The Professor's Paper - Part 1
"Professor, you do know that you're ending your career, right?", asked the student.
"We'll see. Probably. I was going to retire next year, regardless. It's not like I'd live to see the sum of the consequences away.", replied the professor. He gazed at the student from over the rims of his glasses. The small, round lenses twinkled slightly in the candle light, but not as intently as his still-sharp, pale eyes. Afternoon sunlight struggled to pierce the heavy fabric curtains covering the tall, narrow windows, but could manage no better than to squeeze in between the cloth in tiny slivers, when a draft would happen to disturb them.
"I read your final draft of the paper, and i still don't completely understand it, nevermind comprehend the implications, if it's true. It's not going to be published until tomorrow... there's still time to stop it."
"Can. Won't. It needs to be out there". He waved his hand non-committally in the air between them.
"How can you be so goddamn calm about this? You're trying to... or you THINK you're going to shatter our entire notion of reality and you're just... sitting in your study, in the dark, with a cognac and a leather bound book... what is that? Douglas Hofstadter?"
The professor frowned, ran his left hand over his wiry salt-and-pepper beard and snapped the book closed with his right. "Well, that was my intention before my favorite grad student decided to barge in and start questioning my career. Or is it my methods?"
"It's not your methods. You know I'd never question your integrity. That's not what this is about and you know it. This is about career suicide. It's about what you're trying to put out there! It'll ruin your legacy!"
"Oh... so it's my sanity, then? And it's my legacy to ruin. Despite what you may think, your career has advanced far enough from my own that you can disavow your relationship with me and this institution and go on your merry way. But... you cannot deny the facts. My conclusions are sound."
The student grabbed a nearby chair, deftly swung it around and sat down, his arms folded in front of him, resting on its back. He peered intently at the older man for a few moments before he responded. "It's Deepak Chopra bullshit. 'Quantum Mysticism'. Its..." He paused, looking for a way to soften his tone, "It's kinda crazy, you have to admit."
"Young man, at no point did the cosmos ever agree to us to be easy or intuitive to understand. In our years together have I ever been less than rational, lax in my methods or unscientific?"
"Dreams. Magic . The 'Many Worlds' interpretation of quantum mechanics. It's all there. It's all real. It really IS all connected." The professor's gaze grew unfocused and distant as he continued, "and I have the science to prove it. Observable, testable, predictive science! It explains why our world is the way it is!"
"Explain it. Make me understand, then. "
"We started about 20 years ago. Sleep studies on students. Dream recordings, 'out of body experiences'... that sort of thing. We wanted to find out why some dreams are so vivid, so real. And how they could, very occasionally, predict an occurrence in the waking world or give us an insight that was not there before. It's been clear to humanity for centuries that there is something there, some truth that needed to be uncovered. Luckily, I was in a position where a quantum physicist could run a few sleep studies at his University without getting too many questions. Keep it quiet and nonchalant."
The professor took a sip of amber liquid from a nearly spherical glass, smacked his lips and took a moment to savor the flavor. "Once i got the quantum-tachyon/graviton detector, i started to see results. The zero-point quantum foam was, in fact, affecting the dreaming mind. It took over a year to finally hone the device to detect the virtual-particle pairs effecting an individual atom. Another year after that to see the aggregate effect on a single neuron."
The student, unphased, responded, "So what? A quantum occurrence causing a macro effect isn't unheard of. I mean, for the effect to be concentrated enough to actually effect the firing of an entire neuron is pretty unusual, but it has to happen some point right? I mean, some people like to chalk up free-will to such random quantum events."
"Yes. And a few years ago, i would've lumped that idea in with mysticism, just as you just did. However, i have proof. Reproducible, observable proof."
"As i was saying, with the QTG detector, we could see, in high resolution, the sum effect of the underlying quantum foam on a cell, namely a neuron. Not long after i started seeing something that i did not expect: a truly macro effect. The so-called random quantum foam was showing non-randomness WAY out of statistical significance. By orders of magnitude. These 'anomalies' seemed to cluster around certain students in our tests and only during REM sleep. The quantum effects were not merely effecting a single cell, but entire regions of the brain! The only problem then, as it is now, is whether or not the foam is effecting the mind, or the mind is effecting the foam."
"So... wait. You're saying that the inherent randomness of quantum mechanics ISN'T random, but only for some people? And while they're dreaming? What about the Heisenberg Uncertainty principle? Exact Velocity and location being mutually exclusive?"
The professor chuckled, "Yes, yes... i'm getting to that. As we collected data, it was obvious that a dreaming mind was being effected by gross manipulation of quantum chance. Imagine a flat field of a billion coins, each one with one side painted white, the other side black. Now, randomly flip them. Statistically, about 50% of them will land on heads, the other landing on tails. Viewed from above, the flat field would like pretty much like television static... or, if you zoom out, a boring grey, as the black and white colors blur at a distance. As you zoom in, you can see in the individual anomalies, all well within statistical relevance. Some groups of coins may make a barely recognizable shape... like a cloud that happens to look like a rabbit or something. But that's merely our primate brain seeing a pattern where there is not one. This is reality as we expected it to be."
"However... you saw statistically significant patterns?"
"Not just patterns, my boy. Imagine if you flipped those billion coins, all randomly, and when you zoomed out to take a look, a pixel-perfect, black-and-white image of the Mona Lisa stared back at you. What would the odds of that occurring be, hm? How could you explain that? An undergrad's practical joke perhaps? Well, whenever we recorded certain students dreaming, that level of improbability would occur. Constantly. Consistently. The conclusion was clear: Quantum chance was conspiring to fire our subject's neurons in a very specific, intentional pattern to create specific dream imagery."
"That's simply not possible. There must've been interference in the detector. There must have been an errant feedback loop somewhere!", said the student.
The Professor gestured to the large wooden desk sulking heavily under piles of paper in the dark, just beyond the glow of the candlelight. "It's all there. Pure data. Decades of it. As i delved deeper into this mystery, i was able to use my position to requisition even more equipment. I began running different experiments... the Double Slit experiment, Observer Wave-Form Collapse, Hawking Radiation permeability of P-Branes. Heady stuff. Literally." The Professor smirked at his own unintended pun. It was a very old, very good cognac.
"Yes, yes, very droll... but what was causing it?"
professor continued, "We didn't know. For all of our work up to that
point, we couldn't show that the quantum fluctuations were anything but insane
coincidence. Predictable coincidence.
As for what was causing the phenomenon, it took a brand new kind of detector
from the European Space Agency. We had to modify their Gravitic
Brane Resonance Detector technology for use within a
gravity well... namely, the surface of the Earth.
Once we got the compensating calculations right, it finally
allowed us to see the probability density of the closest dimensional brane,
in a localized area."
"You... you could detect the quantum permeability of a cosmic membrane? That in itself would get you a Nobel prize! Why didn't you publish then?", exclaimed the student. "With that kind of technology you would be able to measure the amount of quantum bleed from the nearest parallel universe!"
"And that's what we did with the 'strong dreamers'. These new measurements, coupled with our previous data and new techniques, showed us exactly how much of the quantum fluctuation was coming through the brane. The results were incontrovertible. Quantum data from beyond our universe's brane was directly effecting the human mind. Something from 'beyond the veil' was, intentionally or not, transmitting data that was being received and interpreted by these individual's minds, in the form of dreams."
The student swallowed. He could feel his stomach twist. "That's... terrifying. Who or what is sending the information?"
"As far as we can tell, no one. The data coming across is merely the standard quantum foam of the neighboring universe. It's a shadow of their reality. Like two radio stations transmitting on the nearly the same frequency. Sometimes you hear classical music, sometimes it's mariachi. Usually it's a little bit of both. Or, like a loud TV in the next apartment over. Some people, when their minds are receptive, can 'hear' that noise from the neighbors flat."
"So, beyond logical and mathematical proof, you have physical proof of the Many Worlds Interpretation. Astounding," The student said, as he leaned on the chair, eyes wide, enthralled. "But, why dreams? Why is quantum information effecting dreams?"
"There is something about the nature of consciousness that effects quantum reality. We've known that since Schrödinger; an observer causes wave form collapse. Perhaps this is a similar effect. The closest explanation i have is this: imagine two detailed images of a brain, printed on projector transparencies. One is red, the other blue. Imagine that they are SO detailed, that the individual neurons are visible. Now, place the transparencies on the projector, one atop the other. When you do, you might notice that they are not exactly the same... where they are different, you see red, or blue, neurons... but where they are the same, where they overlap, you see purple. It seems that when a mind in another universe happens to line up with a mind in this universe, especially in the suggestible dreaming areas of the brain, AND the brane barrier is particularly weak, there can be bleed over."
The student slowly shook his head, his eyes darting back and forth as he spoke aloud his thoughts, "People are catching glimpses of alternate selves. That's why there is a macro effect... there are enough neurons being effected to cause dreams, because they're in exactly same space, on the hyperspatial axis. And those firing neurons are altering the quantum foam."
"Exactly. The effect is so fleeting because an alternate self with a close enough neural matrix has to be in the right place at the right time, in the right state of mind, when the branes happen to touch. It's rare, but there are 8 Billion people on Earth. It's bound to occur enough to be measurable. And we have."
The student could only stare at the old carpet, his mind racing with the implications. Not willing to give the younger man a chance to process too far, the professor began again.
"There's more... as we adjusted the device, we could 'tune-in' on other Brane layers, other universes. Using the Resonator to match the string harmonic , we could attune a small area to a particular brane. When our strong dreamers slept in a room in that area, they reported consistent, realistic, even mundane dreams, that reoccurred every night under those conditions. Without the machine locking the brane resonance, it would constantly slide and shift, as the branes naturally slid against one another. "
"You're telling me that some dreams are literally glimpses into close-by alternate realities."
"And that is why they sometimes feel so real, yet so strangely different in details from our waking lives. And why they can even change so drastically AS we're dreaming them."
"May I have some cognac?"
"Yes," the professor smiled, "but first, let's get some supper."
The sun had long since retreated from its battle with the embroidered bastions of the professor's room, defeated by the curtain's holy duty to keep the outside world at bay, at least for a little while longer. The hour had grown late and the student and the professor had walked to a nearby pub, had a quick dinner and returned to the University. The professor started a fire in the room's large stone fireplace (they didn't make them like that anymore) as the student filled two tumblers with a dark golden liquid from the nicest bottle he could find in the professor's credenza. With the fire pleasantly crackling and sputtering its radiate heat into the room, the two men settled into two very old, very comfortable leather chairs that had a history of being woefully underutilized.
"So, without a doubt, there are alternate universes; other realities we can see in our dreams," stated the student, before taking a tentative sip. He then licked his lips and decided that he did, in fact, enjoy whatever it was.
"That is correct. But, for the last ten years, the rabbit hole has only gotten deeper. Only now do i feel that i have explored deep enough that i am content to discontinue the journey. It is time for others to see what i have seen. Perhaps they can go even further. Thus, the paper."
"The paper, yes. So, what else did you find? What else could there possibly be?"
The professor gingerly placed his tumbler down on a small, round end table and then produced a pipe from his vest, which he started to pack it with a spicy tobacco. As he pinched clumps of the shredded tobacco, he replied, "With the help of some old acquaintances of mine, most of which you'd no doubt recognize, i began working on a larger theory. This theory would require a map of the nearby realities. Getting them on board took very little convincing, despite the universal skepticism of my initial offers to them. A few even had to quit their lucrative TV or book deals in order to focus full-time. I feel a little bad about that... it's so hard to find quality science programming nowadays."
"Wait... so that's why Kaku and Greene cancelled their speaking tours a few years ago? And why Hawking dropped out of that charity tennis match at Cambridge? That was you? They were working with you?"
"Yes. Hawking was hardest to convince... he's a competitive bastard, in science and in sport. It's not like him to throw any sort of competition, even one for charity. " He took a few quick puffs from the pipe before continuing. "Clearly, using half-recalled details from dreaming test subjects would no longer be sufficient for such rigorous data collection. So, we refined our technology and with the new minds working on the problems, we found a way to label and catalogue the universes."
In the brief pause, the student jumped in, "The Many Worlds Interpretation states that for every single quantum event in the universe, an alternate is created. There would be... well, i don't even know if a googol would be enough to count that many universes since the Big Bang!"
"True, true. But, keep in mind that the differences between most universes would be just that... a single electron state or a handful of different quantum variations... absolutely nothing to be detectable on even the smallest macro scale. They might as we be the same universe. The hyperspatial distance between realties has a direct correlation to the similarity of the universes. The further 'away' you go, the more different the alternate universe will be. Basically, for a universe where you have blue eyes instead of brown is much 'closer' than one where stars are made out of cotton candy or whatever..."
"But why would that matter? The quantum foam is truly random! Every universe should have its own unique starting condition. The next door reality could have cotton candy stars, right?"
"Again, you and i walk the same path, but i am lucky enough to be ahead of you by a few years, " chortled the professor. "The trick is that the initial conditions of ALL of the alternate realities of our multiverse DID have the same initial conditions. They ALL started with the same Big Bang. When the first quantum fluctuation appeared in the Plank epoch after the Big Bang, that was the first alternate universe. Like a single seed with many sprouts coming out of it."
"I see.", said the student and sipped, not wanting to interrupt further.
"The older the changes, the more profound the difference in reality. Considering, however, how small and late of a change, cosmically speaking, it would be for Hitler to have won World War Two, it might as well be right next door. As you said, there are an incalculable number of discrete universes and it would be nearly impossible to catalogue, never mind detect, each minor difference. So, we have concentrated on the largest, most distinct changes that we can see. We look too close by and we see no differences. We look too far and we start seeing great voids and darkness. There is an outer zone of universes where the Cosmological Constant is different or where the four forces never split apart or some other universe-killing configuration is true. These are aborted universes. They collapsed or evaporated before they could even form. This hyperspatial zone, as far as we can tell, is impenetrable. It seems to go on forever. "
The student, brow furrowed, tried to extrapolate further, "But if there are other Big Bangs, they'd have their own entire set of alternate realities. An infinite number of universes, each with its own infinite number of alternates. An infinite number of infinities." The student paused for a moment and then finished his drink with a single gulp.
Puffing on his pipe, the professor seemed lost in thought for a moment and the student was about to prod him to continue. Blinking, the older man snapped from his reverie and continued, "Have you read much Lovecraft?"
"No.. not really, i had some friends in high school that were into it. It was never to my taste."
"Good, " said the professor. "So, we looked outward and we saw that reality frays around the edges. Then, we looked closer and discovered something else unexpected. Something very close by, indeed. "
The professor puffed on his pipe and stared at the student, gauging his reaction. When the student simply stared back at him, almost defiantly, he continued, "We started using a complex hyperspatial co-ordinate system to catalogue the more interesting and unique of realties. If we collapse down hyperspace into a 3 dimensional area, we can think of X and Y being distance and direction from us. Z would be up and down... time. Up would be future, down, the past. Like cutting a rope and looking at all the fibers on the cut surface. Since we have no way of moving up or down the rope, we can ignore the Z dimension. Therefore, we are left with simple X,Y co-ordinates. Something like 4x, 26y would be that many universes away from us to the 'Northeast'. Forgive the colloquial nomenclature. "
"Okay, well, that makes sense. I don't see what..."
The professor cut him off, "We're not Zero X Zero Y. We are not, as we found over and over again since dawn of science, the center of the universe. We assumed that it would all be relative, that from any given universe's perspective they would be the legitimate center of their cosmos. But we found a structure; a single universe near to ours that seems impermeable. If there are any quantum packets bleeding from it or into it, we do not yet have the means to detect them. At this time, it appears that the Zero Zero universe is utterly cut off from the multiverse. We decided to call it 'Prime Material'. If our math is correct, it means that, in that universe, all things happen absolutely according to the laws of physics and probability. It is utterly mundane. No strong dreamers. No inspirations from the Muses. Branes will slide very close, but never touch its vibrational boundary."
"So that means all of the art, all of the discoveries that have been attributed to vivid dreams don't exist in that universe?"
"As far as we can tell, yes."
"So, no cure for ALS. Lou Gehrig wasn't cured 1940. Dr. West always said that the inspiration for the treatment came from a particularly strong dream he had in '39. He was one of the first modern pioneers of the dream effect!" said the student. Suddenly looking up at his professor in realization he exclaimed, "Hawking! He had ALS in his 20's! In that 'Prime' universe there's no Hawking..." The student tried to imagine the fit, arrogant Hawking wasting away, unmoving in a wheelchair, and found that he couldn't.
"How do you think people will react knowing that we are an 'alternate' universe?", asked the professor.
"I have no idea. I don't even know how I feel about it. I mean, i think everyone has that weird cosmic paranoia that something just isn't quite right with the universe. In one way, though, it's kind of fun. Everything we can imagine actually exists out there, somewhere in hyperspace. Hell, this very conversation could be taking place in someone's story, inspired by a dream."
"Perhaps, perhaps. I'm hoping your generation will take this knowledge and do some good with it. i hope the philosophers and mystics and priests dont rip it to shreds. I hope the public hears it and truly understands it. It could be an entirely new field of exploration. Maybe one day we'll have the means to convey ourselves through hyperspace... either mentally or physically. I have no idea. Like i said, i'll be long dead and gone before we see what the consequences of this revelation will be."
The two men continued to talk into the night and into the morning. They spoke of the possibilities this idea offered, the infinite number of possibilities and permutations of reality that could be, that almost certainly are, out there in the multiverse. The student conjectured about super heroes. The professor contemplated ancient Greek mythology. They laughed and tried to come up with the most preposterous realities they could imagine and were sometimes sobered by the realization that they could actually be true. They conversed until sunrise. The rising sun and the chirping of the birds perched in the trees just beyond the professor's office windows signaled them that it was time to conclude their impromptu meeting and face the new dawn.
However, the new dawn did not bring any earth-shattering realizations. There were no calamitous cultural upheavals. The paper was politely ignored for a number of years, and once it was noticed again, the media only made a few snide remarks about how far academia had fallen from concerning itself with practical matters. A few scientists publicly condemned it as fantasy, the well-meaning, but ultimately flawed, thoughts of a passed away, yet still respected researcher. But, the paper did inspire new students, new thinkers and new scientists. Nearly 50 years after its initial publishing, new technologies and mathematics had revealed the consequences of the idea.
It was this new generation that unlocked its potential and changed reality as we know it.
End Part 1