Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Elemental Alice

Alice and the White Rabbit by Milo Winter
(Revised excerpt from Alice and the Quantum Cat) William B, Shanley, Ed.)

    She was late. The science seminar had already begun. Creeping quietly into the room,  Alice saw a number of people sitting around a large table. She recognized Amit Goswami by his big friendly grin. There was a large motherly woman in green and brown patchwork dress wearing a flowery name tag: Mother Gaia. "How nice to see a woman sitting with the scientists, " Alice thought. "I am rather tired of listening just to men."

    Alice chose a comfortable padded purple armchair covered with grape vines and morning glories, that resembled her chair at home, and, settling herself in its warm embrace, she listened to the panelists discussing the nature of life. Alice heard about the theory of life's spontaneous generation from a random mix of chemicals. And she heard about the Morphogenetic Field--an invisible vital force that guided life's progress like a long streak of good luck. And she heard about Punctuated Equilibrium--a sort of unpredictable quantum jump outside the bounds of Darwinian gradualism. And Goswami spoke too, about how consciousness is always working behind the scenes, first bringing matter into existence and then working within matter to manifest its higher purposes. And then it was Mother Gaia's turn.

Gaia praised the men for their courage in challenging the currently fashionable materialist models. One of life's finest features, she said, is its urge to transcend physical barriers, its urge to move beyond matter into molecules, beyond molecules into cells, from cells into even more complex and unpredictable stages of organization.

You men are part of that initial impulse, she said, that same impulse that raised life out of the primal ooze, that moved fishes onto the land and filled the skies with birds -- that same impulse moves you to devise theories of how life might have begun, and to speculate about what drives life to take on new forms and directions.

As Gaia spoke, Alice begin to fall into reverie, as on that sunny day by the River Isis with her sister and that funny old storyteller. She felt herself drifting aimlessly in a dark warm sea. She passively followed the flow of the current letting it take her where it would. As she relaxed she lost all sense of her body and could not tell where Alice ended and where the current began. Nor could she tell how large she was. For all she knew, lazily drifting, she might be as small as an atom or as large as the Universe.

Far away she seemed to hear the voice of Mother Gaia speaking, or was it Amit Goswami? What was the voice saying? She could barely hear it:

"And the Spirit of God brooded over the waters," it said.

"And the One Mind awoke and looked for another," it said.

"Pull yourself together, Alice,"  said the voice.

And Alice's mind moved in the dark sea and invented quarks, photons and atoms, and connecting the atoms, made molecules. Separating herself from the darkness she made doll-houses from her molecules and inhabited every one. Biologists would call them cells, but she called them "Alice".

And playing with her little doll-houses, she created villages which took on lives of their own which she also called "Alice". And which biologists would call "tissue", would call "organ", would call "organism".

And Alice stretched and divided herself into a million billion forms, changed her mind and ten million old forms vanished, to be replaced by ten million new forms. There were forms that swam and forms that flew and forms that lived on light and forms that loved the darkness. And Alice saw that it was good. And she cherished every one of the forms that her mind had created, even the ones that were lost forever. For Alice remembered everything.

And then all the Alices began devouring one another. She did so enjoy eating! And the devourers were all devoured in turn. It all tasted so good! And they were so much fun to catch. And being frightened prey fleeing from being eaten was fun too.

And then Alice invented sex for the joy of it, for the strangeness, for the joining and for the play. And for the birthing, for all her litters and for the nursing. Sex for her was as much fun as eating. And she called that "Alice" too.

Then Alice invented insects, and elephants, invented writing and fire and photosynthesis. Alice invented seeing and hearing and a million other senses and enjoyed the world thru each one of them. Then Alice invented pain and music and movable type. And Alice saw that it was very good.

Alice wept for joy when she invented man, just as she had wept when she invented electrons and the genetic code. Then Alice invented mathematics, granite, steam engines and the Chandogya Upanishad. She was always coming up with something new.  Her creativity was inexhaustible. Nothing could stop her. And she called it all "Alice".

When she had invented quantum theory it reminded her of that dark stream where she had first discovered herself, where she had broken herself into pieces for the sake of the world. Alice wondered if she would ever be able to stop her ceaseless creation of lovely new forms; Alice wondered whether she would ever stop eating and stop enjoying sex.

And during all of this time (also one of her inventions) she had amused herself immensely but Alice was getting tired and she longed to rest from her play.

So Alice began to feel sleepy and to forget her creations and, as her mind turned away from them, each by each they disappeared into the darkness. One by one all the creatures of the earth vanished, and all of the ideas too, until there was nothing left but Alice Alone dreaming in that dark pool inside of which a lively and beautiful Universe had once flourished.

Alice Growing by John Tenniel

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Taboos R Us


Our bodies are made of taboo
Full of actions that we oughtn't do.

We have parts never shown
Save to those intimately known
Or to docs with degrees
And the high tech machines
That video our tissues and bone.

But Tantra, that comes from abroad

Says each part is a gateway to God
So why shouldn't your Glee
And your X and your Zee
Be equally free to be pawed?

But to value each part as the same
Would set savage nature to "tame":
So let's hear a loud cheer
For those shynesses dear
That keep our needy bodies in flame.

Hydrogen Eigenfunction  | 3, 2, 0 >

Sunday, July 9, 2017

A Nobel Prize for Nick?

Nobel Prize Medal: Heads, Alfred Nobel; Tails, Science unveiling Nature
In the early days of the web, real men (and women) coded directly in HTML code. And that's how I started too. But soon, primitive website-building programs came along that made things easier. I got my start working on a site called Eros Island which under our direction aspired to be a place of sophisticated and humorous sensuality but, after we were dismissed, turned into a cheesy porn site. Al Lundell and I used a program called Netscape Navigator (as I recall) while Sun McNamee coded directly in naked HTML.

We all used Apple Macs then with the pizza box shape and low-number operating systems that weren't named after wild animals. One of my favorite pieces of work from those early days of the internet was called A Nobel Prize for Nick? which I originally published on the few MB of free storage space gave me with my new eMail account and which deserves to be republished today both because of its crude graphics (nostalgia) and for its imaginative proposal for universal peace (Can quantum physics provide us a better way of being human?)

Hence I invite you to examine:

in which all will be revealed.

Nick shows off his Reality Club gang colors.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Pity the Nation

Possible US stamp honoring poet, publisher Lawrence Ferlinghetti

by Lawrence Ferlinghetti (2007)
(After Khalil Gibran)

Pity the nation whose people are sheep
And whose shepherds mislead them
Pity the nation whose leaders are liars
Whose sages are silenced
And whose bigots haunt the airwaves
Pity the nation that raises not its voice
Except to praise conquerors
And acclaim the bully as hero
And aims to rule the world
By force and by torture
Pity the nation that knows
No other language but its own
And no other culture but its own
Pity the nation whose breath is money
And sleeps the sleep of the too well fed
Pity the nation oh pity the people
who allow their rights to erode
and their freedoms to be washed away 
My country, tears of thee
Sweet land of liberty!

Lawrence Ferlinghetti at City Lights Bookstore, San Francisco


Saturday, July 1, 2017

Kaleidoscopic Optical Schrödinger Cats

Oktay Pashaev & Aygul Koçak, Izmir Institute of Technology
Most mornings I begin my day by looking at two of my favorite web sites -- NASA's Astronomy Picture of the Day (APOD) where you are sure to find some stunning view of our Universe to lift you out of your daily grind and the Cornell/Los Alamos ArXiv which publishes preprints of fresh new science papers in dozens of different specialties, putting anyone with an iPad in daily touch with some of the most brilliant minds on the planet. All this while sipping a cup of exotic coffee from my friends at Boardwalk Beans in New Jersey.

A few days ago, I discovered a paper on the quantum physics arXiv by two mathematical physicists from Izmar, Turkey (formerly known as "Smyrna") entitled "Kaleidoscope of Quantum Coherent States". These two researchers, Oktay Pashaev and Ayguy Koçak, had devised an infinite set of brand new breeds of Schrödinger Cats.

Schrödinger's Cat in bra-ket notation
In quantum mechanics it is commonplace for a system to be in a SUPERPOSITION of states. An (unmeasured) electron's spin, for instance, can simultaneously exist in a spin-up state |UP> and a spin-down state |DOWN>. When measured, however, the electron is always observed to be in one definite spin state. Austrian physicist Erwin Schrödinger, shortly after he invented his famous quantum wave equation, argued that if unmeasured electrons could exist in two states at once, so could cats, and he devised a famous thought experiment in which an unobserved cat could, according to the laws of quantum physics, exist simultaneous as a live cat |ALIVE> and as a dead cat |DEAD>. Schrödinger's famous alive/dead cat conjecture has generated thousands of physics papers on the possible application of quantum superposition to macroscopic objects and numerous jokes, cartoons and T-shirts ("Schrödinger's Cat is a zombie" reads a T-shirt my neighbor Debi gave me for my birthday.).

Schrödinger's cat walks into a bar. And doesn't.

A brief note on notation. When physicists write down their quantum equations, they commonly use the compact and powerful bra-ket notation devised by British physicist Paul Dirac. In Dirac notation, a quantum initial state A is symbolized by a ket symbol |A> and a quantum final state B by a bra symbol <B|. When multiplied together <B|A> represents the probability amplitude that a quantum system A will be measured to have property B. The probability (different from probability amplitude) that A will be measured to have property B is given by the absolute square of the quantity: <B|A>

As a rough example of this kind of physics talk, let the ket |p,p> represent the initial quantum state of two protons. Let transformation T represent the act of accelerating each of these protons to an energy of 6 Gev in CERN's Large Hadron Collider and nudging them into a head-on collision. And let the bra <H,a| represent the final state that contains a Higgs boson and anything else.

Then, in Dirac's concise notation:


represents a number that expresses the probability amplitude of observing a Higgs boson. Square this quantity to get the probability of observing a Higgs boson.

Dirac's simple notation tells you basically what's going on by concealing a ton of detailed math that you really don't want to know about.

So, using Dirac's bra-ket notation, the quantum state of Schrödinger's cat can be simply represented as:


Or, in a more picturesque description, as:

This is the picture one usual gets about Schrödinger's famous cat -- he's both dead PLUS alive.

Quantum mechanics, however, is more complicated than that, and allows for many more existential possibilities for this hapless quantum cat. Quantum mechanical superposition uses COMPLEX NUMBERS (which possess a direction: North, South, East, West,  for instance) as well as a magnitude. (Numbers that possess only magnitude but not direction -- the kind of numbers we use every day -- are called REAL NUMBERS).

Using the extra degrees of freedom provided by complex numbers, the |ALIVE> and |DEAD> states can be "added together" in an infinite number of ways. If we let the direction "East"  represent "+", then the direction "West" will represent "-". Using "West addition" to combine the two cat states we obtain what might be called a MINUS CAT KET.

Schrödinger's MINUS CAT KET, in pictures, might look like this:

In addition to the PLUS CAT state and the MINUS CAT state, the arithmetical freedom provided by complex numbers allows us to imagine NORTH CAT, SOUTH CAT and NNW CAT states. And, in fact, LIVE and DEAD cats may be added together along any conceivable compass direction.

Whether actual cats can be subjected to quantum superposition is still a matter of some controversy, but there does exist a class of macroscopic states of light that can be placed in a variety of quantum superpositions.

Today's physicists probably know more about light than about any other natural phenomenon. Starting with all the natural forms of electromagnetic radiation, we have created both in theory and in practice a large variety of "unnatural" forms of light, some of which were recently invented in this new paper by Pashaev and Koçak.

Pashaev and Koçak begin their work with a familiar quantum state of light |α> called the "Glauber State" after optical physicist Roy Glauber. The Glauber state is a quantum state (also called "coherent state", hence the title of P&K's paper) that most closely approximates a classical state of light, possessing Heisenberg uncertainty and photons (light quanta) which, however, the corresponding classical state of light does not.  The quantity "α" which labels the Glauber state is a complex number. The square of α represents the average number of photons in the Glauber state. And the direction of α (North, South, East or West) represents the location of the Glauber state in a flat space physicists call the "optical phase plane".

The larger the number α, the more photons in the Glauber state |α>. The special case of α =  0 represents no photons whatsoever, or the vacuum state. Many books could be written about the properties of |0>, the quantum vacuum state. "I've got plenty of nothing. And nothing's plenty for me." might well be the theme song of this particular Glauber state, a state that is completely empty of photons.

Prior to the P&K paper, the Optical Schrödinger Cat (OSC) was well known. It consisted of two states from which all other OSCs could be constructed: the PLUS OPTICAL CAT STATE

|plus optical cat state> = |α> + |-α>


|minus optical cat state> = |α> - |-α>

The heart of the Schrödinger Cat controversy concerns the question of how big a system can get before it becomes impossible to place it in a quantum superposition. Optical Schrödinger Cats are in a particularly fortunate position to investigate this question because the larger the number of photons in an optical S-Cat state, the "bigger" the state -- and the more it resembles a classical "cat". In the other direction, when α is small (close to 1 photon), the resulting optical states are sometimes referred to as "Schrödinger Kittens".

To construct their "Optical Cat Kaleidoscopes", the two Turks take advantage of the fact that both α and the coefficients multiplying the optical quantum states |α> are complex numbers -- that is, they possess direction as well as magnitude.

The well-known plus and minus optical cats may be considered "cats of order two (C2)." The first new cat in P&K's infinite series of kaleidoscopic cats may be labeled "cats of order three (C3)." Cats of order three are constructed by adding particular cats with different kinds of dead/aliveness along directions that are separated by 120 degrees (similar to the Mercedes emblem). A caricature of the P&K "three cat" might look like this:

Quantum optical trinity cats in Dirac ket notation.

Or, in keeping with the kaleidoscopic metaphor, C3 could look like this:

Three-fold kaleidoscopic optical Schrödinger's Cat (artist's conception)
Pashaev and Koçak go on to show how kaleidoscopic optical Schrödinger Cats of any order can be constructed, depending on which angle you tilt your mathematical mirrors. On its own terms, theirs is a simple but beautiful achievement of pure mathematics. But the authors go further and show how their kaleidoscopic optical cats may someday find a practical use in quantum computing -- each order of cat representing a different number of quantum bits. Thus, if I am not mistaken, the eighth-order cat (octopussy?) can encode eight quantum bits, the same byte size as the ancient Altair computer and many of its successors.

As a poetic reprieve from so much gratuitous quantum math, this may be a good place to quote British mystic William Blake from a letter to his friend Thomas Butts:

Now I a fourfold vision see
And a fourfold vision is given to me
Tis fourfold in supreme delight
And three-fold in soft Beulah's night
And twofold Always. May God us keep
From Single vision & Newton's sleep.