Sep 03, 2010 I Amelia Crater

Welcome to the Quantum Age where Fiction and Fact Intersect

“The past is not dead. In fact, it's not even past.” William Faulkner

Pakistan is underwater and Russia is ablaze, yet not even a fire tornado in Hawaii can convince climate-change deniers that there is something radically wrong with the weather.

Newspapers report as fact that thanks to a never-before-seen petroleum eating microbe the millions of gallons of oil spilled by BP have vanished.

And a shockingly high percentage of US citizens believe President Obama is of the Muslim faith, notably the same people who previously berated him for the “radical” church he attended in Chicago.

Exasperated pundits lament that “We have seen Idicocracy and we are it." Intractable stupidity seems to be on the rise, but maybe it’s just the times we live in.

Think about it: when steam-powered train engines were first invented it was a widely held belief that the human body could not withstand travel at speeds higher than very small number, like 30 mph. The shift from one historic age to the next makes fools of pretty much everybody at the cusp. Perhaps the rampant anti-science, anti- intellectualism is society’s gut reaction to the dawning of the Quantum Age and the extraordinary tolerance for ambiguity it requires of the human mind. If you’re the type of person who likes to stick to tradition, keep the facts straight, and play by the rules, you’re bound to be upset by science that suggests we don’t know who killed the Kennedys because the answer depends on events that have not yet occurred.

“History is a biological phenomenon” Dr. Robert Lanza, M.D, recently wrote, “it’s the logic of what you, the animal observer experiences. You have multiple possible futures, each with a different history.”

Lots of gray area and little black and white. It’s an ambiguous state of affairs we can blame in the quantum. In 2007, the journal Science published a paper on particle physics describing an experiment on the subatomic level where quantum rules apply, a researcher found he could influence whether a photon collapsed into wave or particle by flipping a switch after the fact, which I don’t understand well enough to explain adequately. In short, he could change the photon’s history. Or as physicist John Wheeler extrapolated, "We are participators in bringing about something of the universe in the distant past."

When you stop to consider how much of history is speculative the notion that we can still influence it is intriguing to many, but understandably upsetting to people who already have their answer and don’t appreciate having the matter reopened.

For instance, we know almost nothing about even the civilization transforming figures from the past -- including the true identity of William Shakespeare or if Jesus Christ was the Son of God or a literary device used to promote a revolutionary agenda of peace, love and understanding.
Thanks to particle physics and quantum mechanics, we might still “decide” the answers to those questions, an idea that is nothing short of blasphemy in many quarters.

It’s not an easy proposition for anyone to consider. Just this week, for instance, after 16 years of excavation, Greek archaeologists unearthed the the remains of the home of Odysseus which are “ are identical to the ones described in Homer's Odyssey, presumably written about 8th century BC.”

Odysseus, you may recall, is the protagonist of the Greek poet Homer’s The Odyssey. He was kind of a superhero, who held sway with Olympian gods, hobnobbed with ghosts, Lotus Eaters, Cyclops, Sirens and for the past 3000 years was thought to be a work of fiction. Now we have his home address.

While that may not seem like such an astonishing turn of events considering the book was written a really long time ago and maybe was commissioned as a kind of like those bio-pics loosely based on the story of a real dude. On the other hand, imagine if you can that archaeologists one day find the remains of an ancient castle somewhere on the British Isles that was named Hogwarts and had as its star pupil “the boy who lived,” as well as other artifacts identical to the ones described in the Harry Potter books? How would you wrap your intellect around those historical “facts?”

If that makes your head hurt, how about this scientific conundrum:

Researchers from Stanford and Purdue University have found that the radioactive decay of some elements sitting in laboratories on Earth seems to be influenced by activities inside the sun, 93 million miles away. This finding, they speculate, may provide evidence for a previously unknown particle emitted by the sun.
Around the world, students are taught that the rate of decay of a specific radioactive material is a constant. This concept is relied upon, for example, when anthropologists use carbon-14 to date ancient artifacts.
So now we can’t only change the past as we go, we can’t be sure that the yardstick we’ve been using to measure how long ago the past really was since we’ve been using a faulty yardstick. What do the particle physicists have to say in defense of this sub-atomic screw up?: "It's an effect that no one yet understands," agreed Sturrock. "Theorists are starting to say, 'What's going on?' But that's what the evidence points to. It's a challenge for the physicists and a challenge for the solar people too."

What is going on? Who cares? Whatever we decide won’t matter much if the answer is subject constant revision by the future and now the past. Although I’m not sure that’s exactly how it works. No one does, which is the not encouraging news for the start of a new epoch.

On the bright side, once we begin to really understand that the past ebbs and flow in the same fluid way as the events of today, I’ll bet the kind of time travel where we physically go into the past or future will become at least theoretically much more plausible. If we already influence the past, what difference does it make if we do it in person? Just to be on the safe side, you should still probably steer clear of grandma and grandpa.

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