Blog-a-Day #13 -- Captain Kirk Never Said, “Beam Me Up, Scotty.”(It’s true, look it up)

Teleportation. It seems like a great idea. Step into a box the size of a phone booth, ala Larry Niven’s “transfer booth”, say your destination and mechanically/magically/miraculously materialize in another booth on the other side of the planet. Or, better yet, just walk through a doorway into a different city. That would make your daily commute so much easier, wouldn’t it? Imagine a portal in Earth orbit big enough to pass a spaceship through—many science Fiction writers have. Fly through and appear at Mars, or Jupiter, or Alpha Centauri.

Of course, as with all technologies, there is a downside. And, as the picture above indicates, it could be devastating. If I can step into a transfer booth and reappear in the lobby of a building in the heart of downtown, instead of teleporting me, I could just as easily teleport a dirty bomb or a full-blown nuke. Realistic SF needs to take issues like these into account and integrate them into stories. The threat of terrorist attacks or all-out war fought through teleportation can add a lot of conflict and tension.

Note that, despite the title of this piece, I won’t be talking about Star Trek’s Transporter technology where a person is decomposed into their constituent atoms while being “analyzed” and those atoms are sent to a destination location and reconstituted there. I won’t talk about this because it is a story killer. A lot of Star Trek episodes have something blocking the Transporter so the crew can’t just be plucked out of danger. Also, I haven’t a clue how to do it. It really smacks of Albert Einstein’s hated “spooky action at a distance”, which was his main objection to “quantum entanglement”.

When two or more particles are created in such a way that they either share or have opposite properties such as polarity, spin, etc. they are said to be “entangled.” And, like all particles before they are measured in some way, they exist in a state known as “superposition”, meaning that the properties they share are indeterminate until they are observed, i.e. until they interact with some external observer or influencer. Look up “Schrodinger’s Cat” for more on this, if you’re interested. Remember from last time the idea that tiny particles, e.g. electrons and protons, are really just quantum probability fields? Properties like location, momentum, charge, spin, polarity, and others can be viewed as dimensions of these probability fields. When particles are entangled, their probability fields are entangled, or linked through some as yet unknown mechanism. When one of the properties of a single particle is observed as, say, right-hand spin, its entangled partner’s property instantly “collapses” to the opposite left-hand spin.

As if the notion of particle states not being determined until observed isn’t bizarre enough the truly spooky part that Einstein objected to is this linkage between particles that can be separated, theoretically by light years. It’s easy to see how quantum entanglement could be used for near-instantaneous (“near-instantaneous” is a hedge since no one understands the underlying mechanisms) communication across interstellar distances. But, since each message would use of some of the entangled particles, the store of entangled particles that a ship has onboard for communications would seem to be a pretty precious commodity. That store would need to be managed and conserved, and the management of that “communications fuel” could be an interesting source of tension in stories.

But, interstellar communication isn’t particularly useful until you can get a spaceship out to interstellar distances. Is teleportation a way to do that? And, if it is, how? We might get lucky and have a First Contact with some other spacefaring species which already has a network of tele-portals in place throughout the galaxy. If they let us use it—maybe for astronomical fees, which would be another source of tension and conflict—problem solved. Alternatively, we could send slower-than-light ships out to deploy our own portals. This would be a decades or centuries-long project—lots more potential conflict there, too.

Anyway, somehow we’ve got a network of portals floating in different star systems that let us flit around the galaxy. How do they work? Again, here’s where the “fiction” in science fiction comes into play. We need to weave together threads from several discussions, then add a touch of Balonium to tie them together.

We can integrate and extend quantum probability fields, quantum entanglement, and M-Theory with a new fictional theory I call e-Strings, or Extended String Theory. E-Strings posits that, as with our three spatial dimensions of space-time, the seven tiny dimensions of M-Theory are not curled into tiny loops, but in fact extend across the universe. Our kirigami (origami with cutting of the paper) thought experiment where we created a closed loop universe of near-infinite length but very tiny width, is the place to start.

M-theory says that subatomic particles consist of one-dimensional loops of string vibrating in eleven dimensions, giving rise to properties like mass, charge, spin, etc. But, in our kirigami universe, there is in fact, only one string, nearly infinite in length, but closely bounded in width. In our everyday universe, three dimensions are nearly infinite but bounded very tightly in seven others. What does that imply for M-Theory’s vibrational modes that determine fundamental properties of particles? An analogy is our best guide, I think.

Take the high E string on a guitar. When you pluck it, the string vibrates with a resonant frequency determined by the length of the string and the tension applied by the tuning mechanism. Pushing down on the string with your finger shortens it to the next fret, which changes the resonant frequency. This is how we normally here guitars played. There are other techniques though, that involve producing harmonic tones by lightly pressing the string without pinching it to the fret board. Two separate tones are created this way. The finger acts as a bridge, in effect creating two substrings that each have their own resonant frequencies. By lightly pressing the string, each substring’s vibrations are transmitted to the other substring. When the bridge finger is placed so the longer substring’s length is an integral multiple of the short one, the two frequencies create a positive feedback which sustains both tones.

This can be repeated, creating more than two substrings although it is very hard to do with fingers. The vibrational modes of the substrings are linked (one could say “entangled”), so if you have a substring of length L at one end of the string and another substring of length L at the other end, they will resonate in phase, effectively becoming the same substring, but at opposite ends of the superstring.

Let’s apply this notion of e-String resonance to our kirigami strip universe. Imagine a “particle” moving down the length of our strip. The particle is defined by two bridges pinching the string’s width and separated by the resonant length for that particle type (say a quark equivalent). Now, imagine another particle somewhere further away that has the same resonant length. As we’ve seen with our guitar E string, these two particles, substrings really, will resonant in phase.

Extending substring resonance from our one-dimensional kirigami universe to our three-dimensional conventional universe, particles resonate in seven dimensions at various fundamental frequencies, giving rise to our subatomic zoo. But, what are the “fingers” that act as bridges on these strings? I offer that is the role of quantum probability fields. These fields not only determine a particle’s location in our three dimensions, but they also extend into the other dimensions, as well. They are the fingers of the universal musician.

We now have all of the pieces in place except one—how to create and manipulate quantum probability fields—which will take some Balonium, I’m afraid. With that fictitious element in place, let’s make a portal. We can do that by creating combinations of probability fields within the two portals. Think of these fields as a cosmological address, like a postal address or an IP address on a network. Each portal would have its own address, which sets up seven-dimensional resonances to receive incoming teleports. The sending portal creates a matching set of resonances, which effectively link the two portals probabilistically, making it possible to quantum tunnel between the two locations, just as an electron can tunnel from one wire to another.

There are a lot of applications to this fictional technology. For example, if you can tune the probability resonances like you tune a radio to different electromagnetic frequencies, you have a means of instant communication. One of the stories in my backlog uses this technique to make first contact with alien civilizations and evolves into a cosmic internet. I’m sure there are many more story ideas lurking out there, although when you can instantly call for help it might be too easy to wriggle out of trouble, like Captain Kirk.

The next article with be the final speculative non-fiction piece (is that a thing?). I’m reserving the last blog entry in this series for a short story that ties all this stuff together into a hopefully entertaining tale. Before we get to that though, we will examine another speculative use of quantum probability fields that leads us to the ultimate goal of this series—a free-flying FTL drive that can go many times the speed of light. I call it the BEC-QT drive, nicknamed the “Cutie”.

Rob Johnson

May 28, 2020


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