book (only 80 pages) for yourself. The point is that Bell’s research left many physicists with severe headaches. Like Daniel Craig (Bond) in the movie, they started looking for a “quantum of solace” which they sort of found in a number of interpretations (six in Gribbin’s book) of quantum theory. But, also like the Bond character in the movie, they found to their dismay only a small amount of solace compared to the despair.
For me, however, even that small amount of solace has proved to be a great comfort.
“Ofelia, do you believe in miracles?”
“That isn’t the right question. If it’s possible, that’s enough.”
“But stories must be based on facts.”
“There are deeper realities, Eric. A world without miracles is an incomplete world. Life consists of more than facts.”
“But … how can a story be true if it’s just made up?”
“We all make up stories every day. That’s life. All stories are true in some way. If not, they wouldn’t be stories.”
… From Behind The Locked Door
As the famed physicist Richard Feynman said: “I think I can safely say that nobody understands quantum mechanics … Do not keep saying to yourself, if you can possibly avoid it, “But how can it be like that?” because you will go “down the drain” into a blind alley from which nobody has yet escaped. Nobody knows how it can be like that.” (from Gribbin: Six Impossible Things).
Gribbin says in his book that practical physicists don’t worry about the whys and hows of quantum physics, they simply “shut up and calculate.” Other physicists, perhaps those with a more philosophical bent, have “sought solace in other ways,” they have developed remedies or interpretations of how the world works in accordance with what we know about quantum physics. At the end of the book he summarizes the six possible “solaces” he describes in his book.
One. The world does not exist unless you look at it.
Two: Particles are pushed around by an invisible wave, but the particles have no influence on the wave.
Three: Everything that could possibly happen does, in an array of parallel realities.
Four: Everything that could possibly happen has happened, and we only noticed part of it.
Five: Everything influences everything else instantly, as if space did not exist.
Six: The future influences the past.
Number Three is an interpretation close to my heart, the so called “many worlds interpretation. Sean Carroll writes about it in his illuminating book Something Deeply Hidden. Close to my heart because it confirms the peace and joy I felt when I read this by Tomas Tranströmer, the last paragraph in his prose poem The Blue House:
A motor far out on the water extends the horizon of the summer night. Both joy and sorrow swell in the magnifying glass of the dew. We do not actually know it, but we sense it: our life has a sister vessel which plies an entirely different route. While the sun burns behind the islands.
So, here is my point. We could look at these six interpretations of quantum physics through the guise of religion, philosophy, science or simply pure math and we will likely get out what we put in. I don’t know, I’m not that smart. What I do know is that I’m experiencing a personal tragedy that calls for a miracle and all this quantum stuff, right or wrong, gives me hope that one could be out there. And, as my character Ofelia said, “if it’s possible, that’s enough.”
Crazy? Maybe. But, like Feynman said, don’t dwell on the enigmas.