Thursday, March 26, 2009

Time travel

* (Warning: long post)

** (Krishno series will continue. No, really it will. I just needed to get a physics post out of my system)

In an earlier post, I'd talked about entanglement, where a photon could affect the behavior of another (its entangled counterpart) even when separated in space. Bear with me while I dial up the geek factor now.

In our macro world, every event we can conceive can be traced back to its origin by simply following a trail. As an example, consider flipping channels on a TV using a remote control. Seems pretty fancy - two bodies, a distance apart, affecting each other without an apparent connection between them. But if you consider that the remote emits an infra-red light that propagates through the air and is then sensed by the TV, the resultant changed channel becomes an anticlimax. It reduces to a simple chain of events that occurred across connected media (remember determinism?). No entanglement here.

In the quantum world though, entanglement is a lot like that J. Chan movie about a set of twins (Twin Dragons - youtube it), where when one of them gets hit, both get hurt. But in reality, this sort of thing has only been observed at the scale of quantum particles. It's a leap, but imagine if we could extrapolate this observed effect from the quantum scale to our macro one. It hasn't been done yet, but no physicist will admit it's improbable - that's just going to cut her research grants.

Before I get to the good parts (about the time travel), here's a quick swipe at Einstein. The Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen argument glosses over this phenomenon of non-locality - where a particle influences another particle in some different locality through no quantifiable connection - when claiming that the quantum-mechanical description of physical reality is incomplete. It gets interesting when we bring Einstein's special relativity (STR) into the picture. The essence of STR is that no particle with mass can be accelerated to the speed of light. This limits every conceivable action (save human imagination) to below the speed of light. This includes the transmission of information. If information were to travel faster than light, it'd have to bend space.

If a bit/byte were to achieve such a speed, STR stipulates that the object carrying this information would become simultaneously infinitely massive and contracted in length. As a kid, I wondered why Einstein didn't just say "nope, not possible, not happening". Why these disclaimers about mass and distance? I guess that's just how these physicists roll - Minimizing culpability at every step, aka covering your behind. At that speed-of-light point, the problem would become cyclical, where the energy needed to accelerate this infinitely massive object to c would itself be infinite, i.e. more than all the energy in the universe.

Anyhow, with entanglement, information transmission takes on a new shape entirely. A bit can be transmitted non-locally and instantaneously by manipulating a particle at point A and reading the effect of this manipulation on an entangled particle at point B. For any non-zero distance AB, the speed of this transmission is higher than c (speed of light). Einstein is on such a high pedestal though that physicists are creating new frameworks that'll allow for STR and the phenomenon of entanglement to co-exist. It'll be abstract, possibly math-intensive, and won't really make much sense, but atleast the house of Einstein will remain undisturbed. See Bell's inequality (technical).

Ok, now, about the time travel. I lied. I still don't see how it's possible. What is possible though is just as interesting, so stay with me here.

So far, we've talked about the non-local interaction of two particles as it applies across the first three dimensions (length, breadth, height). As observers, we humans are limited to just these three dimensions, and to an extent, the fourth (time) that we exist in. However, I haven't seen any research showing evidence that these entangled particles can't straddle even this fourth dimension while influencing each others' behaviour. After all, time is nothing but another dimension…just the way you can separate particles by a distance (length) and then by a distance along another axis (width – creating a diagonal) and a third – height, it's a reasonable extension to separate two entangled particles by time, the next higher dimension.

Consider then a situation where we know that a particle under our control has an entangled counterpart at a different point, not in space, but in time.

Even if we can’t physically travel back or forward in time, we can have this entangled particle exist in the future or past, by introducing a lag into the process that creates the entangled particle. Particle 1 is spit out at time t, and Particle 2 at time t+t1 (future).

If we can now make that second particle interact with its surroundings by messing with the original - we have a way to change history or to chart the future. I won't bother animating the possibilities.

*Update (Sep 30, 2009): Quantum entanglement visible to the naked eye
*Update (May 23, 2010): Teleportation over 10 miles

Friday, March 20, 2009

Moment of zen

To make amends for my recent tardy posting-

*I found this here*

April 1995: Chesapeake, Virginia prison inmate Robert Lee Brock was upset at himself for getting arrested for breaking and entering and grand larceny, so he decided to make himself pay -- by suing himself for $5 million. Stating that he violated his own religious beliefs by committing the crime, he sought payment for a civil rights offense. Of course, since he didn't have $5 million to pay himself, he asked that the state pay on his behalf...

I imagine the dialogue went - "I'm disappointed by my behaviour. I have higher standards than this. It's only fair I be punished in full public view. Flog me, milord, flog me to the tune of 5 mil. You can deposit it to Prendre Que Suckair Bank, acct no..."

** The Krishno series continues after this post

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Krishno - V

Krishno felt it on the tips of his fingers, and in the chill of his bones. The exhilaration of watching a plot play out just the way it was written was miraculous. It coursed through every sinew, and caused your being to shudder. It turned your age on its head. And Krishno'd been addicted to this thrill for as long as he could remember.

Krishno'd had an exciting life by all counts. Every measure of it was fantastical. Each happening was a confluence of so many fates, so many destinies, that Krishno himself didn't believe a life, any life, could play out like this. He used to love to pick a frame from the movie of his life and live it anew, again and again..but even this, like him, had begun to grow old.

As he stared across the canyon, hair and beard white from his journey across geographies and time, he felt a weariness. For all the thrills of the ride, his puppeteering had taken its toll over the years. Such contrivance, all those expedients...all that plotting. He'd begun to feel a detachment from himself. This, he realised, was where he'd wanted to go all along. This prime spectator's view. No longer just the player, now he was becoming the ghost that straddled the end of the stage, loosening the rivets from his actor's body and coalescing into the seats, front and center. It was soon going to be time to bring down the curtains.

The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones.

Her Girl's Hostel was a loose place. "Hostel" was an especially kind euphemism. Some had plied their trade there uninterrupted for decades, so "Girl's" was stretching it too. It hurt Asma's scalp to pull her hair back that tight, but she liked the look. The streets demanded it, she'd smile to herself. She had learnt the art of makeup quickly, and spent much of her money on the best products. Krishno later chronicled how one of her young clients was a hindustani who went back to India and became a famous film producer. Apparently, it was this young man who years later insisted Asha Parekh kajol her eyes the way he remembered it on an unnamed girl in an unnamed city.

Krishno, now a second officer, would be commissioned to sea for three months at a stretch. When he docked, he'd head straight to that seedy underbelly of the city, that heaven on earth. He'd take a woman before he met with Asma. No, her he'd love slowly through the night, but these others, they were just grinding stones to blunt the edge off him after three dry months on the water.

Asma hurried home early that night. She had simply gone through the motions during the day, waiting for it to end but her clients tipped her lavishly. Each felt he was the reason she was glowing.

Once home, she found Krishno on the bed, face buried in her pillow and lost to the world. She didn't care if he was tired from the sea or from the women, she was comforted just seeing him. She wouldn't wake him till the morning.

Krishno brought Asma home the night the ship capsized. She didn't speak a word for a week, and he couldn't tell if it was the shock or if she was mute. He fed her and left her indoors by day, while he went to train at the docks. In the evening, when he returned, she'd still be by the window he left her at in the morning. One morning, as he was about to leave the house, he heard her cry out sharply. He ran back up and found her hopping on one foot at the top of the stairs. She had stubbed her toe , rushing to the stairwell to watch Krishno leave. They looked at each other, she hopping, he not so much, and they broke into a laugh.

Four years later, Asma had her back to Krishno as he slept. She asked herself everyday if she was happy, if this independence she had was worth the price of separation from family, from the charted life she'd left behind in Dhaka. Not today though. She decided she didn't want to hear the answer tonight. She'd take solace in Krishno's sleeping form. Let him sleep. Let him not wake. She could dream about how her life would take flight from that point on. If the bastard woke, he'd just drag her back to reality.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Krishno - IV

The Queen Mary at the British Nautical Museum today is a replica. The wood is shinier, they have panels of oak, carpets where there weren't any earlier and a captain's deck that wasn't on the original ship. Some say this model won't even float. Only the helm on this replica, blackened from the fire, reminds visitors of that inky '37 night.

It was just past midnight and The Queen Mary was supposed to dock within the hour when suddenly the radio at the Port Authority burst into life. Cries of "Mayday!" cut quickly through the inebriation. Her Majesty's Coastguard rallied two rescue boats to set out immediately to sea. A group of docksmen scrambled to assemble Manby's mortar, to reach the wrecked vessel with a line from the shore. Someone else was on the phone with the Royal Navy to see if they had a ship near the QM.

Krishno and three young officers were at the docks at the time, celebrating their new appointment to the vessel, when they saw the commotion. The rescue-boats needed able bodies - strong swimmers, ship-climbers, firefighters, life-boat rowers - so they jumped in without a thought.

The Queen Mary was a mere 20 miles from the docks. She was sighted easily enough against the black sea. The balls of orange erupting into the night sky lit up the ship like a festival.

The headlines the next day reported a fuel leak. One of the lesser known dailies reported survivors hearing cries of "Bomb!!" before the first blast happened, but the rumours died soon. Back then, talk of foreign hands, of conspiracies by non-state actors wasn't given much credence. Back then, the ship's body makers simply apologised and shut shop.

Out on the sea though, the situation was dire. The Coastguard boats circled the Queen Mary as the fire raged on board. Those not trapped on the lower decks jumped into the water and were lifted onto the rescue boats. There were others that were panic-stricken, rooted to where they stood as fires blazed around them. Krishno cried out to a young lady to jump, but he was left watching helplessly as she was swallowed by the flames. The ship wouldn't last much longer, and by now, the fates of the passengers had been decided. Those that had managed to jump ship would live if the coastguard spotted them, and those that remained on board were likely dead.

Shahadat was lost to the fire long before Krishno drew his body up on shore. Asma and he were in their cabin when the screaming began. The flames swept through the narrow passageway connecting each cabin. The doorknob on the inside of the cabin had become too hot to touch and viscous smoke had started to billow through the slip between door and frame. Shahadat and Asma held towels to their faces as he elbowed the glass in the porthole. The glass wouldn't give, it was that thick. The wooden door was aglow by then. It would be only moments before the monster outside swallowed it. Shahadat picked up a chair and Asma helped him smash the window till a crack appeared around the rim.

The wooden door caved just then. Shahadat stood tall behind Asma as the flames licked at his back. He delivered a final mighty blow to the window and the glass fell out into the sea. The splash caught the attention of a rescue dinghy. Asma climbed through where the glass had been and saw the dinghy below her. The porthole was a couple of stories above the sea, but she couldn't be scared. Not now, not while her uncle was still inside. The fire tore at his back as Asma jumped out. Shahadat lurched to the window behind her, hoping that the ship would have rehem, that the ship would spit him out. The adrenalin had numbed the sear till now, but as his body dangled out the window, his last memory was the smell of his burning flesh.

From the dinghy below, Krishno could tell that the man in the window, body ablaze, was unconscious at the very least. The girl had swum onto the dinghy, but to save the man, they needed the Queen Mary to roll toward them, to have him drop from the porthole. Even as they watched, the infernal vessel obliged. Shahadat dropped into the water, and Krishno dove in after him.

Newspapers were delivered late the next morning. The major publications had stopped presses to report the tragedy. 410 passengers in all, 110 women, 44 children. Survivors 30. All thanks to the brazen disregard for life shown by Her Majesty's Coastguard. The enduring image was of an officer thumping the chest of an elderly gentleman as he lay breathless on the shore. A young girl looked on disbelievingly.