Fiction Science Club

‘Observer’ blends way-out quantum science and fiction

Do we each create our own reality? Could different observers create measurably different realities? It’s a fantastical line of thought that has sparked scientific inquiries as well — and now the science and the fiction has come together in a new novel titled “Observer.”

“The observer is actually the basis of the universe, so basically the novel and the scientific ideas are really a rethink of everything we know about time, space and indeed the universe itself,” stem-cell researcher Robert Lanza says in the latest episode of the Fiction Science podcast.

Lanza’s co-author, Seattle science-fiction writer Nancy Kress, agrees that the novel takes aim at one of life’s greatest mysteries. “The novel is about how we understand reality, and nothing could be more important about that, because everything else is based on it,” she told me.

Universe Today

Quantum data gets sent through a simulated wormhole

For the first time, scientists have created a quantum computing experiment for studying the dynamics of wormholes — that is, shortcuts through spacetime that could get around relativity’s cosmic speed limits.

Wormholes are traditionally the stuff of science fiction, ranging from Jodie Foster’s wild ride in “Contact” to the time-bending plot twists in “Interstellar.” But the researchers behind the experiment, reported in the Dec. 1 issue of the journal Nature, hope that their work will help physicists study the phenomenon for real.

“We found a quantum system that exhibits key properties of a gravitational wormhole, yet is sufficiently small to implement on today’s quantum hardware,” Caltech physicist Maria Spiropulu said in a news release. Spiropulu, the Nature paper’s senior author, is the principal investigator for a federally funded research program known as Quantum Communication Channels for Fundamental Physics.

Don’t pack your bags for Alpha Centauri just yet: This wormhole simulation is nothing more than a simulation, analogous to a computer-generated black hole or supernova. And physicists still don’t see any conditions under which a traversable wormhole could actually be created. Someone would have to create negative energy first.


Physics professor tackles another quantum mystery

The University of Washington physicist who once ran a crowdfunded experiment on backward causation is now weighing in with a potential solution to one of the longest-running puzzles in quantum mechanics.

John Cramer, a UW physics professor emeritus, teamed up with Caltech electrical engineer and physicist Carver Mead to put forward an explanation for how the indefinite one-and-zero, alive-and-dead state of a quantum system gets translated into a definite observation — a phenomenon known as wave function collapse.

“Up to now, the mechanism behind wave function collapse has been considered a mystery that is disconnected from established wave mechanics. The result has been that a large number of attempts to explain it have looked elsewhere,” Cramer told GeekWire in an email.

“In our work, we have discovered that wave function collapse, at least in a simple case, is implicit in the existing formalism,” he said, “as long as one allows the use of advanced as well as retarded electromagnetic potentials.”

In other words, the explanation requires accepting the possibility that time can flow backward as well as forward. And for some physicists, that might be too big of a quantum leap.

“Most people just don’t like the idea of having the kind of time symmetry that sort of implies that time isn’t strictly speaking a one-way street,” Cramer acknowledged during a phone interview.

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