Posts Tagged ‘Larry Hodges’

Science Future: Alternate Actual


Science fiction inspires the world around us. It inspires us to create our future. So we look to the future of science to find our next fiction. We look to Science Future. The Science Future series presents the bleeding edge of scientific discovery from the viewpoint of the science fiction reader, discussing the influences science and science fiction have upon each other.

Alternate Actual

Possibilities sometimes dazzle us. Possibility is what makes gambling so exciting (or excruciatingly painful). We think of the future as a sea of possibilities and the past as a list of choices with possibilities discarded. Only, in the realm of science fiction, the past does not have to be so stagnant. In science fiction we have two words: alternate realities.

Photo of a hologram from MIT's Hologram Gallery

The idea of alternative realities is a common theme  in science fiction. The act of writing fiction, is in some ways, creating an alternative to reality, but are alternate realities truly science fiction? The answer may lie in black holes. Not that black holes are gateways to other universes but in the study of black holes. Theoretical studies on the quantum properties of black holes over the last thirty years have led to proposal that the reality we perceive is nothing but a hologram of another. The proposal works on the theory that information (used in the loosest definition of the word) related to the surrounding physics of an area can be stored on the surface area of a black hole, rather than inside it, and that the resulting three dimensional reality that surrounds it is in fact a projection of this two dimensional information. Black holes have been used in science fiction to create alternate realities before, such as in Tom the Universe by Larry Hodges.

It is a hard concept to wrap your mind around, which is why it has taken thirty years for scientist to even propose it. That and the slow advances of science as it iterates and recurses upon itself to better improve our understanding of the universe we can directly perceive. For example science has declared a change in the fundamental constants used in physics. The National Institute of Standards and Technology has announced revised numbers, leading to the electromagnetic force has growing a little stronger, gravity becoming a little weaker, and the size of the smallest “quantum” of energy is now being known a little better. But only a little. The changes were small, of course, but will no doubt lead to changes in the complex equations used to model the universe, throwing physicists into a frenzy. I doubt they would be frazzled worse if they met their own evil twin with appropriately alternative hair and/or clothing styles.

xkcd: 683: Science Montage

Evil twins originate from anti-matter universes, of course, so we know that they’ll weight just as much as you do, according to the scientists at Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics. They measured the mass of an antiproton to the best of their capability and they have announced that matter-antimatter symmetry has now been confirmed, meaning that the mass of a proton and antiproton is the same. This doesn’t explain how you might one day find a ’76 Goldwater Dime such as the one John Medaille wrote about but we can rest assured that if an alternate universe existed made purely out of anti-matter, it would not different too much on the scales.

Alternate realities will continue to remain a common device used in science fiction mostly to explore the idea of having not spilled coffee on yourself during that last date as well as exploring other aspects of the human condition. Science isn’t close to any particular breakthroughs regarding where your evil twin is hiding but in the mean time scientists will do their best to find them for you.

Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one. – Albert Einstein

EP290: Tom the Universe


Tom the Universe

By Larry Hodges

I permeate this universe, which I’ve named Tom, and guard against its destruction. If someone had done that for the universe I came from, then Mary, my sweet Mary, would still be alive, and I wouldn’t have killed her and everyone else when I accidentally destroyed that universe.

And now I’m on the verge of destroying much more.

My name is also Tom. I was an undergrad in neuroscience at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore that January in 2040 when I made the discovery that doomed us all. My field of study was cognitive science, the study of human consciousness. What makes us aware of ourselves? Is it just the biomechanical workings of the brain, or something else?

Sherlock Holmes said, “When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.” I spent countless hours in the lab eliminating the impossible, and there didn’t seem to be anything left, improbable or not. The interconnectivity required for human consciousness to exist was just too many levels beyond what was possible. By all rights, we should all be unconscious blobs of matter mechanically going about our business as directed by electronic impulses from the brain, with no more consciousness than a calculator. I suffered brain cramps in the lab trying to figure out what improbables were left.

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