Thursday, November 28, 2019

Quantum Ansible

Nikolai Nikitin and Konstantin Toms

A few days ago a paper appeared in the physics arXiv that described a clever new faster-than-light signaling scheme. The authors are a pair of Russians from the Lomonosov State University in Moscow, Nikolai Nikitin and Konstantin Toms, who is currently a postdoc at the University of New Mexico after spending time at the ATLAS experiment at CERN. N&T called their paper "Quantum Ansible" after a fictional FTL signaling device in the novels of Ursula LeGuin.

N&T's Quantum Ansible is a more sophisticated realization of my early (1982) FLASH FTL signaling scheme which imagined a universal quantum copying device that could exactly duplicate any unknown quantum state. My FLASH proposal was quickly refuted by Wootters, Zurek and others and led to the discovery/invention of the quantum no-cloning rule which plays an important part in the field of quantum computing.

Any classical datum can be easily copied, as simple as pushing the "Duplicate" command in your computer menu. But Nature outlaws such a duplicate command for quantum data. The best you can do, given an unknown quantum state, as was shown by Leonard Mandel, is to duplicate that state with 5/6 (= 83.3%) accuracy. As noise-free as this might seem, this small degree of copying imperfection was precisely sufficient to render my FLASH FTL communication scheme kaput.

The field of quantum computing has developed immensely since the discovery of the no-cloning rule. We know, for instance, that it is possible to perfectly clone any known quantum state. And thanks to the field of quantum computing, there is an easy way to do so: the so-called CNOT gate (or Feynman gate, as it is sometimes called).

The four possible operations of the CNOT gate.

The CNOT gate has two inputs and two outputs. The top input traverses the gate unchanged; the bottom input flips its sign if the top input is |1>. If the top input is |0>, the bottom output remains the same. CNOT stands for "Controlled NOT": the top input controls whether the bottom input will remain the same or will be subjected to the NOT operation, which changes a one to a zero.

As simple as this gate seems to be, the CNOT gate plays an important role in quantum computing. It can, for instance, be used to clone a known quantum state, without the use of lasers.

In a classical computer the inputs and outputs of the CNOT gate are simple binary bits, symbolized by zeros and ones. In a quantum computer, the inputs and outputs are quantum states, symbolized (in Dirac notation) by |0>s and |1>s. In the case of the quantum ansible, |0> represents the spin-down state of Alice's electron in the z-direction, a quantum state which could also be symbolized as:

|0> ----> | minus z--Alice>

|1> ----> |plus z -- Alice>

With this re-interpretation of the operation of the CNOT gate, it is easy to see how this simple gate can be used as a cloning tool for an orthogonal pair of quantum states.

We consider only the gate operations labeled A and B. In these two cases the bottom input is always |0> which in the physical situation represents Alice's electron having spin down in the z direction). In these two special cases, we note that the CNOT gate will clone either the |0> or the |1> state if it is presented to the upper input. Simply put in a |0> and two |0>s come out. Put in a |1> and two |1>s come out. In this special situation the CNOT gate can be used as a simple cloning tool for one particular known quantum state.

The importance of cloning in faster-than-light signaling schemes cannot be overestimated. In the usual measurement situation you get just one chance to measure the spin state of a single photon or electron. With a cloning device you can get two or more chances to measure different physical properties of a single quantum entity.

The designers of the quantum ansible imagine Bob located 4 light-years away on Alpha Centauri sending a spin-entangled sequence of electrons to Alice on Earth. Bob measures one electron spin and sends the other partner of the pair to Alice. If Bob measures spin along the z axis, Alice's distant electron will immediately (!) acquire a z-direction spin (either up or down); if Bob measures along the x axis Alice's distant electron will instantly acquire an x-axis spin.

If Alice can detect the difference between a random sequence of z-polarized electrons and a random sequence of x-polarized photons at her detector on Earth, then she can decode Bob's message (sent faster than light) which is encoded by his conscious decision at Alpha Centauri to switch his electron spin detector between the z-direction and the x-direction.

Given this situation, Nikitin & Toms make a clever move: they actually attempt to exploit the no-cloning rule in their favor. You can clone one known state (says Nature). So N&T choose to clone Alice's electron spin in the z-direction. But you are forbidden, says Nature, to clone any other spin direction.

That's fine, say Nikitin and Toms: we'll get great results measuring z-spin, because we can use a z-cloner. And we'll get terrible results when Bob sends x-polarized electrons. And from the difference between our good results and our terrible results, we'll be able to decode Bob's signal.

Ha. Ha, Nature. We Russians have finally fooled you.

Good results means an accurately measured z-spin of every electron. Terrible results mean a completely unpolarized beam of electrons with no directional preference whatsoever.


So far I have sketched the alleged operation of N&T's quantum ansible as it appears in their eight-page paper. Now I add my own comments.

This ansible scheme would actually work if everything behaved as they described it. But the weak point is N&T's assumption of a completely depolarized beam at Alice's site when Bob chooses to measure x-polarization. In a truly unpolarized beam, at the very least, Alice's cloner would refuse to work (because it's operating on an unknown state) and would not only produce two electrons of the same polarization all of the time but two electrons of different polarizations some of the time. The math (correct in my estimation) shows that this never happens. In fact, Alice's cloner continues to produce pairs of z-polarized photons, despite the alleged total polarization scrambling expected to occur due to Bob's choice to measure another polarization orthogonal to the direction that Alice's cloner is tuned to. In fact, from N&T's math alone, one can see that the physical situation at Alice's site seems to change when Bob decides to measure one spin direction rather than another, but the statistical outcome at Alice's site remains exactly the same.

Here's an analogy to what seems to be happening in the quantum ansible expeiment.

In my right-hand pocket I have a bunch of fake coins: either heads on both sides or tails on both sides. I pull one out and flip it. The result is known for sure. But I pick the coins at random from my pocket. The result is a random sequence of heads and tails. This physical situation (I claim) is analogous to Bob choosing to measure his electrons in the z-direction, the direction in which Alice happens to possess a perfect cloner.

In my left-hand pocket I have a bunch of fair coins: heads on one side, tails on the other. I pick a coin at random and flip it on the table. The result is a random sequence of heads and tails. This physical situation (I claim) is analogous to Bob choosing to measure his electrons in the x-directions, at a right angle to the direction in which Alice possesses a perfect cloner.

In both the coin analogy and the ansible experiment the actual physical situation seems to change depending on which pocket I select and which spin direction Bob selects (the math describing Alice's situation is certainly different for Bob's two choices). But although the physical situation seems to be different in both cases, the statistical predictions for the outcomes is exactly the same both for the coins and for Alice's measurements.

The quantum ansible is a gallant and clever attempt to exploit quantum entanglement to overcome Einstein's famous light-speed barrier to human information transfer. But despite its ingenuity, I do not believe it will work. Thank you, Nikitin and Toms, for an amusing physics puzzle.

At the conclusion of their quantum ansible paper, Nikolai Nikitin and Konstantin Toms thank a certain C. Aleister (Saint Genis-Pouilly, France) for creating a warm and friendly working atmosphere for discussion between the authors. With a bit of searching, I was able, on Facebook, to find a picture of these two Russian scientists' mysterious benefactor.

Aleister the cat illustrates the SO(3) rotation group

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Sacred Spaces

Art by James Koehnline, Seattle, WA

Stonehenge, New Grange
Sancta Sophia, Glastonbury Tor:
My sacred sites are Her eyes
Her nipples, the whorls on Her fingertips --
Are the origins and insertions of Her muscles
Are the places where Her bones meet
Are the follicles of Her hair
Are the pads of Her feet, Her buttocks, the slots
Between Her toes.

Art by James Koehnline, Seattle, WA

Saturday, September 7, 2019

Allah's Plan

Doctor Jabir 'abd al Khaliq


Uncircumcised, ignorant, lustful Man
Hear Jabir speak of Allah's Plan:
When God formed mankind out of mud
She gave him only so much blood
That when his manhood gets erect
His body empties past the neck.
Those cursed with penis extra long
Faint dead away when blood fills schlong.
So if you're conscious when you mate
Praise God who made you not too great.


Tuesday, August 13, 2019

What Does Nature Want?

Astronomy Pictures of the Day (APOD) 2019 August 13


Others have tried me
to tame me, to bride me
with ponderous kisses
and untutored touch.

I'm easy. I'm moved by
the slightest flirtation
but what really excites me
would be saying too much. 

My beauty has launched
a thousand ambitions
I'm opened all over
relaxing my guard.

All previous lovers
were merely auditions
This instrument
is awaiting her bard.

Astronomy Picture of the Day (APOD) 2019 July 26

Thursday, July 18, 2019

How Language Happened


Your mouth was made for eat and breathing
But I surmise it could do more.
Let's play-vibrate the air around us
With whispers, howls, quack-quacks and roar.

Let's make air vibes exciting the oyster organs
attached to the sides of our head.
Not seeing, not touching, not tasting or smelling:
Something dangerously different instead.

It's outside the realm of biology, brother;
It's a wholly unnatural act.
But it's on the side of history, sister,
To make a sound stand for a fact.

To make a sound stand for a fact.

I sense that you're a clever creature
not some crude potato sack
So if I risk to make strange sound for you
would you dare to give me strange sound back?

Hey, hey, sweet love dog,
stunningly beautiful work of art.
Let's do it for the fun of it.
Let's do it for the children.

Don't walk.
Let's "talk".

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

New Uses For Water


Do not be deceived
by the sleep-inducing swirls:
deep inside we're quantum tantra
altar boys and altar girls.

Tonight we're sharing a tub together
getting hot, confused,
aqueous and slippery.

In the splash of the bath I see you
baring your breasts, your legs
and your hips for me.

Both of us ready
to enter the mystery.

Can we make some Heisenberg choice,
Feynman gesture, Schrödinger voice
that would spontaneously ignite
Nature's deep quantum witchery?

Then Nature surprised us
filled an unspoken lack
gave us full 

quantum entanglement
while I was scrubbing your back.

Nowhere near a grand cathedral
outside any modern physics club
a brand new doorway into Nature
discovered in our claw-foot tub.

Monday, June 24, 2019

Blind Date

These are My Waves: Particles too if you know how to look.


To adore anything less than All of Her
is to worship a fetish.
                                      -- Doctor Jabir

Why is this tubed cosmetic holy?
Because she has often kissed it
With the lips of her mouth.

Why is this dark brown earth holy?
Because she blesses it daily
With the bare soles of her feet.

Why is this elusive air sacred?
Because to stay alive she feeds on air
That touches the alveoli of her lungs.

Why is this flowing water holy?
Because of water many times
Passing through her body
Feeling her flesh from inside.

Why is this kindled fire sacred?
Because she too is warming this space
With her biological heat.

Why is this common garment holy?
Because she has repeatedly kissed it
With the lips of her vulva.


We physicists are terrified to kiss Dame Nature
In hot entangled polysexual play --
No, we've barely got the balls to sniff
Her cold and dead discarded lingerie.

O boys, O girls,
When will we devise a way
To touch the rest of Her,
Enjoy the Courtship Play,
Bring out the best of Her?

Pickering's Triangle (Bikini Underthings Nebula)

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Color TV, Thomas Aquinas, Tantra

In high school Nick builds a primitive color TV
Growing up in Columbus, Ohio in the 50s, after Catholic grade school I attended a Catholic prep school and preseminary academy called St. Charles Borromeo. For the convenience of those boys with a priestly vocation, the seminary was on the same campus as my high school. Since the school was designed to educate priests, we got four years of Latin and a lot of Catholic theology. I would sometimes joke that St Charles educated you for life in the 13th-century, but once you graduated you were forced to cope with the superstitions of the 20th-century. Joking aside, St Charles was a superb educational experience for which I am immensely grateful.

Looking in my files for something else, I ran across an April 1952 edition of our student newspaper, The Carolian, featuring me on the front page with a color TV I had built from plans that I got from a radio magazine and parts from my dad's shop. Dad was a self-taught electrical technician who ran his own company, Herbert Electric, which specialized in everything electrical from radios to refrigerators. (Dad was on call with every bar in the neighborhood whenever one of their freezers would go kaput.)

In the early 50s, we had only black-and-white TV, but CBS and RCA were experimenting with ways to transmit color programming. One method, called field sequential color (FSC), used a sequence of red, green and blue filters in front of a black-and-white camera and a synchronized RGB color wheel at the receiving end to decode and display the color image. For a short time certain FSC programs were available in my area and I was actually able to view color TV. Note that the size of the TV display in the picture above is not much bigger than the screen of today's iPhone.

Msgr Glenn's Tour of the Summa
One of the most important classes at St Charles was Theology for which the primary text was not the Bible but St Thomas Aquinas's Summa Theologica which 8 centuries later still forms the bedrock of much Roman Catholic belief and practice. We students read the original text, not in Latin, but in a good English translation, so we got not only the gist of St Thomas's conclusions but also became familiar with his style of reasoning. I was particularly impressed by St Thomas's method of organizing a theological argument. First he would state his proposition, Second he would present a series of Objections to the proposition. And only then, after showing that he clearly understood the arguments of his opponent, would the Angelic Doctor display his own reasoning concerning the matter. I highly admired this style of argumentation and vowed to imitate it whenever I could.

St Thomas (1225 -- 1274) introduced the 5 classic proofs for the existence of God which he regarded not so much as proofs in the mathematical sense but as a demonstration that God's existence (which Aquinas held on faith) was not incompatible with reason.

Recently, at a local thrift shop,  I came across a copy of a textbook Tour of the Summa by my old teacher, Msgr Paul Glenn, whose writings had earned somewhat of a reputation in Catholic theology. (Coincidentally, the same issue of The Carolian that features my TV story, also celebrates Msgr Glenn's 25th year of teaching at St Charles.) Reading Msgr Glenn's book I was able to reacquaint myself with some of St Thomas's ideas about the nature of worldly creatures and things. In particular I found that Saint Thomas taught that God created the world and continually keeps it in existence, just as my old grade-school Baltimore Catechism states in its very first question. "Q: Who is God? A: God is the Supreme Being Who made all things and keeps them in existence".

In Thomistic cosmology the universe is in some sense recreated moment by moment, a notion that some physicists have revived in certain models of quantum reality conjecturing that until "the wave function collapses" (via some yet unknown mechanism) the universe exists as mere possibility, as insubstantial as an idea or a promise. None of today's physicists, as far as I know, resort to a Supreme Being to collapse the wave function, but a few of them (beginning with John von Neumann and Pascual Jordan) have invoked consciousness to do the dirty deed.

It is worth mentioning that towards the end of his life, Thomas Aquinas underwent some sort of mystical experiences including levitation of his body. After these experiences he was famously known to say that all of his writings seemed "mere straw" compared to the visions of reality which had opened up for him a few years before his death.


Can you read Hebrew? She asked
As She opened Herself
Like the Torah.

Do you understand Arabic? She asked
As She opened Herself
Like the Koran.

Do you speak English? She asked
As She opened Herself
Like the King James Bible.

Do you happen to know Latin?
As She opened Herself
Like the Summa Theologica.

Diana Warnok: Spiralesque Belly Theatre

Monday, May 13, 2019

The Land of Sixty Million Saints

St Nicholas II, Tsar


(guest post by John Lakehurst)

I was driving up Geary Boulevard the other day with my nineteen-year-old daughter Sarah on our way to the art museum. We were chatting idly when the huge gold onion dome of the Holy Virgin Cathedral came into view on the right. We both remarked on it. I wondered aloud whether the dome was plated with real gold.

As we drove past the corner of 26th Avenue where the cathedral is, Sarah noted that there was a bookstore inside: A blank wooden door at the corner of the building by a sign that read The Holy Virgin Cathedral Bookstore.

I like obscure little bookshops. But in this case, there was likely to be something inside that that I was curious to see. “Hey, if there’s a place to park, let’s go in,” I said.

It was fine with Sarah. She enjoys shops like that too.

As chance would have it, a vacant diagonal parking spot appeared a few yards past the street corner, so I pulled in. We fed quarters to the meter, walked back to the corner and opened the bookstore’s door.

Inside was a small dim lobby, with a hallway off to the right. A sign directed us to the bookstore at the top of a short flight of stairs. We walked up to it.

The door was open, and the place was illuminated with light streaming in through the windows. It was a tiny place, barely twelve feet by twelve. Shelves ran along the walls, with two shelves in the middle of the room breaking the interior space into a pair of short corridors. The counter was in front of the windows, and a man was standing behind it by the cash register. He greeted us affably as we came in. I told him we just wanted to look around. Sarah and I were the only customers there.

Sarah and I split up. There seemed to be only two kinds of books: children’s books about Russia, and adult books printed in the Cyrillic alphabet. There were also some framed icons on the walls, and icons were the reason I had come into the store.

I walked over to the shelf on the wall at the back of the shop, opposite the counter. There were a number of icons on display: of the Holy Mother, of Christ, and several depicting various saints, all presented in that medieval fashion: flat images, elaborate halos; golden borders framed the images, many with Cyrillic writing worked into the design. There was a timeless calm about these icons that conveyed certainty and faith.

I went up to the counterman. He was small man of about sixty with black framed glasses and a white ponytail. He was wearing a monk’s robe. I hadn’t seen an actual monk since I’d been to Italy, and I was a bit intrigued.

I asked him, “Do you have any icons of Nicholas?”

“You mean St. Nicholas?” he asked.

“No. Nicholas II, the last Tsar. I understand he was canonized.”

He nodded. “Yes, he was, in 1981. Along with his family. They’re all saints now.”

“Really? All of them? Alexis, Anastasia?”

“Yes, they were canonized as martyrs of Russia. As were all sixty million victims of the Bolsheviks,” he added. “They were canonized too.”

“Sixty million saints?” I asked.

He nodded again. “Oh, yes.”

“I wonder if they know they’re saints,” I mused.

“Oh, I think they know,” he said with a tight smile.

He walked over to the back shelf and showed me the icons of Nicholas and his family. The icons were in various sizes. They were printed on wood with some kind of glossy plastic finish. There was a postcard-sized one that depicted the Tsar with his family, all holding crosses, all dressed in stylized medieval garb, the women in robes, Nicholas and his son in cloaks and tunics. They looked sorrowful, almost distressed, and all had golden halos behind their heads. But the icon was too small to detail their faces. In the end I chose an 8-1/2 by 11 inch icon of the Tsar alone that appealed to me.

It’s a nice image. There’s a filigreed silver and gold border with a silver background. The Tsar looks out calmly with sad brown eyes. The face is stylized, but the mustache and beard are familiar from his photos. He wears a Russian fur-lined pointed gold cap studded with jewels; a silver and gold filigreed halo frames his head, little gold rays radiate from Nicholas’s head to the halo’s border. A red cloak is draped over his left shoulder; beneath it he’s wearing a forest green tunic bordered in gold. The Tsar holds an Orthodox cross in his right hand. In his left is an open parchment scroll with some Cyrillic words on it.

The icon cost twelve dollars. I bought it, wondering why I was doing so, because I have no place to display it, and because the symbology is completely alien to my own cultural traditions. I suspect the major reason for my purchase was because I had pestered the counterman with my questions, and the least I could do was to purchase something from his shop.

Back in the car Sarah gave me the same college-kid-to-dad look that I used to use on my own father and asked, “What did you buy that for? Didn’t you once tell me that the Tsar ran your grandparents out of Russia?”

“Yeah, that’s true,” I admitted as I started the car and backed cautiously out onto Geary Boulevard.

“And didn’t he hate the Jews?”

I nodded. “So I’ve read. But then again, pretty much all Russians back then hated the Jews. There was nothing remarkable about him in that respect.”

“Then why do you like him so much?” asked Sarah, looking annoyed. “You’ve talked about him before. You’ve got a real thing for the Tsar.”

I slipped the car into the stream of traffic. “I dunno. I know my grandparents hated him; my mother always said bad things about him when I was growing up. She said he instigated pogroms. But…my friend Nick’s mother Anastasia reveres him. She’s from minor Russian nobility and when she was a kid in England she knew the Tsar’s sister Xenia. Xenia was a kind of mentor aunt to her or something. Anastasia insisted that Nicholas was a good man, “a family man,” as she called him, a man who meant well, but who was in over his head. She told me I should read Nicholas and Alexandra, this sympathetic biography of them by Robert Massie. I saw the movie when it came out, and in 1975 I read Massie’s book, and ever since then I’ve been partial to the guy. I kind of relate to him in a way. Like Anastasia said, he was in over his head—-just like me.”

Sarah chuckled.

When I got home I reprimanded myself for making the dumbest kind of impulse purchase.

There was no place to put my icon without removing something that I liked better. I put it away and decided that I’d give it to Anastasia the next time I saw her. She’s in her mid-nineties, but she’s sharp as a tack. She might appreciate the gift.

But I couldn’t stop thinking about those “sixty million saints.” Did the Russian Orthodox Church really conduct a ceremony canonizing sixty million people? I could find no reference to it online. It seemed sort of strange, and I wondered who would have been included. Just Russian victims of the Bolsheviks, or other nationalities as well? Ukrainians? Lithuanians? Jews? And what miracles did these people do to warrant sainthood, or was simply being a martyr of the Bolsheviks sufficient?

And finally, as I asked the monk, do those sixty million dead know that they’re saints? I suppose that would depend on your conception of the afterlife. One thing’s for sure: if they’re saints they can’t be in hell, which most Christian sects concur is the destination of the vast majority of mankind. Most of those martyrs were probably not particularly saintly in life. But somehow by having the luck to die at the right time in the right place, they got a free pass into heaven. A pretty good deal, if you ask me.

“Oh, I think they know.”

John Lakehurst is a retired teacher with a deep interest in history. He's been writing historical or historically-minded fiction for twenty years, and is the author of The Gift of Sleep trilogy, set in a fictional Balkan nation during World War II, and of Tritium, an espionage novel involving stolen nuclear fuel, set partly in China during the Cultural Revolution, and partly in San Francisco during the Summer of Love. John has also written many short stories, mostly with a historical setting. He lives in the East Bay with his wife and daughter.

Canonized Romanov Family

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Heisenberg, Buddha and the Mind-Body Connection

Nick Herbert: Physics-saving hippie, feadog player

Matter for Heisenberg means pure possibility
That turns into Something whenever one looks
How promise comes true is the Measurement Problem:
The subject of dozens of lectures and books.

Buddha with a smile rejects your word-play conjectures
The Consciousness Problem stokes His Holy Fire
Simply freshly experiencing This Moment wide open
Feel impermanence, emptiness, spiced with desire.

For wide-eyed acolytes of the Orthodox Materialism creed
The Mind-Body Problem remains their toughest knot.
How can mere atoms possibly feel pain or pleasure?
And what conceivable motion of matter
Might make these inner feelings start and stop?

Tonight let's set aside all talk of fundamental questions
Be unaware we're heirs to their complicated histories
But right now as I bend to touch my mouth to yours
Let's just pretend we kiss them somehow too --
Both of us enjoying (is this possible?)
Deep kissing three of this life's basic mysteries.

"Can a kiss ever be just a kiss with you, Nick?" 
asks August
"Or do kisses gotta be metaphysical?"

August O'Connor: Graphic artist, bodhran virtuoso