Jóhann Jóhannsson: “Melodia (Guidelines for a Space Propulsion Device Based on Heim’s Quantum Theory)”
“The next to last track on the album [Fordlândia] is named after an actual research paper, ‘Guidelines for a Space Propulsion Device based on Heim’s Quantum Theory’, which seriously proposes a method of faster-than-light space travel. Burkhard Heim was a German physicist who dedicated much of his life to developing a method of space travel. He worked as an explosives expert during WWII and he was seriously handicapped in an explosion, leaving him without hands and mostly deaf and blind. He became a recluse and, despite his serious disability, worked tirelessly for the rest of his life searching for a unified theory of everything, which he thought possible by linking general relativity with quantum theory. His philosophy and ideas have a strong mystical character. His work, despite its considerable eccentricity, is slowly gaining acceptance in the physics community. The string orchestra was recorded in Prague and the percussion in Reykjavik and Tokyo. The percussion track is performed live by Matthias Hemstock with some editing and overdubs.”
— From Jóhann Jóhannsson, “A Track-by-Track Commentary on Fordlândia“
(See “The Tragic Tale of the Rocket Maker” for an account — likewise accompanied by music from Jóhannsson — of yet another mystically inclined scientist who is linked to the history of rocketry and space travel, and who also suffered, and in this case died, from an explosion.)
At a minimum, the magnificent cosmos provides some perspective on our parochial, human-created problems, be they social or political. Nature is organized in better ways, from which we can learn. The love of nature can bring us together and help us to appreciate that we are part of something far greater than ourselves. Society has too often been content to live off the fruits of science, without understanding it. Scientists have too often been happy to be left alone to do their science without thinking about why they are doing it. It is time to connect our science to our humanity, and in so doing to raise the sights of both. If we can only link our intelligence to our hearts, the doors are wide open to a brighter future, to a more unified planet with more unified science, to quantum technologies that extend our perception, to breakthroughs allowing us to access and utilize energy more cleverly and to travel in space that opens new worlds. What a privilege it is to be alive. Truly, we are faced with the opportunity of all time.
A visionary look at the way the human mind can shape the future by world-renowned physicist Neil Turok. Every technology we rely on today was created by the human mind, seeking to understand the universe around us. Scientific knowledge is our most precious possession, and our future will be shaped by the breakthroughs to come. In this personal and fascinating work, Neil Turok, Director of the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics, explores the transformative scientific discoveries of the past three centuries — from classical mechanics, to the nature of light, to the bizarre world of the quantum, and the evolution of the cosmos. Each new discovery has, over time, yielded new technologies causing paradigm shifts in the organization of society. Now, he argues, we are on the cusp of another major transformation: the coming quantum revolution that will supplant our current, dissatisfying digital age. Facing this brave new world, Turok calls for creatively re-inventing the way advanced knowledge is developed and shared, and opening access to the vast, untapped pools of intellectual talent in the developing world. Scientific research, training, and outreach are vital to our future economy, as well as powerful forces for peaceful global progress.
— Publisher description of The Universe Within
The Extinction Papers – Chapter One
Greetings, dear readers, and welcome to the First Chapter of The Extinction Papers.
I’m genuinely thrilled that The Teeming Brainfather Matt Cardin has asked me to pour out my often daft and hastily supported thoughts into this ever-growing dossier as I attempt to document the multitudinous Mass Extinction of Things happening all around us. The felling of gods and monsters, culture and mores, tradition and fairy tale. The annihilation of traditional communication and existence in the moment. The second toppling of undead Disco. We are living in deleterious times, and for every spotted owl brought back from the brink of oblivion, often by the efforts of hard science and compassionate preservation, other things — more subtle and possibly more important things — are being blotted from existence with nary a peep.
In The Extinction Papers, I will attempt to chart and discuss the death of those nouns, those persons, places, and things (both concrete and nebulous) that are dying with the day. Put on your butchers apron and come with me, won’t you?
Well, crap. Not even a month ago the news was this:
“God particle: Existence to be confirmed by 2012” — Physicists directing research through the Large Hadron Collider at CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research) have announced that the existence of the sub-atomic “God particle” will be decided by the end of 2012. For many years, scientists have speculated the existence of the particle, also called the Higgs boson particle, but have not been able to provide any proof to corroborate the fact. However, at the International Europhysics Conference on High-Energy Physics in Grenoble, France, this past weekend, researchers presented some curious data bleeps that could hint the existence of such a particle. (Christian Post, July 26, 2011)
But now it’s this:
“Evidence of elusive ‘God particle’ fades” — International scientists searching to solve the greatest riddle in all of physics said Monday that signs are fading of the elusive Higgs-Boson particle, which is believed to give objects mass. Just last month, physicists announced at a European conference that a big atom-smasher experiment had shown tantalizing hints of the Higgs-Boson, as the search to identify the particle enters the final stretch with results expected late next year. Sometimes described as the “God particle” because it is such a mystery yet such a potent force of nature, the Higgs-Boson — if it exists — represents the final piece of the Standard Model of physics. “At this moment we don’t see any evidence for the Higgs in the lower mass region where it is likely to be,” said physicist Howard Gordon, deputy US ATLAS operations program manager. ATLAS is the biggest particle collider lab at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN)’s Large Hadron Collider (LHC). (The Raw Story, August 22, 2011)
The headline from Reuters is even more discouraging: “Higgs boson may be a mirage, scientists hint.”
At least they gave us a consolation prize:
“Whatever the final verdict on Higgs, we are now living in very exciting times for all involved in the quest for new physics,” Guido Tonelli, from one of the two LHC detectors chasing the Higgs, said as the new observations were announced.
Yeah, yeah. I still want a God particle.
As somebody who A) adores the music of Mozart, B) feels positively overcome by the intimations of an agonizing ultimate beauty in Amadeus, and C) has been fascinated by the metaphysical and philosophical implications of quantum physics for decades, aided by such things as a love for Robert Anton Wilson‘s writings and worthy popular expositions like John Gribbin’s In Search of Schrödinger’s Cat, I was struck today by the evocative power of a beautiful statement I came across in a recent a science article for The Wall Street Journal.
“Science, Spirituality, and Some Mismatched Socks” (May 5), by WSJ journalist Gautam Naik, looks at the issue of “spooky” behavior in the quantum universe, that is, the long-established mystery of apparently instantaneous (as in, faster-than-light-speed, which flouts the theory of relativity) communication between subatomic particles. The fact that the laws of physical reality as we are famliar with them from regular daily experience, and also from the branches of science other than quantum physics, appear to be ignored and violated at the subatomic level has long been a source of much consternation and fascination. The aforementioned Robert Anton Wilson got a lot of mileage out of this in his quasi-fictional novels and quasi-nonfictional nonfiction books. I myself made use of it to horrific metaphysical effect in my novelette “Teeth,” first published in print six years ago in The Children of Cthulhu and due to be included, in much revised and expanded form (with the quantum physics stuff intact), later this year in my new book, Dark Awakenings.
As sketched briefly in the WSJ article’s opening paragraphs, Einstein himself, the world’s unofficial physicist-in-chief, disagreed that “deep” reality really could be the way quantum physics would seem to suggest — but he may well have been wrong in this:
One of quantum physics’ crazier notions is that two particles seem to communicate with each other instantly, even when they’re billions of miles apart. Albert Einstein, arguing that nothing travels faster than light, dismissed this as impossible “spooky action at a distance.”
The great man may have been wrong. A series of recent mind-bending laboratory experiments has given scientists an unprecedented peek behind the quantum veil, confirming that this realm is as mysterious as imagined.
The article goes on to sketch the history and then discuss recent developments in the study of quantum spookiness, in directions previewed by the slugline: “Researchers Turn Up Evidence of ‘Spooky’ Quantum Behavior and Put It to Work in Encryption and Philosophy.”
The line that blew me away comes at the very end. Here it is, in context with its preceding two paragraphs, which set the scene:
Because of its bizarre implications, quantum theory has been used to investigate everything from free will and the paranormal to the enigma of consciousness. Several serious physicists have devoted their lives to the study of such ideas, including Bernard d’Espagnat. In March, the 87-year-old Frenchman won the prestigious $1.5 million Templeton Prize for years of work affirming “life’s spiritual dimension.”
Based on quantum behavior, Dr. d’Espagnat’s big idea is that science can only probe so far into what is real, and there’s a “veiled reality” that will always elude us.
Many scientists disagree. While Dr. d’Espagnat concedes that he can’t prove his theory, he argues that it’s about the notion of mystery. “The emotions you get from listening to Mozart,” he says, “are like the faint glimpses of ultimate reality we get” from quantum experiments. “I claim nothing more.”