Onmogelijke fysica

Onderstaand kortverhaal stuurde ik in voor de Quantum Shorts 2015: “A contest for quantum-inspired flash fiction”. Het haalde niet de shortlist, maar het was erg leuk om nog eens een poging tot fictie te doen. Met dank aan Maureen Voestermans voor de tip. :-)

Impossible physics

“Tell me something new, Maya,” my grandfather says as he opens the door.

It has become his standard greeting since I started studying physics. Some say that he is becoming a grumpy old philosopher, but to me he is kind and bright as ever. He is always eager to hear about my experiences at the university.

“This semester we started a course on quantum mechanics, grandpa.”

He sighs almost inaudibly. During his career, he spent quite some time at the lab checking out experiments by Otto and Walther, his physicist friends. He was particularly interested in the measurements of the spin of silver atoms. Many of the physicists tried to explain why these measurements always end up at one end of the measurement axis, in the so-called plus state. Unlike them, my grandfather expected at least some measurements to result in the highly speculative minus state, but he never witnessed it. Nobody ever did.

To lift his spirit, I start telling him about some of my own speculations.

“Let’s try a thought experiment, grandpa. For the sake of the argument, suppose that there is another world, much like ours, except that when Otto and Walther made the first spin experiment with silver atoms, all the spins resulted in the minus state.”

“Poor people,” he replies, “they would be in the same predicament as our physicists!”

“Sure, but now image yet another world, in which about half of the measurements came up plus and the other half minus.”

He starts to look more interested. “Well, Maya, there could be many such worlds, each only different in which experimental runs showed the plus result and which the minus result.”

I go on. “In each of those worlds, people would be trying to explain the particular pattern they found, rather than the old question of why they all end up at the plus-hand side.”
Well done, Maya. Now, I am just reminding him of his frustrations rather than diverting him. But he doesn’t seem to mind.

“Or,” grandpa says, “maybe some researchers would suspect that the outcomes are unpredictable.”

He started playing the “or” game, in which we entertain alternative hypotheses just for the fun of it. I gladly play along.

“Or,” I say, “some of them would start believing in parallel worlds. They would start speculating about other worlds, with similar statistics as their own, but different patterns in individual outcomes.”

”Or,” he says, “if they believed that all possible outcomes are realized in some world, they would realize that there are also many worlds with slightly different statistics, and some in which the statistics are way off, and then two in which there appears to be no unpredictability at all.” He pauses and waves his hand as if he is seeing a ghost. “They would have no way to contact us, of course.”

As he speaks these words, I feel a chill along my spine. He continues.

“At least they would imagine us to be possible, whereas all the physicists in this world deem them impossible.”

“We are being exceptionally silly tonight, right, grandpa?”

He starts laughing: a contagious belly laugh. My favorite sound in this Universe, and possibly beyond.

He nods, but I notice a sparkle in his eyes – a new sense of hope.

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