Friday, June 11, 2010

Quantum Mechanics and Quarantine - Greg Egan

"This essay contains spoilers for my novel Quarantine. If you haven't read it, and have any intention of doing so, you will probably enjoy it more if you read it before you read this essay.

Quantum mechanics was born early in the twentieth century as a way of dealing with some puzzling aspects of the behaviour of light and matter. In the process of constructing theories to make sense of what seemed at first to be a few niggling loose ends in classical physics, a revolution was started that has led to powerful, detailed, predictive models for describing almost every aspect of the microscopic world. However, while quantum mechanics has been an incontrovertible success, its ultimate implications remain a matter of controversy. We know how to calculate the behaviour of nuclei and molecules, lasers and logic gates, but there is still no consensus as to what quantum mechanics tells us about the fundamental nature of reality. Classical mechanics assumed that reality was more or less the way it appeared to be from everyday experience. Quantum mechanics shows that it isn't, but there is still no firm consensus as to exactly what should replace the classical view.

My 1992 novel Quarantine centred on a tongue-in-cheek, science-fictional resolution of that controversy, with a hypothesis that was chosen solely for its technological and existential ramifications, not because I considered it plausible. I said as much in interviews at the time. However, the world is full of misinformation about quantum mechanics, and while nobody would mistake Quarantine for a textbook on the subject, over the years I've often looked back and winced at some scientific flaws in the novel that go beyond the mere implausibility of its central premise."

4.5 out of 5

No comments:

Post a Comment