Mens Temporum . UK

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Quantum Particulars

As I have virtually no understanding of quantum physics I almost entirely avoided the subject in my novel and yet coincidences relating to it still appeared there. My attempts at avoidance of leading edge science were quite obvious; for example when the director of the Pumpkin is describing the inexplicable time distorting capability of the building to a detective sent there to solve a crime he says “If you suggested searching for a solution in string theory I’d start wondering why you’re a policeman,” a reference to lay people such as myself normally not contemplating such exotic realms of science. However, in my description of that detective’s reputation I wrote that “he’d acquired a legendary reputation as a finder of needles in haystacks. It was said of him that if he were ever asked to perform that proverbial task he would ask, ‘Which one?’” That statement seemed to reflect something about quantum physics research that I read in 2016 while trying to find out about the possibility of information being passed backwards in time.

In 2010 Seth Lloyd, a principal investigator into extreme quantum information theory at MIT, had written a paper on “The quantum mechanics of time travel through post-selected teleportation” and in 2011 reported on experiments to simulate time travel of qubits around closed timelike curves. In 2016 the theory as usual escaped me but I did notice that he stated that “The classes of problems our CTCs could help solve are roughly equivalent to finding needles in haystacks.” Also the experiments described involved storing two qubits in a single photon, whatever that meant, so it is interesting that my novel mentioned not just the haystack problem but more than one needle being involved. My senior detective, himself at that time experiencing being inside a closed timelike curve implicitly described as such elsewhere in the story, could be seen as comparable with MIT’s principal investigator himself exploring similar time distorting processes. I very much doubt that I heard or read anything about these real experiments at the time in 2011 but it is of course just possible if they were mentioned briefly in the popular news. Even then I doubt that many details registered in my mind.

Another potential parallel with quantum physics may be the references in the novel to not being able to have one's cake and eat it, eating cakes being a feature in the story. After leaving the closed timelike curve within the Pumpkin, where he has eaten a round of sandwiches, the detective is then given the same round of sandwiches to eat again, but decides to eat the accompanying cake instead. There may be a parallel here with quantum experiments where observation of a quantum state destroys it, so it cannot be observed a second time. At least I think that's how these things work but even if I'm wrong all that matters here are the thoughts in my mind, not the absolute truth.

I have already mentioned previously how Adrian Kent, who wrote about quantum cognition, appeared to have influenced my naming of the director of the Pumpkin so I will not go through that again here.

Apart from Matthew Fisher’s proposal concerning quantum processes within the brain involving Posner clusters as mentioned previously there had been a much earlier proposal called Orchestrated Objective Reduction (Orch OR) made by the English mathematician and physicist Roger Penrose and the anaesthesiologist Stuart Hameroff to explain consciousness. I read about this this proposal and its varied reception long after writing the novel but even this appeared to have influenced my writing indirectly. One well reported critical remark about the idea was made by neurophilosopher Patricia Churchland who wrote that "Pixie dust in the synapses is about as explanatorily powerful as quantum coherence in the microtubules." On reading this I was annoyed at the use of the Disney term “pixie dust” instead of “fairy dust” and the unnecessarily unscientific criticism of the work of a fellow English mathematician as I am inclined to count myself within that category. I am unsurprised that my reaction apparently resulted in a confrontation between American and British physicists in my novel to provide an outlet for my feelings.

An important aspect of the Orch OR proposition was that the microtubules mentioned incorporated structures based on the Fibonacci sequence, a series of numbers that I knew about a long time ago, but I wasn’t aware that this sequence was relevant to error prevention in quantum processes. I have also since read about the use of this sequence in quantum computers for the same purpose. My previous experience of error correction algorithms was limited to data storage and transfer in conventional computers but even there I didn’t know that the parameters used might relate to that sequence.

In the scene in the novel, where the eventual designer of the Pumpkin technology is testing his prototype device intended to enable communication between a human brain and a computer, he is seated in front of a display attempting to influence the images on it. Somehow the external “fairy dust” influence happens to invade either his mind or computer or maybe both and a new line drawing develops on the display. I described this image as eventually looking “remarkably like a sunflower head”. Sunflower heads are well known examples of the Fibonacci sequence occurring in nature, so it is interesting that I chose this particular design to depict his communication with the future Pumpkin building. Seen end on no doubt such a complex communication channel with integral error prevention would have signs of the Fibonacci sequence within its structure, taking into account what I later discovered about that sequence in quantum processes. The fact that the Pumpkin and its designer were representations of my own brain and myself then suggests that I was at some stage contemplating such a process existing within my own mind as an explanation of my experiences and this fairy dust like influence flying across time resulted in the drawing that I described in the novel, reality and fiction paralleling each other within their respective closed timelike curves. Maybe though that was also how I came to include in the frontispiece of the novel the line “The fairy tale has started” implying that all this might just be an illusion.

Apart from these potential quantum associations I did explicitly mention in the novel that the electronics within the Pumpkin’s field generators relied on quantum effects, the one time that the word “quantum” itself actually appeared in the text, but at the time I was only thinking about tunnel diodes, which rely on quantum tunnelling for their particular characteristics and have been standard electronic components for a long time, having been invented way back in 1957. Modern versions of the technology are capable of operating at extremely high frequencies so might be capable of generating the fields described.

Whether quantum processes actually do exist within thought is unimportant here as I am not suggesting any scientific explanation of the phenomenon but only describing the thoughts that occurred within my mind based on what I knew, however they happened.

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