Speculative Fiction 'A MELANCHOLY IN QUANTUM FOAM'
Updated: Jun 22, 2021
This story was developed in two days around a small paragraph I had written quite a while back. And that was:
"What would she see? How would she feel? With a slight trepidation, Kauveri put on the photonic transference goggles and activated the synaptic imprinter. Unlike normal photons, the photons the imprinter produced contained a lot more information. They were encoded with superpositions of past probability states that the imprinter sampled of the room. The beam of light blasted her ocular nerves and entangled with the neurons in her visual cortex."
This, now, is an excerpt from this work. Where does it appear? Well, you'll find out soon.
Kauveri Menon tried to move on, but the grief weighed her down. The pandemic had done a triple whammy on her. First, it infected her dad, second, it caused world-wide border closures and travel bans, ensuring that she would not be by her dad's bed side, and lastly, it took her dad from her, driving home the final nail so deep, that she was not sure if she would recover from it.
Memories resurfaced like bubbles and though they were of happy moments, her heart clenched in an immeasurable sorrow.
"Energy is matter and matter is energy, beautifully illustrated by Einstein's famous equation from Special Relativity," she could hear him speak, a voice traversing through time. The memory played out in her mind. She was fascinated by her father's work very early on. Perched up on the window sill in her father's study, as a young girl, she used to watch him intently and he, as usual, sat in his armchair, smoking his favourite pipe, a Castello Bent Panelled Dublin with fumed rim, which he incidentally misplaced somewhere shortly after.
Years later, Kauveri would get him another Castello, but he almost never failed to mention the "flavour" of his old pipe, incomparable to anything else.
"Are we energy too?" the little Kauveri had asked, excitement unbridled by curiosity and also to hear her father talk about the wonders of the Universe.
"Of course. From stardust we came and to stardust we will go." He loved the flair of poetry to describe something profoundly scientific. She missed him, painfully.
Although a neuroscientist by training and qualifications, Kauveri found her calling at the Institute for Advanced Studies, Princeton, doing Quantum Information Theory research at the School of Natural Sciences. After all, the human brain and a quantum computer dealt with the same thing, computing and information. But at this moment, she wished for a volatile memory, like a computer’s, with the possibility of an instant memory wipe upon powering down, except in her case powering down would mean death. If good memories evoked so much pain, she did not want them, any memories, at least for a short time.
She flew down to her home in South India, when the travel bans were lifted, exactly fourteen days since her dad's passing. The house was not the same. Her mother, when she saw her, looked years older. It bothered her to see her like that. Hearing of her arrival, uncles and aunts and other relatives flocked to the house. She went through the motions of listening to their condolences. Everyone seemed to be an expert on how to deal with grief. Time heals, everyone kept saying. But she wanted to skip to the end of that time, without all the in-between. She never imagined that grief would be so suffocating.
Rubbing salt into the wound were the glances she received from her relatives and their whispers of concern that flew by her ear. It felt tedious.
"Poor girl. It's really unfortunate."
"How I wish Ramesh could've seen his daughter one last time."
"Is she going to take Kamala with her to the States?"
Such were the musings of the people whom she met, probably, once in five years. Kauveri felt anger. Couldn't she grieve in peace? Why were they here? Why do they care? What do they want? She wanted to lash out, to vent her repressed feelings of loss and frustration in a pure verbal vitriol. But she couldn't. It made her numb. It would be futile, and in the end, she would feel far worse than she already felt. The best course of action was to remove herself from this gathering.
Her mother was seated at the dining table. Slight woman that she was, she looked even more frail now. "Amma, I'm going upstairs," she mumbled and then after a pause, "To achan's study," and without waiting for a response, excused herself. She quickly went to her room and picked up her rucksack. As she climbed up the stairs, she could sense everyone's gaze on her.
It was a little more than three years since she visited home, but her dad's study was exactly as she remembered it. The two walls were lined with bookshelves extending from floor to the ceiling, and a step ladder parked to one side, to reach the unreachable ones at the top. At the centre of the room was a massive wooden desk on which sat an ancient reading lamp. She closed the door and walked to the desk. The table had a small- framed photograph of her mother carrying Kauveri in her arms. She must have been two or three years old, at the time, and had just stopped throwing a tantrum because she did not like getting photographed — She had a “please take me away from here” pleading look on her face. It was her dad's favourite picture of the two people he loved the most in the world.
The table had neatly stacked papers on it, pencils and fountain pens in their holders. And behind the table was a large blackboard, adorned with equations that she understood, but would look esoteric to any other. The large Victorian style windows on one side, faced the river. Near the window was a heavy arm chair, well worn, where her dad would often sit sipping smoke from his pipe and thinking about some theoretical problem or the other. Kauveri could still see him sitting there as an after-image, which faded away as she blinked away the tears that were welled up. Neatly packed in its case was the Castello that she had given him as a replacement for the one he had lost. The pipe triggered another memory.
During one of her visits home, after Kauveri began work on her research at Princeton, she was in her father's study, discussing energy and information coherence in quantum superpositions, when out of the blue, he said, "You know, my dear Kau, I do not miss my old pipe anymore. Maybe I'm getting used to this new one you gifted me," turning over the pipe and reaching for his tobacco stash. He smiled at her. She was so focused on her work, that it took her a moment to get the context.
"It's a good pipe, you know," he nodded in assurance, for her sake. She was sure she saw some sneakiness there.
"Or maybe I've accepted that loss and gained happiness from it. I cannot explain what it is, but there is contentment. One day, possibly you'll know what I mean. Maybe you'll gain happiness from my loss as well." He said it so seriously that Kauveri was unsure of what to make of it. She had then joked and teased him and forgot about it.
"Oooh! So mysterious! I'll gain happiness from you losing your pipe? Acha, you are a natural at this."
"At what?" he feigned ignorance and lit his pipe.
"Don't play me! At making these profound statements."
"Well, I'm a theoretical physicist. Profound is part of my profession."
"Ho ho, very funny, Mr. theoretical physicist. Quit it and help me with these quantum energy minimisation equations. Now."
As she remembered the conversation, she felt a lightness in her and enjoyed that fleeting feeling.
She looked around. For her, the room appeared as though in stasis, preserved in a state of suspension, frozen in time. The one thing that would make time flow in the room again, was gone forever. She walked to the window and sat on the sill, looking out to the river.
She watched the fishermen cast their net in the river. One of them stabilised the mini boat against the flow with a long pole oar while the other threw the net into the water. She watched a bit longer and then turned away. It was peaceful here in the study. She had come here, to escape from nosy and well-meaning relatives, but she also had a different purpose. Her mind was in turmoil, and she needed a resolution and as always she needed the one pillar in her life and he was not accessible to her now. But she wanted to push the boundaries to change that, or at least try.
Picking up her rucksack from near the door, she walked to the armchair. She contemplated for a moment and then sat cross-legged on the floor, in front of the arm chair, just like she used to when she was very young as her dad told stories from the puranas.
Opening her rucksack, she took out a complex looking apparatus that resembled a steampunk headgear. As she assembled the equipment, plugging the power lead into a wall socket, she remembered the interesting video conversation she had with her dad, a couple of years back. She wanted to show him the results of the culmination of seven years of work.
"Acha, I cracked it! God! I love these Raspberry Quantum Pis! Don't know how I would've managed without these q-Pi clusters. Literally, quantum computing in the palm of your hand!" She held up a tiny credit-card sized box to the camera.
"Technology never ceases to amaze, I gather," her dad gave her a quizzical expression.
Kauveri rolled her eyes at him. "Ok, listen, I want to show you something. But first, I've emailed you a document with some symbols. Did you get it? They contain some hand gestures."
"You're talking to a techno luddite. Give me a moment. Ah! Got it! Small miracles!" he chuckled, obviously impressed with himself.
"Ah! Now this, I understand," her dad said as he opened the document that Kauveri sent. "The Solfège Scale, Tonic Sol-fa."
Kauveri nearly opened her mouth in surprise. Her dad was thoroughly enjoying her bafflement.
"Would you never cease to surprise me?" she exclaimed rhetorically. "Yes, indeed, that's the Tonic Sol-fa. Now that that's clear, let's move on."
"Ready for the experiment?" she asked theatrically.
"Carry on, with the experimenting," her dad replied without losing a beat.
"Ok, so when I say go, I want you to perform those hand gestures, in no particular order, but off camera. Wait, hold on a moment, while I calibrate. And make sure you look at the screen. I'm going to be performing from the same scale, too. Got it?" She adjusted some parameters.
"Is this some cheap parlour trick?"
"Acha! Quiet! Do as I say, please. From 3-2-1, Go!"
"Ok, ok, gesturing..." He began performing the musical gestures with his palm, hidden from her.
“All right, watch this,” she said with barely contained enthusiasm.
On screen, Kauveri was looking at something off-camera, but she had her left palm in view. She was reproducing the exact gestures he was making, a fraction of a millisecond slower, but soon she was in perfect sync with him. It was mesmerising.
Her dad gaped at the screen. "Ok... that is interesting. How is this possible? Are you reading my mind?"
She laughed. "No, dad. Would be cool, though. But no, I'm not reading your mind. It just proves that the universe and the human brain are in holonomic harmony. There is a quantum component in the human brain. Penrose was right. Information percolates between the human brain and the universe, affecting probability fields, which is picked up by my detector."
"This is what I've been working on, dad. I've been trying to isolate information coherence in a quantum multiverse. It forms the core theory of the QSD. I'm at the crossroads of two fields — neuroscience and quantum information theory. And now I've succeeded."
"What's a QSD?"
She turned her webcam to a device she had on her desk. It was connected to a small rack of q-Pi clusters.
"A detector-encoder-imprinter triad. I call it the Quantum Synaptic Delineator. I am so high on QSD right now," she giggled.
“It can detect probability fields given a target point, ideally on any constituent matter, and expand outwards from that point. Anything that falls within proximity range of the initial point would ultimately influence the probability field. So it sees superpositions,” she continued.
"Fancy name. My Quantum Mechanics is rusty. But if I understand you correctly, your device can detect me... us... as probability fields?" He was thoughtful as he took puffs from his pipe.
“Exactly! And once it is able to see probability fields, it sees possible futures!”
"You said it needs a target point. So how is it detecting me? We are what ... about 8,300 miles apart. Does it have such an enormous range? Or does your device work on a different representation of space?"
"You're absolutely right. Conventional space measure is meaningless. But the QSD works on Reiman spaces and manifolds. It works on the principle that reality and state spaces all exist on a Reiman manifold."
“How does it see possible futures?”
“All right, let me see how I can make this easy. Hmmm… say we have two points A and B. You are at point A and you have to connect a line to point B. Now I use ‘line’ in the loosest sense of the word. It could have curvature. So, let’s say you connect the points by a straight line. The moment your brain decides to draw a straight line, the probability of a reality where you connect A and B with a straight line has increased dramatically. But it’s not fixed because you could obviously change your mind half-way. It progresses discretely. Similarly, you could have joined the two points by a continuous curve or many curves. The point is those probabilities of realities that never came to be, exist, albeit tiny. And all these exist on a manifold that I call a “hyperdimensional phase volume”. The QSD samples this manifold. But it does an intelligent sampling, as the sample space is unimaginably large.”
“Ok… but let’s go back to what you said about connecting the points by many curves. You go and draw many curves from A to B. So you are saying that these probabilities are influenced by us? Or rather how they are played out depends on us?”
“That’s right. The realities are mutually exclusive and probabilities only exist for as long as a reality has not been actualised. You see, each time you go back to point A, there are always infinite realities for the impending action, of how you are going to join the two points. But the moment you act upon a thought and actualise an action, all the rest vanish. In fact, there are probabilities when you reach point B as to what you are going to do next as well. So, the information as to how you got to point B and what you’re going to do next exists, in your brain, as that is where the information is processed, generated and the action is driven from.”
“That’s quantum wave function collapse, you’re talking about. But you’re also talking about an entanglement between the observer and the system under the observation, which would be central to the many-worlds theory of Quantum Mechanics," he concluded with a satisfaction of reaching it by himself.
"Looks like you're getting quite the hang of it. I'm impressed," Kauveri complemented.
"Hey, although I'm a classical mechanist, I'm familiar with some aspects of Quantum Mechanics. Maybe not as much as you, but enough to go by."
“Entanglement is the key. It acts as a conduit for information transference. So, there are two things to note here: probability and information, probability is affected, or not if the events are mutually exclusive, by information. As your brain gets more information, processes more information, probabilities connected to that impending causation are changing. Some increasing and some decreasing. Reality is a fluctuating probability field concreting only from moment to moment,” Kauveri continued.
“That sounds Markovian.”
To be continued...
1. Achan: Father, in Malayalam language
2. Amma: Mother, in Malayalam language