Join 3,424 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


SF+QM
May 10, 2010 6:09 AM   Subscribe

Science fiction and quantum mechanics on Rudy Rucker's blog.
posted by Wolfdog (29 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
How much more scientific is any of this compared to a wizard with a protractor and a pocket calculator instead of eye of newt and powdered mummies? I am aware of the Clarke quote, but my concern is that this stuff seems to only have the vaguest relationship to the science it is name dropping (then again I am not sure there is enough there in string theory to really meaningfully say someone got it egregiously wrong).
posted by idiopath at 6:39 AM on May 10, 2010


Uh, this sounds like a list of gimmicks people could put into their books that sound vaguely related to QM. In fact...
In my own novel, Master of Space and Time, the gimmick that I used for giving my characters a fleeting ability to control the universe was to locally (in the vicinity of their heads) expand the Planck length into a one-meter length.——
The thing about the plank length is that's actually related to the universal gravitational constant G. So in order to make the plank length larger, you would need to increase gravitational attraction. You'd just end up with a black hole or something.
posted by delmoi at 7:18 AM on May 10, 2010


The best QM-related science fiction story I've ever read is Singleton by Greg Egan. It's about the moral and philosophical implications of the many-worlds interpretation; the physics is fundamental to the story, and (as far as I know) accurate.
posted by teraflop at 7:20 AM on May 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


OK, reading beyond the first couple of screenfulls Rucker clearly takes a critical eye to the usage of QM in fiction - but I think he misses the bigger picture of why QM ends up being a huge bundles of deuses ex machinas.

QM is interesting because it, much more than any other field of science, refuses to play nice with our sense of intuition. Immersive story telling is about making sequences of events that play nice with human intuition. Given these two facts, I am not sure know how QM as a speculative element in fiction could be anything but an unsatisfying device.
posted by idiopath at 7:23 AM on May 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


If this sort of thing is interesting to you, I'd highly recommend reading Stephen Baxter's Xeelee Sequence and Manifold series.
posted by Vulpyne at 7:48 AM on May 10, 2010


I am under the impression that QM is viable for hard sci-fi only if your characters are sub-atomic particles. QM is curious math that applies to incredible small items. It's like, if you have gravity affecting things in your story then you're on too large a scale for quantum effects.

Is my understanding accurate?
posted by fuq at 7:50 AM on May 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


I am under the impression that QM is viable for hard sci-fi only if your characters are sub-atomic particles.

Quarantine, among others.
posted by DU at 8:00 AM on May 10, 2010 [3 favorites]


Quarantine is clearly labeled as hard scifi, but the ability to control the outcome of macro level events by consciously manipulating quantum level events seems extremely soft.
posted by idiopath at 8:24 AM on May 10, 2010


Hard sci-fi has usually been more of a pretense anyway. I've read very few authors who didn't pull out the handwavium when necessary to make the plot work.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 8:32 AM on May 10, 2010


How much more scientific is any of this compared to a wizard with a protractor and a pocket calculator instead of eye of newt and powdered mummies?
posted by idiopath

"Our opponent is an alien starship packed with atomic bombs," I said. "We have a protractor."
posted by Katrel at 8:44 AM on May 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


From the article:

"Schrödinger’s Dead Horse, (…I mean Cat)"
LOL! The past couple years have seen quite a mainstreaming of QM in popular science-fiction, from the Star Trek reboot, to the weekly injections we get on 'Fringe', that the cat sometimes to be getting a bit threadbare.

Abrams and his gang are doing a pretty good job of it, especially since he has no 'reset'-buttons going on any of the franchises he's producing. (Have you even noticed how quickly and easily things revert to form in a show after the alternate reality touches down in it's sibling-reality? You'd think that such an event might have an enduring, if not traumatic effect on the protagonists who experienced the event. 'Fringe' is the first show I've seen deal with Walternate/AU issues head-on.

I think we've entered a new paradigm for popular fiction, even though we've had occurences like this since 'Sliding Doors', back in 1998.
posted by vhsiv at 8:50 AM on May 10, 2010


I just kind of wish people who weren't quantum physicists would stop talking about quantum physics.
posted by Pope Guilty at 9:00 AM on May 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


vhsiv: Now you see, one of the things I love about Fringe is that it doesn't even try to justify its handwavium. They just throw a virus the size of a small cat or a shapeshifting cyborg that eats mercury on the screen and roll with it. It's unashamedly David Icke/Art Bell type of crazy, and that makes it beautiful.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 9:02 AM on May 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


Pope Guilty: "I just kind of wish people who weren't quantum physicists would stop talking about quantum physics."

I think that I can safely say that nobody understands quantum mechanics.
-- Richard Feynman, The character of physical law (Cambridge, USA, 1967) .
posted by idiopath at 9:09 AM on May 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'd just like to say that I really ♥ Rucker. He's so much fun.
posted by brundlefly at 9:20 AM on May 10, 2010


I 'm not don't think of myself as a quantum mechanic, but Fringe has a random goofy kind of thing that's been missing in genre television for a long time. Like the Navigator in the original Alien -- not everything needs to be explained within an inch of its existence.

I'm talking about the surprises that the viewer either has to just go-along with, or do the crowdsource/-wiki thing to figure out. It's a deep-mythology thing that we've largely left behind. Western Culture used to be this 2000 y.o. thing, and that became generational, and then decade-long and has now we're just left with a cultural memory that lopes from season-to-season with it's ADD.
posted by vhsiv at 9:46 AM on May 10, 2010


idiopath, I like to think we've made progress since Feynman made that quip forty-three years ago.
posted by fantabulous timewaster at 9:51 AM on May 10, 2010


If anything, it has gotten alot weirder since then.
posted by idiopath at 10:11 AM on May 10, 2010


First, a throwaway remark—a chemist friend of mine once remarked that it would be entertaining if fundamentalist religious types got into attacking quantum mechanics. They’re always just hammering way on evolution, I guess because it’s fairly easy to (sort of) understand. Certainly there are some things in QM that might stoke someone’s ire. If the Lord knows all things, how dare scientists assert that the universe is in any respect Uncertain?

I really like this. Of course the answer would be, it's only uncertain to us humans. Not The Big Guy.
posted by Splunge at 10:16 AM on May 10, 2010


LOL! The past couple years have seen quite a mainstreaming of QM in popular science-fiction, from the Star Trek reboot, to the weekly injections we get on 'Fringe', that the cat sometimes to be getting a bit threadbare.
Except that startrek just used the same "Going back and changing the past" trick that's been used a million times.
posted by delmoi at 10:30 AM on May 10, 2010


The going back and changing the past trick has only been used once. Every time it happens all the preceding uses cease to have happened.
posted by Babblesort at 10:38 AM on May 10, 2010


Also: Sci-Fi Writer Attributes Everything Mysterious To 'Quantum Flux'
posted by Ratio at 10:45 AM on May 10, 2010 [3 favorites]


It's an interesting comment in regards to evolution vs. quantum physics. I think evolution gets attacked because it's perceived as a personal slight on ancestry and morals, in contrast to the dozen other theoretical frameworks that are incompatible with a literal reading of Genesis. QM can be dismissed with a "mysterious ways."
posted by KirkJobSluder at 12:24 PM on May 10, 2010


KirkJobSluder: also consider the historical accident that Christian theology does not make specific and testable claims about things like waves, particles, physical laws, or the makeup of matter. Whereas it does make claims about cosmology and the origin of species that are testable and wrong.
posted by idiopath at 1:31 PM on May 10, 2010


*pre scientific Christian theology did not make specific etc...
posted by idiopath at 1:32 PM on May 10, 2010


Except that startrek just used the same "Going back and changing the past" trick that's been used a million times.
posted by delmoi at 1:30 PM on May 10


If I'm not mistaken, Abrams, Orci and Kurtzman have acknowledged that this movie forked the Star Trek universe, thus creating Spock Prime. They've gone back and changed the past, but altered the entire ST continuity.
posted by vhsiv at 2:45 PM on May 10, 2010


I'd just like to say that I really ♥ Rucker. He's so much fun.

IMHO, he was a lot more fun back when he was still doing drugs. Sorry Rudy, you know we love you, but we haven't forgotten your early-post-sobriety stinkers like "Hollow Earth."
posted by charlie don't surf at 4:54 PM on May 10, 2010


I've been thinking lately about time machines that interact with alternative notions of time... One of them comes close to the 'branching realities' model: The machine can indeed send you back to any moment you like, but it creates a branched reality in the process. The timeline alters when you keep JFK from getting shot or what-have-you, but nothing you do can change the world you originally came from. As a nice consequence, you end up with a 'canonical reality' that is necessarily completely free of time-travellers (since time-travel creates a branching). Allowing some kind of communication between the canonical reality and the time travellers, you end up with mad scientists trying to find people willing to go back a day and change some small detail of an experiment, in order to get truly controlled outcomes. And so on.

Another idea (probably less interesting, from a narrative viewpoint) involves a time machine based on the principle that the past is not a thing that exists; we have memories of the past, sure, but that past does not exist. The time machine allows travel through this extra fourth dimension, but the places it takes you are not the past of our world...
posted by kaibutsu at 5:28 PM on May 10, 2010


Looking up some terms from that piece lead me on a whole googleramble, ending up at Pilot Wave Theory, which is really quite cool, especially from a historical perspective.

Though I'd imagine it's whole "SURPRISE - QM really IS deterministic" approach would annoy a lot of SF writers.
posted by Sparx at 6:00 PM on May 10, 2010


« Older "There was a hobbit, who didn't even know how to r...  |  I'm just not sure that "happin... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments