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Scott Johansen
1/12/2004 1:32:59 AM

The illusions of reality Quanta story

ILLUSIONS OF REALITY


"It was a day like any other," Brian began, "except that today I was to make human history. But the day was the culmination of many years of work, and the story of it really begins many years ago when I was just out of college.

"As I told you before, I began working at the Wheeler Institute of Sub-Quantum Studies. My colleagues and I were conducting physics research at the Planck level. As you know, there is a point at which reality breaks down in Quantum Mechanics. Once one looks at a small enough scale, the fundamental aspects of space-time break down. Reality and the physical laws with which we describe it cease to exist. The only thing left is a space-time pre-geometry composed of probability and imaginary numbers. It was a level which took 200 pages to describe mathematically and impossible to describe physically. It was a level at which the universe stopped trying to fool us and simply disappeared into the nothingness state from which it sprang. And here we were, some of the countries' most brilliant minds, prancing around, giving talks and doing experiments and performing mathematical hand-waving like we knew what we were talking about. It was all so presumptuous of us that we could understand something which was beyond the realm of experience. But we were young and cocky, and no one else doubted our work, because they too couldn't understand it. And so we continued our vacuous verbiage about the `true nature of reality' and let the blind lead the blind until we fell into the pit.

"We discovered these little `pockets' of pre-geometry; a sort-of `Quantum Foam' which permeated all of space-time. Steve called them `realitons' since they were the ultimate constituents of our reality. We discovered that they were the `hidden variable' called for in the theories and that they traveled much, much faster than the speed of light. They were the solution to Bell's Theorem and the Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen Paradox.

"We also discovered that they could be excited to resonate at a specific frequency. We discovered that whenever we tried to measure the excited state, the realiton absorbed the energy and re-emitted it thousands of feet away. It wasn't until the scientists in the material science lab started dying from acute radiation exposure did we realize what was happening.

"Whenever a realiton was excited, it dematerialized whatever was nearby in its space-time region and transported in instantaneously (well, almost) across reality, rematerializing whatever was in its space-time pre-geometry wave packet when it fell back to its ground state. That's when we got the idea: what if we used these realitons as a means of transport? Just excite them, hitch a ride, and be materialized quickly across vast distances. The distance traveled could easily be controlled by the frequency of the realiton vibration. Light-years could be crossed in less time than it takes to go to the bathroom. The problems of interstellar space travel were solved!

"So we tried testing it over small distances. First inanimate objects, then live plants, then small animals, etc. We took tons of physical data and saw that everything came through perfectly, exactly as it was before. No being turned inside-out or being dispersed across the solar system that you hear from the science-fiction writers. This was safe, fast, and not too expensive. All that was left was to try it out on a human being.

"Naturally, I volunteered. Oh sure, there were complaints and demonstrations and debates on safety, but everybody knew it had to be tested, and no one else wanted to take my place as volunteer. So the day came, and I was sealed up in the transportation chamber, all ready to take a trip a step out less than a nanosecond later thousands of miles away. Everything was fine. Until they hit the switch.

"Now don't get me wrong. Technically the experiment was a success. Everything went on schedule and without a hitch; no power outages or computer glitches to foul things up.

"But we had neglected something. The human psyche is a fragile thing. Although we knew what happened physically when we did the transportation, how were we to even guess what it felt like experientially? We had no idea. I had no idea. And I jumped straight into hell.

"How can I describe what it was like? Like trying to describe color to a blind man, the concept cannot be related. All I can say is that the split-second physically was an eternity psychologically. I experienced the whole of the universe in that time. The animals, of course, were unaffected, for they are not conscious or self-aware. But the human mind, you see, contains itself as a self-referent concept. And when that truth is shattered by a look from the reference point of the divine, when one sees reality as it truly is, the whole idea of the concept of the universe, as well as the concept of the self, becomes a farce. To look upon the face of truth and see only nonexistence is truly enough to drive a man mad. At least for a while. But I have sorted out my mind, now, and can fully accept the truth of reality. I am beyond the stage of madness."

Dr. Scott, who had been listening quietly the entire time, suddenly leapt upon Brian's last few words. "So you feel we really are making progress?" he asserted.

"Progress is an illusion," Brian replied quickly. "We change, but we never get anywhere; we never make any progress. So really, nothing changes. The more things change, the more they stay the same. Things. A thing is subject to change. In fact, things seem to be undergoing constant change. But when a thing changes, it is no longer what it was once before. It's not the same thing."

"But all of the traits of an object do not change," interrupted Dr. Scott. He quickly jotted down Brian's reference to things on a notepad. "There are overall criteria for classification which do not change," he continued. "The overall essence of an object is retained. Most changes involve incidental traits, which are unimportant in the larger scheme."

"But all changes have an effect," explained Brian, "no matter how small or trivial. Nothing is insignificant; these minor changes add up over the lifetime of a given thing. And since schemes of classification are purely arbitrary, a thing can be defined in any way, thus exposing its subtle changes. The overall essence changes relative to the observer. Since the common essence of all things is existence, the existence also changes relative to the observer. Quantum Mechanics demonstrated the importance of the observer in defining the universe a century ago. But as I pointed out earlier, we don't really change; we only seem to. Therefore we all don't exist."

Dr. Scott, however, was quick to respond to the philosophical conclusions of Brian's twisted logic. "Or we do exist, Brian. By your own logic it can be either. That's where you lose reality. Both conclusions are equally correct and possible, but only one applies in our case. We know we exist because WE KNOW we know we exist."

"But even if we really do exist," replied Brian, "then change causes a change in our existence. Our existence is therefore fleeting, and we soon become non-existent. If existence defines reality, then non-existence defines non-reality, or nothingness. But nothing is not nothing if it is definable. Thus the paradox of reality and existence. To avoid this paradox, one is forced to conclude one does not exist."

Dr. Scott scribbled on his notepad while Brian talked. `Coming to grips with his own mortality. The breakthrough is close at hand.' He then waited while Brian continued his speech.

"But in the end," Brian sighed, "I am no longer one of you. I can see it all for what it truly is. It only seems that you know you know you exist. In the end, reality is but an illusion, a cruel lie; the universe is a figment of its own imagination. And upon realizing this, the universe is forced to accept its own non-existence. The end of the universe is close at hand. And since I am not one of you, my existence will continue, while yours shall cease."

Dr. Scott realized he had reached a dead end. He sighed and wrote slowly on his notepad. `Back to thinking he's immortal. He is drifting further from reality. I will have to retrace the conversation and try from another route.' The doctor consulted notes he had made earlier, and tried again.

"Brian," began Dr. Scott, "you talked about `things' a moment ago. Exactly what qualifies as things?"

"Something. Anything. Everything. Nothing. A glass of water, for instance. I happen to be thirsty."

"That's okay, I'll get you one."

"No thanks," replied Brian, "I'll just drink this."

Dr. Scott stared at the glass of water as Brian drank it. It hadn't been there a moment ago. "Where did you get that?" he drilled.

"From beyond reality. I wanted it, I reached beyond reality, and I got it. It was always here, really. But the illusion of reality hid it from your view."

Dr. Scott became desperate. "Brian, listen to yourself. You can't really believe what you're saying. I know you must have had that glass hidden somewhere; stop fooling yourself."

"It was hidden," replied Brian, "by reality. I wanted it; I reached beyond the veil of reality; I got it. All of those `things' I mentioned lie beyond the illusion veil of reality. It is you who are being fooled. For in the end, I am reality. I can get anything I want. And I say reality doesn't exist."

`Megalomania. Illusions of reali...' scribble scribble erase `grandeur confused about whether he exists or not. It doesn't look good.' Dr. Scott noted these thoughts, then asked Brian a new question.

"What is it you REALLY want, Brian?"

Brian Realis thought for a moment, smiled, and then replied:

"I just want it all to stop."

It did.


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Bruce Woodcock is a sophomore at Purdue University, majoring in Physics, and is one of the world's last romantics. He is currently secretary of the Purdue University Chapter of the Society of Physics Students. In his spare time, he enjoys reading "just about anything," writing short stories, building a time machine, exploring the mysteries of the universe, and falling in love. Bruce's other interest include astronomy, computers, philosophy, and politics.

sterling@maxwell.physics.purdue.edu



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