Saturday, December 26, 2009

Quantum Physics as Mythology

Perhaps I'm searching too hard to explain reality beyond our senses, as I posited in my last post. The problem, as I see it, is trying to describe a reality beyond the one we know and connect it to the world we live in. Since we live in a world of cold matter on one hand and abstract thought and emotion on the other, maybe I don't need to look so hard.

As I said in the previous post, explaining the contents of kibble to a dog is beyond purpose. The dog can't grasp it and the owner should know that. Yet when marketers sell tinned dog food with chunks of meat, carrot and peas, some owners imagine that this makes a difference to the dog. It's the same conversation, only visual. These owners imagine the dog will understand the concept of peas and carrots if they look like them more than if they were pureed or freeze dried.

Advertizers personify everything into talking images that tell us we should love them so much we want to brush with them, chew them up, cure our ills or kill our environment with them.

So how could a lowly SF writer such as myself take advantage of the human need to personify everything we see and touch to describe and define a quantum world? I think the physics community treats the layman as the dog in this analogy instead of the owner. They explain it to each other in mathematical metaphors like branes, multi-dimensions, strings and so forth that require a good deal of noodle work and leave us poor dogs staring uncomprehending at the mess of peas.

The ancients like Greek and Mayans were on to this long before Madison Avenue. Creating myths to personify the universe helped to explain complex ideas to common folk. For example, the Titan, Cronus, devoured his children because the sages told him one of his sons would overthrow him one day. So his wife, Rhea, feeds him rocks and hides her baby Zeus who grows up to kill the old man. This story reaches us profoundly on a gut level so that we don't need to overexplain it.

I wonder if there's a way to reach people with quantum mechanics on a similar wavelength? I guess I have my work cut out for me.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

New Year's Resolution: Let's reinvigorate science for our readers

Developing a theory of quantum gravity that both fits my own concept of how the universe works (the heavy lifting done by all the physicists I read) and being able to describe it in my novel are two very different challenges. The ins and outs can be explained to physicists and other interested parties. But making it accessible to a wide range of readers who may barely be familiar with the basics of higher dimensional theory is like explaining the ingredients of kibble to the dog. They hear the words, they just don't understand...or care.

It's not so hard to talk Einstein and relativity, even to kids. Most people can relate to red shift and black holes and time slowing down as velocity picks up. We learn it in school and it's now part of science 101.

However, discussing quantum mechanics and gravity loop theory with friends and family usually dulls the eyes of even the most polite listener. Most people nod off watching PBS's version of a string theory lecture that barely scratches the surface of the science. Unless quantum physics is a subject you love, it's about as exciting as metric vs. standard lug nut wrenches. That goes double for readers. So, how to introduce it into the story in enough spurts and bits to bring the reader along without losing them completely?

I want, no, I need them to relate to quantum gravity, to feel the power of a planck universe on our lives. I am trying to create a link between our universe and something so foreign that it is virtually indescribable, yet is the backbone of what we are. Not an easy task.

In storytelling, you don't get a second chance to tell it right. So spoon feeding relevant bits and hoping they stick, while introducing the next concept somewhere in the mix of adventure, romance or plot is a balancing act.

That leaves me on the precipice of totally losing my reader before I've even engaged them. Worse, it leaves me with a sense of pointless humility at how so many have lost interest in the sciences. We have to work very hard to bring it back.

Merry Christmas, Sam.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Quantum computing here we come...

Pack your bags, Sam. We're leaving pentium computing and making the move to a quantum processor.

An exciting move forward in quantum computing has just been achieved where chilled beryllium ions passed the threshold of performing a computing task. Maybe it's not enough to go out and sell all your Intel stock and invest in qubit venture captital, but the VAX computer wasn't much compared to what we use now. However, it was an important step along the way.

I wonder what will happen when a bazillion qubits send that dissertation you've been working on for 2 years into the alternate state of a partner qubit on the other side of the universe. Or just as bad, Heisenberg kicks in so that you're paper is but isn't really there, depending on where you don't look.

This could be a nightmare. Be careful what you wish for...