The Price of Bliss Eternal
by Thomas Dylan Daniel
Table of Contents|
parts: 1, 2, 3, 4
The interior of the Albuquerque bar wasn’t smoky, but it wasn’t spotless either. Stained carpet covered the floor, perpetually wet. The scuffs on the tables and bar top were difficult to discern in the dim light, but any glory they may have once lent the atmosphere was now lost in the sullen, quiet haze. A man sat in front of the bar, drinking a club soda and thinking about ways to change the world. Suddenly, his reverie was disrupted by a shout.
At the sound of his name, he turned around. Nils Osterhaut, a European scientist, towered over him. The lights in the bar did little to illuminate the man’s features, but his blond hair and slim physique matched his wire-rimmed glasses almost perfectly.
“Nils, it is good to see you,” said Eduardo Moreno, standing up and extending his hand.
Nils took the smaller man’s hand in his own and shook it vigorously. He was too excited to mind the dingy atmosphere in the bar, despite his habit of spending time in finer establishments. Eddie marveled at his excitement.
“You have the lab set up, no?” Nils enquired.
“I do,” Eddie responded.
“And the experiment? You have the tagging equipment set up?”
“I do. You seem to be full of questions, my friend! Please, have a seat. Would you like a drink?” Eddie gestured to a chair, and again to the waiting bartender.
“Ah. Yes,” said Nils, sitting down. “I’ll have a Mexican martini, please.”
The bartender made a face, but then set to work producing Nils’ drink.
“So, I believe I have a plan that will allow me to tag the atoms,” Eddie said, slowly.
“Ah! Incredible!” Nils replied, his eyebrows lifting themselves. He turned aside to seize the martini glass, leaving the silver shaker on the bar. He took a deep drink.
Eddie pointed a finger at his chest, indicating that he would be purchasing the drink Nils was enjoying. He thought for a moment about the experiment. If he hadn’t held himself awake the past two nights working on the project, he would probably not be able to contain his excitement. However, times being as they were, he had stayed up and continued to obsess over the upcoming experiment with a diminished enthusiasm.
“So, Nils,” he began. “Which interpretation of quantum mechanics do you prefer?”
Immediately Nils replied: “Many worlds interpretation.”
“Ah. Excellent! What would you say if I were to suggest that neither this nor the Copenhagen interpretation was correct, and that the truth of the matter was simultaneously a combination of both, but far stranger?”
“I would ask for details,” Nils replied emphatically.
“Well, then, let us go to the lab,” Eddie’s heart began to race. He was elated at the prospect of finally being able to share his results with someone who could appreciate them.
* * *
Inside the lab, a large glass box stood alone. It contained a table with a variety of equipment. On one side of the box wires ran out through a tiny hole to a printer.
“What is the purpose of this?” Nils asked, immediately, gesturing to the printer.
“It is revolutionary. I’m trying to hack the universe. Inside the box, I conduct experiments. I take 50 oxygen-19 atoms, isolate them, and measure decay over time with a computer. The larger chamber is double-walled, so that I can seal it with a vacuum,” Eddie said, gesturing at the large double-layer of glass which stood in the center of the room. “The idea is to have as little interference from the outside world as possible.”
“Is this supposed to prevent observation or interference? How do you keep light away?” Nils paced a bit, grappling with the concept.
“Light is a non-issue, as the time crystals in their supercooled state will block it completely. The experiment actually takes place inside of that glass box there,” Eddie waved his hand to a cube inside of the larger glass chamber that was only a half-meter or so tall.
Nils smiled. Eddie was certainly no fool. He’s going to take himself out of the experiment by refusing to view the results until a certain amount of time has passed, he thought.
“Gravity, on the other hand, is a far bigger problem. If the experiment works, we will be effectively cutting ourselves out of the universe, and perhaps there will be no gravity.” He gestured to metal stirrups on the floor. “We’ll need to stand in those for the duration of the experiment,” he said.
Nils nodded approval. He’s thought of everything. I don’t want to miss this! I wouldn’t miss this for the entire world!
“The important part is none of this, however.” Eddie’s heart raced. The truly remarkable creation was the next thing he would show to Nils. “Have a look at that small silver circle near the top of the box. Do you see that?” he asked, pointing upward to the top of the larger glass enclosure.
“Yes, what does it do?” Nils asked.
“It contains time crystals. In fact, in the vacuum, between the two pieces of glass, there is a layer of them that is only one atom thick. They completely surround the inner layer of glass, even the door, so when they loop, the time inside the box loops as well. When I reduce the temperature of the crystals in the device, it changes their energy state, slowing the loop to about three minutes and synchronizing it so that all of the crystals exhibit the same period. A complex interaction then takes place.”
Nils nodded once.
“I call the circular device that super-cools the time crystals the temporal battery pack, and I have ensured that it has enough power to repeat the process only a few times. This means it is entirely safe to use the box from inside the chamber, though an observer standing here will not note the passage of more than a few seconds during the entire experiment. Thus sheltered, I am able to loop the experiment a number of times. I will measure which particular atoms decay, and then the battery will run out-thrusting me back into the same time as the rest of the world.”
“My God!” Nils exclaimed. “You run the experiment multiple times, with the exact same experimental setting, recording the results at the end of each loop! But you also break the laws of thermodynamics by sending information back here during each loop! It’s incredible!”
“Indeed. But I need help. There is an issue I have been tracking down: it seems that the same thing simply happens each time. I’ve completed two trial runs at this point, and when Janine looked at the results, she found that each of the five tests contained a random result caused by different initial conditions. We need to get the initial conditions to reset exactly to run the experiment we want to run.
“Any amount of variance in such an experiment would confirm a deep truth about the world: it would mean that reality itself is nondeterministic, that conditions do not lead to particular outcomes with any sort of certainty. However, my previous results do nothing. The machine seems to be broken.” Eddie sighed, raising his hands, palms upward.
“No worries, my friend! I can have a look. I hope it is something simple.” Nils was ecstatic at the opportunity.
“Would you like to operate the machine while I use it to run an experiment?” Eddie asked.
“Yes. That will be fine. But I believe, if I understand you’ve done this before, you’ve just tipped me off to the problem! If there is an observer out here, then according to the Copenhagen interpretation, the observer will be guilty of collapsing the experiment. Therefore, I would like to assist you from inside the box. That should be sufficient to contain the effect.” Nils gesticulated with his hands as he spoke, small amounts of spittle flying from his lips.
“Excellent! My staff will be in tomorrow. We can get to work on the hardware first thing in the morning. I need you on the theoretical side, for now, though. Let’s meet at the library at 9 and I’ll get you started.”
* * *
“How do we know that the universe is not infinite?” the Stanford professor asked the class. A young Eduardo Moreno sat, doodling, in the back of the room. A freshman, he was taking astronomy more for fun than for anything practical. He didn’t want to be a cosmologist. He did like the idea of studying the origins of the world, but he wanted to work in something more concrete.
A hand went up, closer to the front of the room. A young woman in glasses had an idea.
“Is it because that would lead to a logical contradiction?” she asked.
“Why, yes. Could you tell me more specifically what you mean by that?”
“Well, if it were truly infinite, the universe could have no beginning and no end. So, we arrive almost immediately at an infinite regress,” she explained.
“Very good. But there is a problem with that. Do you know what it is?” the professor responded.
“Anyone else?” he stretched his arms out to the class.
“Very well then. The problem I was looking for is that the night sky is dark. If every direction we could look had a star at the end of it, the night sky would be as bright as day! So, we know the universe is not infinite because it does not contain an infinite number of stars, which is why the sky is darker at night than during the day.”
The class took some time to argue with him about this. Maybe there was dust in the way. Maybe we had no reason to assume an even distribution of stars. Maybe there were objects we did not know of, blocking or absorbing the light.
Then Eddie raised his hand.
“You, in the back there,” the professor pointed, and silence took over again.
“Well, it occurs to me that...” Eddie trailed off, suddenly quite nervous.
“Well, perhaps the expansion of the universe works against it, here.” Eddie broke out in a sweat.
“Ahh. Interesting question! Would you care to elaborate a bit more?”
“Um. It seems that the redshift the stars would undergo would result in the vast majority of the light transmitted by stars sufficiently far away would eliminate their light from the visible spectrum. This is why we can see only the stars that are in our neighborhood, so to speak, right?” Eddie’s voice cracked, just a little, as he finished.
The professor broke out into a grin.
“So we could see only stars that were not moving away from us faster than the speed of light,” Eddie continued, stammering and nervous.
“Why yes. That is a possible answer to the Olbers Paradox. See me after class! I’d love to discuss it more. Moving on...”
* * *
The day of the test, roughly one week into his visit, Nils had finished his proof. His recommendations had reached Eddie the night before, and Nils arrived at the lab to find Eddie’s staff hard at work enacting the changes. There was a man fumbling with the printer, which was now inside of the glass box. A young, blonde woman with a clipboard was supervising three men who held suction cups attached to a pane of glass. They were working to erect a new wall on one side of the cube, where the printer had been before.
Eddie appeared with a cup of coffee and an assistant, pointing to something out of sight around the corner.
“Eddie!” Nils cried out. “I see you’ve chosen to reconsider your method for transmitting trial data back to the world!”
“Indeed I have,” Eddie replied. “Instead of a hole in the side of the device, which may have caused the errors I had previously experienced in my trials, I will now employ a scanner. We print the results, hold up the printouts to the square painted on that section,” he indicated a portion of the wall with four ninety-degree angles surrounding an area roughly 8.5 by 11 inches in size.
“This way, my optical technology is able to read out the result and store it. You might think of it like a quantum printer. We will not be able to determine which trial number we are on, but my technology will allow the result to be scanned instantaneously, which, I hope, will help us to capture at least two of the different results to compare. The two layers of glass are vacuum-sealed, which should help to contain the observer effect as long as the only light-source in the room is within the box.”
“My God! So you’ve found a way to teleport information out of the broken-off pocket universe?” Nils was flabbergasted. This was a direct violation of the laws of thermodynamics, after all.
“Yes. But don’t thank me, thank Jean, my brilliant wife.” Eddie pointed toward the blonde with the clipboard.
She wore glasses, and, upon further reflection, Nils decided she was quite pretty. He smiled at her and she approached.
“Ah, Jean! Jean, this is Nils!” Eddie exclaimed, by way of introduction. “And Nils, this is Jean.” He paused a moment while the two of them exchanged greetings. I really should have gotten some sleep, he reflected.
“It is good to meet you, Jean,” Nils said, courteously taking her hand. “Your husband is someone I have looked up to for a long time.”
“Likewise,” Jean replied. “I thought I heard my name. My husband needs to sleep more. I happen to have devised a technology that was capable of aiding in this matter. Would you like to see it in action?”
“Of course! This is all... so overwhelming!” Nils exclaimed as Jean led him to a computer screen across the room.
“Pierre, a demonstration?” she asked a nearby assistant in a lab coat. The young man snatched a sheet of paper and went into the box. He held the paper inside the rectangular outline highlighted by the silver corners.
On the computer screen, almost instantly, an exact replica of the letter chosen — a letter Nils had sent Eduardo proclaiming his intention to visit immediately — was displayed. A dialog box appeared, announcing that the image had been saved.
“Astonishing,” Nils commented. Jean smiled.
Eduardo was now inside the time machine, tinkering with the sphere on the ceiling.
“Jean,” Nils said. “What if the different results all arrive simultaneously? Can your computer deal with such a large amount of data?”
“Not to worry. There is no such thing as simultaneity. Einstein debunked it, remember? My prediction is that the various results will return, one by one, for our comparison. However, if that is not the case, there is no need to worry. For now, we really need only two different sets of data to compare, and the machine is equipped to produce three in one run.”
“Ah. You have surely thought of everything!”
Eddie was a shorter man, with a darker complexion, and a beautiful head of black hair. He wore no glasses, but his features were strikingly erudite nonetheless. He came back out of the machine and gave Jean a hug.
The taller of the two, but only slightly, Jean looked a perfect match for Eddie somehow, Nils thought. He pulled out his phone and demanded they pose for the camera, snapping a quick photo of them. Then he sent the photograph to his Facebook page with the caption “The Team That Will Make History Today!”
* * *
Copyright © 2020 by Thomas Dylan Daniel