- DAYS OF FUTURE PAST DEPARTMENT -
Backward Research Goes Forward
Backward Research Goes Forward
University of Washington physicist (and science-fiction author) John Cramer is moving forward with his experiment in backward causality, thanks in part to tens of thousands of dollars in contributions sent in by his fans. Although Cramer emphasizes that his lab is looking at “nonlocal quantum communication” rather than backward time travel per se, the gadgetry he’s assembling could settle a controversy surrounding a seemingly faster-than-light effect that Albert Einstein thought was downright spooky.
Boiled down to its basics, the experiment involves splitting laser light into two beams, so that characteristics of one beam are reflected in the other beam as well. That's an example of what physicists call quantum entanglement. Specifically, Cramer has been planning to fiddle with one of the entangled laser beams such that it takes on the property of waves or particles. If one beam behaves like particles, the entangled photons of light in the other beam should behave like particles, too.
So what happens when the beams go their separate ways, and you conduct a wave-vs.-particle measurement on one beam? When someone else checks the other beam, the same measurement should yield the same result. In fact, you could visualize using the wave-vs.-particle toggle as a means for communicating information, sort of like Morse code. Theoretically, you could check one beam to receive a message instantaneously from whoever is fiddling with the other beam - even if you're separated from the receiver by millions of light-years.
That's what Einstein considered "spooky action at a distance." Such an effect could send information faster than light beams could travel, running counter to special relativity - and thus Einstein thought the effect was impossible to achieve. However, the evidence is mounting that quantum entanglement actually happens.
Cramer planned to start out by testing this kind of communication through quantum entanglement - that's the "nonlocal communication" part of the experiment. If that worked, Cramer would go even further: He would send one of the entangled beams (call it Signal A) through a circuitous detour - say, a few miles of fiber-optic cable - then fiddle with it when it came out of the cable. If the principles behind nonlocal communication held true, the evidence of that fiddling should be detected at a corresponding place in the other entangled beam (call it Signal B).
Now brace yourself for the backward-causality part: Because Signal B followed a shorter route to its detector, the fiddling in Signal A could theoretically show up in Signal B before Cramer actually fiddles with Signal A. It would be as if Cramer's actions had an effect that worked backward in time.
If Cramer detected that effect, the findings would raise the kinds of paradoxes you might see in science-fiction novels or "The Twilight Zone." What if you detected a signal from the future, but then decided not to send the signal? (That's called the "bilking paradox"). What if you received the text of a best-selling manuscript from yourself in the future, had it published, then saved a copy so you could send it to yourself in the past? (Cramer calls that the "immaculate conception paradox.")
"Perhaps the fact that there are such paradoxes is nature's way of telling us that our experiment isn't going to work," Cramer said.
Nevertheless, Cramer is anxious to find out whether it might work - and if not, why not. He suggested the framework for the experiment a year ago, and no one could come up with a reason why it should fail. Except for the money problem. ...
For months, Cramer struggled to find the funding he needed to buy the equipment for the experiment, to no avail. Then an article about his plight came out in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer - and within weeks, thousands of dollars flowed in from foundations and private donors who, for one reason or another, wanted to find out what kind of answers Cramer could come up with.
Cramer said the fund now amounts to $40,000, and now that he's back from a tour of duty at the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider, he's moving forward with the laser experiment. "If that laser holds out, then I think we're in pretty good shape," he told me today.
He's hoping to complete the experiment by September, when the equipment he's using will have to be moved someplace else to make room for remodeling. "It would be very nice if we could finish up by the 15th of September, but I don't know if we'll be able to do that or not," he said.
Cramer is grateful for all the donations, but he admitted that he's "a little uncomfortable" about the way things have gone so far. Usually, physicists work in obscurity, get some funding, conduct an experiment, publish the results - and only then does the publicity come, if the results are spectacular enough. The way Cramer sees it, there's been a heck of a lot of publicity already about an experiment that has yet to be done.
"We seem to be doing it sort of backwards, in a sense," he said. Then, realizing that he's been talking about backward causality, he added with a chuckle that "it may be relevant to the experiment we're trying to do."
Cramer, who is the author of two science-fiction novels and a regular columnist for Analog magazine, said the experiment represents "a rare opportunity to push the envelope of quantum mechanics." No matter how it turns out, the results will be put to good use, he said.
"If this experiment we're doing works, then I will follow up and push it as hard as possible. And if it doesn't work, I will write a science-fiction novel where it does work," he said. "It's a win-win situation."
Source: Cosmic Log
- THE WITCHING WAYS DEPARTMENT -
Do You Believe in Magic?
Do You Believe in Magic?
No need to run widdershins around a tree, there are many mythic realms left to explore.
It is becoming a serious challenge to dodge Harry Potter this month, what with the release of the fifth film instalment coinciding (shrewdly) with the massively promoted appearance of the seventh and last book in the series (seven is a biggie in the mythic realm).
Bookmakers are laying odds on whether the boy with the mark on his forehead survives the last page - and if he does, on which secondary character is nailed in his stead. There seems to be universal agreement that not everyone is getting out of this book alive. J. K. Rowling, as sophisticated a marketing person as she is successful a writer (yes, they might be connected), has let slip sundry hints that add fuel to this speculation - and anxiety.
Given this, it seems obvious that magic and wizardry are in the air and a moment to consider context and antecedents might be in order - before everyone begins running widdershins around an oak tree (that's counterclockwise, and it was a magic-related action once upon a time).
Once upon a time, as Keith Thomas makes clear in his magisterial Religion and the Decline of Magic (Scribner's, 1971), pretty well all of us would have done the widdershins thing or a local variant when confronted with something dramatic or threatening. If a cow was sick, a pregnancy was difficult, or the neighbour's son wouldn't notice us, there were herbs, amulets, spells - and spellcasters who knew what to do. Nor does this fall into some distant, dusty past. Thomas shows how systems of belief well into the 17th century involved the pervasive acceptance of a supernatural element to the world, and the need for ordinary men and women to walk warily.
To placate spirits, or to invoke them, a wizard, witch, cunning man or wise woman might be required. Organized religion knew of these beliefs, and intermingled ferocious combat with assimilation as responses. Many of the earliest churches in the British Isles and elsewhere (Thomas focuses on England) were sited on ground already holy in pre-Christian rites - forest pools, oak groves, sudden hills - to make it easier for people to transfer allegiance to the new faith.
Keith Thomas backgrounds this and then explores the tensions that emerged during the Enlightenment as science added its voice to that of the clergy in denouncing "primitive" rituals, beliefs, traditions. The irony? Science was denounced too, of course, and much of its own early history emerges from studies such as astrology or forbidden alchemy: men trying - wizard-like - to transmute one element into another in search of the elixir of life, or gold from lead.
An understanding of the enduring power of this idea of magic in the world, the notion of wizards (or witches) among us with arcane knowledge, and how this lies at the gates of our modern age, emerges clearly from reading Thomas's masterpiece. You will also know which way widdershins is.
Before Potter there was, of course, The Lord of the Rings (Unwin, 1954-55; widely available). Any discussion of wizards in contemporary literature quickly reaches the figure of J. R. R. Tolkien. What too few readers might realize, especially those who know his vision only through Hollywood's rendering (or distortion) of his trilogy, is how brilliantly Tolkien the novelist made use of Tolkien the scholar.
This was a man who spent a lifetime reading and reflecting upon myth and folklore. Magic in Tolkien isn't arbitrary or superimposed. It is elegantly derived from traditions that go back to Anglo-Saxon epic poems (and riddles!), Icelandic sagas and the Finnish national epic, The Kalevala, among many other sources.
The point (in this context, at any rate) is that Tolkien's wizards and his magic are grounded in elements of our culture reaching back a long way. There's nothing childlike in an awareness of these roots. Myth and legend, folk tradition, are the underpinnings of a society. Indeed, one might say that to be unaware of them leaves us at risk of being as children, oblivious to the origins of our own world and worldview.
In purely literary terms, no one writing fiction in this vein since, no one making use of the idea of a magic-wielding wizard, can honestly say they were not influenced - directly or indirectly - by Tolkien's work. But a great many of his horde of imitators have never bothered to go back to the sources as he did. It makes a difference.
Of course, there are gems to be found sifting among the works that followed. There are places to go next, in the bookstore or library, after Harry Potter ends one way or another and the bookmakers cash in or pay out. Let me point to one of these jewels with a certain wistfulness.
This feels to be just a little past time, alas, because the author, Lloyd Alexander, died last month. Alexander was a witty, prolific, generous-hearted writer of literature for children through a career that spanned half a century and included the Newbery Medal and the National Book Award. His major achievement is The Chronicles of Prydain (Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1964, 1965, 1966, 1967, 1968), a series of books for preteens that I bought for my youngest brother when he was 8 or 9 and read with my younger son when he was the same age.
Drawing upon many of the same folk and mythic traditions as Tolkien, filtering these through a gentler sensibility and for a younger readership, Alexander shapes a landscape inspired by medieval Wales and fills it with music and humour. His Prydain is a place where the borders between the "ordinary" and the supernatural are ... permeable, yet the challenge for his youthful protagonists (male and female) is to figure each other out, almost as much as it is to deal with the larger quests they are set.
In Alexander's work, wizards and their relationship to power also offer a gateway - benign but not without perils or lessons to be learned - that can lead a young reader along one of those legendary "Straight Roads" to a greater wisdom about the real world. There's another kind of magic in that.
Source: Globe and Mail
- TALES FROM THE MOUTH OF MADNESS DEPARTMENT -
Paranormal Happenings in the Workplace
Paranormal Happenings in the Workplace
Most paranormal occurrences or psychic manifestations we hear or read about happen in homes.
But these incidents can occur anywhere—in open spaces, churches, hotels, factories, business offices, schools, cars, ships, even inside an airplane.
Here are several true stories of paranormal happenings in the work place or commercial establishments:
Strange deaths in a car accessories manufacturing firm
In the mid-'80s, Bobby, general manager of the well-known firm in Makati City, called me because of certain strange happenings in their factory.
Bobby said when one of their employees died in October they did not see anything strange about it.
"Then in November another employee in the same department also died. Still nothing so unusual from our point of view. In January, a third employee in the same department also died. "That's when I began to think something strange was going on... Do you think there is something supernatural [here]?"
"I don't know," I replied. "Did you do anything different before the incidents began?"
"What do you mean?" he asked.
"Well, anything new that you did in the factory that you did not do before. Think of anything you did before October."
Bobby said, "There's nothing unusual I can think of except I had our old warehouse cleaned to give way to an executive parking area. That warehouse was not being used for a long time..."
"That's it! "I exclaimed. "That could explain the deaths of your employees."
"What do you mean?" asked Bobby. "What has that got to do with our employees dying?"
"Hard to explain to a very rational guy like you," I told Bobby, a graduate of the Asian Institute of Management like me.
I told him that since the warehouse was not used for a long time, it could have been inhabited by negative elemental creatures.
When the place was cleaned, the creatures were dislocated. Bobby asked me if I could visit his factory and see if I could provide some explanation, and how to prevent future deaths, if indeed there was some connection among the strange events.
I brought a blind exorcist from Sampaloc who was known to contact bad spirits and get rid of them using a medium. The famous novelist and magazine editor Celso Al Carunungan came along out of curiosity.
The exorcist put his medium in a trance and asked the spirit to enter her. It was learned that there were hundreds of negative engkantos inside the warehouse.
When asked if they killed the three employees, the spirit said yes and explained, through the medium, "Because they were making too much noise at night."
I asked Bobby if that was true. He said the employees worked near the warehouse and usually worked overtime. To keep themselves awake, they played stereo music very loudly. That must have disturbed the engkantos. They were also angered by the destruction of their habitat.
The exorcist asked them to leave the place but they refused. A battle of wills took place, which looked weird and surreal for us onlookers. The exorcist said he would melt each one of them if they refused to leave. How one could melt a spirit, I could not comprehend.
Anyway, it took the whole afternoon before the exorcist finally "destroyed" all the so-called engkantos in the place.
Whether one believes this story or not, the fact remains that, after the exorcism, there were no more deaths in the factory, which eventually transferred to Quezon City.
Dead tycoon wants favorite desk back
I worked in a large, multinational company in Makati in the late '80s. When the famous son of the company founder died, a museum containing the history and family memorabilia was established within the building.
A company historian-curator was hired to oversee the museum and update the records. The tycoon had three sons, all of them educated in the United States. Each of them headed subsidiaries of the vast conglomerate.
One day, the youngest son noticed his father's beautiful narra desk was just displayed in the museum. He decided to use it as his desk and asked that it be transferred to his office.
I heard that employees started to experience ghostly manifestations in the son's room after that. When nobody was around, typewriters sounded like they were being used, paper clips flew from one desk to another and security guards noticed somebody going inside the private restroom of the son then disappearing.
The son did not believe in ghosts and considered reports of haunting merely the product of his employees' fertile imagination. When I was asked to check at the room without the son's knowledge, I noticed the center of the ghostly visits was the old man's desk.
I suggested that it be returned to the museum, as the old man apparently did not want it used by anybody else. The son, I was told, laughed at the suggestion.
The manifestations continued for some time until the son returned his father's desk.
Source: Asian Journal