Parallel worlds or a Continuum?

A cursory search on the Internet doesn’t tell me one way or another if Erwin Schrodinger owned a cat. Nevertheless he could have owned a cat, so the existence of Schrodinger’s actual cat is unknown to me. David Deutsch might possible argue that Schrodinger’s decision to own a cat or not own a cat resulted in two parallel worlds.

The above is obviously a play on the original scenario outlined by Schrodinger, the famous Schrodinger’s Cat thought experiment. The cat’s state before the box is opened is a strange state, referred to as a superposition, where the cat is both alive and dead. When the box is opened it is argued that this state is somehow resolved with cat being definitely alive or dead.

Suppose that we install a detector in the box with the cat which determines whether or not the cat is dead and notes the time when  it dies. Does this resolve the paradox? After all, if the detector says that the cat died three minutes ago, then we now know exactly when the cat died.

This doesn’t resolve the issue, though, as the detector will also be in a superposition until the box is opened – we don’t know if it has been triggered or not. Of course, some people, including Schrodinger himself, are not happy with this interpretation, and it does seem that, pragmatically, the cat is alive until the device in the box is triggered and is thereafter dead.

However the equation derived by Schrodinger appears to say that the cat exists in both states, so it appears as if Schodinger’s “ridiculous case” (his words) is in fact the case. Somehow the cat does appear to be in the strage state of superposition.

If we look at the experimenter, he (or she) has no clue before opening the box whether the cat is dead or not. Nothing appears to change for him (or her), but in fact it does. He (or she) is unaware of the state of the cat, so he (or she) is in the superimposed state : He (or she) is unaware whether or not the cat is alive or whether it is dead, which is a superposition state.

Yet we don’t find this strange. If we remove the scientific gadgets from the box, this doesn’t really change anything – the cat may drop dead from old ages or disease before the box is open. Once again we cannot know the live/dead status of the cat until we open the box.

So, what is special about opening the box? Well, the “when” is very important if we consider the usual case with the scientific gadgets in the box. If we open the box early we are more likely to find the cat alive. If we open it later it is more likely that the cat will be dead. Extinct. Shuffled the mortal coil.

So it is the probability of atomic decay leading to the cat’s death that is changing. It may be 70% likely that cat is dead, so if we could repeat the experiment 1000s of times 7/10th of the time the cat is dead, and 3/10th of the time the cat is still alive. Yeah, cat!! (There’s also a possibility that the experimenter gets a whiff of cyanide and dies, but let’s ignore that.)

But after the box is opened, the cat is 100% alive or 100% dead. Apparently. How did that happen? Some people claim that something mysterious called “the collapse of the waveform” happened. I don’t think that really explains anything.

The same thing happens in the real world. If I don’t check my lotto tickets I’m in a superposition state of having won a fortune and not having won a fortune. When I check them I find I haven’t won anything. Again! I must stop buying them. They are a waste of money.

The many worlds hypothesis gets around this by postulating the splitting of the world into two worlds whenever a situation like this arises. After I check my lotto ticket there are two worlds, one where I am a winner and one where I am not. How can I move to the world where I’m a millionaire? It doesn’t seem fair that I stuck here with two worthless bits of paper. does it?

And what does the probability mean? In the lotto case it is 1 in an astronomical number that I come out a winner and almost 1 that I get nothing. In the cat case it may be 60/40 or 70/30, and in the cat case it changes over time.

If the world splits every time a probabilistic situation arises, then the probabilities don’t actually mean much. What difference does it make if a situation is “more probable” than another situation if both situations come about in the multiverse regardless? It doesn’t seem that it is a meaningful attribute of the branches. What does it mean, in this model that branch A is three times more likely than branch B? Somehow a continuum (probability) reduces to a binary choice (A or B).

We could consider that the split is not a split at all, but that reality, the universe, whatever, has another dimension, that of probability. Imagine your worldline, a worm travelling through the dimensions of space and the new one of probability. You open the box and lo! Your worldline continues, and the cat is now dead or alive, but not both.

But which way does it go? That is determined purely by the probabilities, by the throw of the cosmic dice, but once it chooses a path, then there is no other possibility. In the space dimensions you can only be in one place at a time. If you are at A you cannot be at B, and similarly in the probability dimension, if you are at P you cannot be at Q.

However any point P (the cat is still alive!) is merely a point on the probability line. There are an uncountable number of points where the cat is alive and also an uncountable number of points where the cat is deceased. But the ratio between the two parts of the line is the probability of the cat’s survival.

Virtually real

Reputedly the French avant-garde playwright Antonin Artaud took the view that illusion was not distinct from reality, advocating that spectators at a play should suspend disbelief and regard the drama on stage as reality. We do, in fact do this all the time.

From the slightly different perspective as spectators we watch our films and our soaps and our nature programs and we enter the reality shown on the screen while ignoring , to a large extent, what is going on around us. We even turn down the lights so that the brighter reality on the screen dominates. We cry for the characters, we laugh for and at them, we cheer their successes even though, at some level we realise that they are not “real”.

When we go to the cinema, we get the same thing only stronger, bigger and brighter. The theatre sound system knocks dust from the pelmets and detaches spider from the roof. The screen is so wide and we are so close that we are thrust deep into the action. The 5 metre high image of a face 15 metres away makes the same angle in the eye as a 200mm high face at arms length.

But we don’t need technology to enter a different reality. In a book we read of heroes and heroines, ogres and business men, of warfare and love making, of atoms and galaxies, of amoeba and star clouds. We use our imagination to enter their worlds and we get lost in them. We may beg, buy, borrow or steal a “page turner”, a book that we have to read through to the end, to find out the fate of the characters in it. We may purchase a travel book and visit in the imagination lands that we will never physically visit.

Photographs draw us in, religious books promise us heaven or hell, text books inform us and guide us, map books (or GPS) show us the way from A to B. Our games enter us into a different reality, sometimes one where it is kill or be killed, or where we get lost in a maze, or where we simply have to solve a puzzle. Games introduce us to a multilevel reality – we first enter the reality of the computer or PlayStation or XBox, or Nintendo, then we enter the reality of the game within the device.

Of course we may prefer old style board games like chess. Imagine a world that consists of 32 black and 32 white squares and black and white player pieces, which, quantum like, can only exist in one square at a time and when captured, cease to exist, so far as the reality of the chessboard is concerned. Players enter this reality in their minds and navigate their pieces in a war of black versus white, which starts with a given configuration and ends when the contest is decided, then returns like a cyclic Big Bang to the original configuration.

The fact that we can embed one reality (the fictional) inside another (the real) leads to the idea of an infinite regression of realities. In “The Matrix“, which I have never seen(!), Neo’s supposed reality turns out to be a simulation, and the real world is much more unpleasant than the supposed reality (not that unpleasant things don’t happen to Neo and others in the supposed reality).

The mathematician, the logician, the philosopher says “Only two?” If there are two realities, could it be possible that there are more? Maybe the real world of the Matrix is itself a simulation. Maybe that simulation is a simulation.

So we end up with the possibility of an infinite series of nested realities. There is one thing about the realities that I’ve been talking about though and that is that they are in our minds. If that pattern were to apply, every one of the nested realities would be in a mind. In the case of the Matrix Neo’s reality was imposed on his mind from outside, as it was for every other human in the Matrix.

The really clever thing about the Matrix was not that it was imposed on every human’s mind, but that it integrated all inputs from all the human minds into a consistent whole. For instance, if Neo sees a door and opens it, this information has to update the Matrix, and get downloaded into the minds of all the others in the Matrix, such as Trinity, who is waiting on the other side of the door.

That’s an impressive feat! The updating of the Matrix by all the human minds and the broadcasting of it back to all human minds is a much more impressive task than creating the Matrix in the first place. It is several orders of magnitude harder.

For instance, consider the immersive and interactive virtual realities which we have built and which generally involve the wearing of special gear such as VR helmets and VR gloves and connection to a fast computer which holds the information about the VR “world”.

If there are two individuals using the VR “world” at the same time, when Player One raises his hand, the information is fed to the computer and updates the VR “world”. Player Two’s view of the world has to be updated to show the avatar of Player One with his hand raised. If there are even more players all moving around the problem becomes much worse. Each player’s updates need to be fed to all other players (or all the “close” players to each player). The traffic rises exponentially.

But most of the time we don’t need fully immersive virtual reality to achieve a virtual reality. A simple book can do it. A movie can do it, probably even better. A play will do it too. All it requires is the suspension of disbelief, and the ability of the mind to draw pictures and fill in the gaps. It may be apparent to a person who walks in on the performance that Inspector Goole is only an actor, as are the member of the cast. The set is not really the sitting room of the Birlings, but a roughly painted lath and hardboard approximation.

But in the minds of the audience, for the duration of the play, J. B Priestly gives them a view into a different reality. One that is not fully immersive, but which uses the power of the human mind.

Trickle, Brook, Stream, River

When it rains water collects in little puddles and hollows in the uneven earth. Sometimes the water sinks into dirt until the dirt can hold no more and the water forms the puddle. If the rain continues to fall it forms a surface, rippled and blown by the wind. The puddle may be muddy, or it may be clear depending on whether the water is stirred enough by the wind or by an animal or maybe by a child, wrapped up for the weather and wearing rubber or plastic boots.

Some rain falls at altitude in mountains or hills and falls on rocks, trickling down into cracks and crevices. Some rain falls on plants and is absorbed or runs down to the roots and is absorbed by them. Such rain takes the shortcut back into the air as the plant pumps it to the leaves and it is expired into the air.

Much of the rain that falls is not seen again for a while. It trickles through the soil, through open spaces between and within rocks. Some it soaks into cracks which take it deep within the earth to aquifers which can hold the water for years, decades, or centuries. Some it soaks into soft and soluble rocks like limestone and can form caverns underground. Sometimes this water evaporates underground and creates the beautiful rock forms that we can stalactites or stalagmites.

Some of the water remains on the surface and is joined by water seeping through the soil or the rocks to form little streams. The visible part of the stream is not all there is to a stream. Most streams have rocky or pebbly beds, or gravel or sand beds and water flows through those, as well as the free-flowing visible water. Indeed, some streams are not visible at the surface with the water running under the pebbly bed. Unless the stream is in flood that is, when the water fills the channel perhaps to overflowing.

Up in the mountains or the hills the small trickles of water tumble over or under the rocks and gradually merge to form small streams. Water oozes from wet soil and sometimes springs from rocks where the aquifers reach the surface. Rocks stick up through the water, little waterfalls chute the water in glistening curves and air mixes with the water to produce little white water patches. Vegetation hangs over the little streams, moistened by the stream and dripping water back into. Water loving mosses abound, and trees dip their roots.

The stream is continually renewing. This is not the same steam that you saw here yesterday. That water has flowed on perhaps by now reaching the sea. This water was yesterday floating in the sky in the form of a fluffy white cloud, or a grey dense cloud, or merely as an unseen vapour, measured only by humidity. Gravity’s imperative call pulls the water down from the hill.

There may be life in the water. Small insects and similar tiny organisms survive in the tumbling water, and even smaller little animals, from single cells animalcules to tiny  multi celled beings live in it. They creep over the rocks and pebbles, feeding on debris that falls into the water or on little plants that also cling to the rocks, or each other.

As the stream progresses downhill it gathers more and more water from tributary trickles and merging flows. It deepens and flows over rocks which higher up it would have flowed around. Pools form and pools make it easier for life to exists. Maybe crustaceans and fish could now be lurking in the pools and even in the deeper less turbulent flows. Such life would also attract birds such as ducks.

All this life lives on a knife edge. A sudden storm upstream may swell the flow to many times the normal rate, moving rocks and boulders and even reshaping the banks of the stream. This would be a disaster for the wildlife in the stream sweeping it downstream and out of its usual environment into areas to which it is not adapted. Such storm events shape the little streams much more than the every day trickle.

A stream which I’m describing has a steep course. It may sweep past last stones and boulders and drop many metres for each dozen or so metres traversed. In many places it will reach places where the underlying geology changes and a waterfall forms or a cascade. A cascade is where the stream drops several metres in a short distance and the bed is full of boulders and rocks which may be totally or partial covered by the stream.

A waterfall usually drop into a pool caused by the water falling on and removing rocks and boulders. The spectacle of the drop and the pool makes it very attractive and people will sometimes hike for miles to see a waterfall.

As the stream becomes a river it becomes more placid. More life lives in it, it is broader and deeper. We can fish in it, float boats on it, and use it as a highway. We often live by rivers as they generally follow the easiest route through a sometimes tricky landscape. Large cities are more often than not found on rivers for this reason. Farmers on the banks of a big river want to trade with people up of downstream.

We tend to forget, in these days when we travel mainly by road, that rivers were once the prime highways, and indeed our principle roads frequently follow the route of a river.

As a river reaches lower altitudes it become more placid, as I have mentioned. People live next to it, and so they are in danger of flooding if a storm hits up river. A river is constrained by nature banks, but these many be breached. Consequently we have tamed many rivers, building large earthworks to constrain it to its usual course in the case of floods. However, the flooding of a river and the bursting of its banks deposits nutrients on to the soils around the river.

The ancient Egyptians knew this and worked with the annual flooding of the Nile. They developed geometry and mathematics to reinstate farm boundaries after floods. They also developed a legal system at least in part to legislate the inevitable disputes.

(I’m close to reaching my goal of 250 posts. What happens then? I don’t know).

I’ve just read a story about someone who went for 30 days without makeup. I’m not sure why I read it as I, like most men, don’t wear makeup. I have a beard so I don’t even shave. The idea of makeup if foreign to me. Even my wife doesn’t bother, except for special occasions.

The interesting thing for me was that the article recounted how her self-esteem plummeted. For the first few days it was “no one has noticed”, but later on it was “they’re all avoiding me”. She retreated from all social contact which interfered both with her work and in her personal life.

Even though her husband took two weeks to notice, she couldn’t really believe that it didn’t make any difference to him. She was surprised that he supported her in her goals, and wondered if it would help her marriage for her to go without makeup!

It seems to me that she is guilty of shallow thinking. She’s lived with this man for long enough that they are married, but presumably without children. (More on that later). They must have passed the initial attraction phase, and moved on to a deeper understanding of each other. In other words, they don’t judge the book by its cover any more. She could probably remove the wig and the false leg and it would not faze him. (I’m exaggerating of course – there’s no mention of such in her article).

Having, as she sees it, dropped her standards a little, she continues to drop them, first letting her hair go, and then letting her wardrobe go. At this stage she’s convinced that she is getting strange looks from the bank teller, who if he was a man probably wouldn’t have noticed anything, and her dry cleaner, who I’d bet was a woman.

She ends up getting called into his office by her boss. My take on the conversation was that it was about her clothes. It seems that she had come to work in clothing that was too informal for the office. The boss didn’t (as reported) mention makeup, just her outfit. It is most likely, in my opinion that he had noticed the changes in her behaviour – coming to work in sloppy clothes, avoid contact with other staff and wanted to know what was going on. A good boss always notices such things as they can sometimes be precursors of trouble.

Women in general seem not to like doing their makeup in the mornings. A Google search turns up many articles on how to “look good” without makeup. This one starts with a recommendation that the woman starts with “exfoliation”. Exfoliation for you blokes out there is a process that literally scrubs the skin off the face (or where ever. I’ve no idea if it is used elsewhere on the body. I don’t think that I want to know).

Of course young girls and boys see their mothers putting on makeup and they want to do it too. It’s fun painting your face. Boys are often discouraged from doing it, for no really good reason, but girls are often encouraged to make up their faces. Of course if the kids go out in public with makeup on, someone is going to be outraged at the “sexualisation” of young girls, which is a bit silly really. It’s only practise. Now if a young boy were to go out with makeup on, all hell would break loose, the heavens would fall and it would be the end of the world.

To get back to exfoliation – it remove everything, including the supposedly “dead skin”. It removes all the natural oils from the skin, so once the outer layers of the skin are removed, “moisturisers” and “serums” and so on have to be rubbed into the skin.

All traces of skin hair apparently have to be removed. There are various methods for this ranging from shaving to waxing, from really painful to the merely expensive. Women have body? Shock, horror! Of course I’m an excessively hairy male with beard and some body hair, so it is no wonder that I don’t understand the obsessions with body hair. The only hair that I remove is the long nose hairs that meet with my moustache – they tickle.

There are 20 tips in that article, all of which sound expensive, the lotions and serums and face masks, and the whatever. I know that a hairdo may cost a woman up to \$200. And they all seem so time consuming! A face mask takes time to do, and then the woman has to lock herself away for an hour or so for it to work. The article was on how to “look good” without makeup, but reading through the list, I’d suspect that most women would do at least some of these things, makeup or not.

Kids! I’d suspect that women who do most of the things mentioned above have no children. Of course having children doesn’t stop women doing these things, wearing make up and the rest, but time is precious when you are a mother, assuming that the responsibility for their day to day care devolves on the mother. Some of the things I mention above naturally fall by the wayside.

That’s why articles like this probably reflect more closely how women with children feel. Dropping kids off at school and at kindergarten, doesn’t leave a woman much time for makeup. Morning is all about wrangling kids out of bed, into clothes and into the car (back out of the car to pick up the packed meals that are sitting on the bench, also a coat for one child who seems oblivious to the temperature) leaving no slot for makeup, let alone exfoliation.

The rest of the day is washing and cleaning and removing the toy cowboy stuck in the vacuum cleaner. Of course she could wear a face mask while hoovering, but then she’d sweat under it with dire consequences. Then it’s time to pick up the kids again, and start preparing a meal.

So, makeup. The spouse probably doesn’t care. The spouse sees the woman, not the makeup, believe me. It’s absurd, really, that going without makeup could damage a woman’s self esteem. It’s just not that big a deal.

Taking to the Air

This week I am going to do something different. I’m not a big fan of aeroplanes, but a few planes appear to me to stand out from the rest. These are the planes that, to my mind, represent the high points in aviation history.

The first one I would like to mention is the “Bristol Freighter“. This little workhorse was introduced in 1948 and was only produced for eight years or so, but it was so useful that it was in service for many decades after that. I recall seeing one chugging through the skies of Wellington and that must have been in the 1980s. Sadly, I don’t think that there are any still flying, though some grounded planes may still be seen in exhibitions and the like.

I recall seeing them flying when I was a child. We used to go to Hastings, in what is now East Sussex for holidays, and often went to Lydd Airport to spot the planes. The little Bristol Freighters used to load on cars and passengers (through the two large nose doors) and hop across the English Channel to Le Touquet in France. Then they would turn around and come back again. We could watch a plane going out and see it return while we were there.

One of the planes was called “Fourteenth of July”. On the other side of the fuselage it bore the name of “Quatorze Juillet”, which is of course, the same name only in French. All the Bristol Freighters at Lydd bore both the French and English versions of their names which is appropriate for these channel hoppers!

The Short Sunderland “flying boat” was an amphibious plane first produced in 1938 and which was produced for around 8 years. I’ve unfortunately not seen one flying, since I believe that it has been a while since any flew. It took off from the water there were a few issues that didn’t arise with conventional planes.

For instance, if the sea was too calm pilots found it difficult to take of as the “suction effect” on the hull prevented it breaking free from the water surface. It took off best in slightly choppy conditions and sometimes a boat had to be used to chop up the water surface so that it could take off.

Although it took off and landed on water, it had wheels which could be attached so that it could be dragged onto the land, for maintenance and cleaning. As the hull was in the water most of the time it suffered from the growth of marine life on the hull, like any other marine craft.

Concorde was a supersonic plane and one of only two supersonic models that have ever been produced. It featured a distinctive narrow delta shape, and to assist with takeoff and landing the nose could be lowered to improve forward vision.

It was produced by the British Aircraft Corporation in Filton, Bristol, England and Aérospatiale in France. Parts were flown between the two sites operated by the companies in a transport plane with a huge fuselage, known as the Super Guppy, and I recall seeing the Super Guppy several times flying into or out of Filton.

During the building and testing of Concorde in Filton, some “escape tests” were done in the outer areas of the airfield. These tests were done on an actual Concorde fuselage which was occasionally set alight. Apparently all the testers escaped successfully! The area could be seen from the road, so the spectacle provided some entertainment for the locals.

The big engines for Concorde were tested by mounting them on a Vulcan Bomber. That was quite a spectacle too. The Vulcan was reaching the end of its life at that time and reputedly finished the testing with only one set of tyres left.

The initial flight of Concorde was quite a show, with the two first Concordes taking off “simultaneously” from Filton and Toulouse. A bit of gamesmanship went on with the French pilot delaying his takeoff run a little, intentionally or otherwise, which meant that the pilot of the British Concorde was a little in advance of the French plane and was nearly forced to abort his takeoff.

The result was that viewers at the end of the runway at Filton, on a low hill overlooking the airport, saw the British Concorde start to travel down the runway, disappear into a dip, and finally reappear over the crest near the end of the runway.

The two Concorde took off pretty much at the same time with the British version actually having plenty of spare runway, but it passed over the hill on which spectators were watching at a fairly low altitude, letting them experience the full power of the Rolls Royce Olympus engines. This was before they were modified to make them quieter! I saw the Concorde from my place of work in Bristol city centre as it circled the city before heading to Fairford for fit out.

The silhouette of the Lockheed Hercules is distinctive, with its high tail. This aircraft first flew in 1954 and is still in use 63 years later. It will continue in service all around the world until at least 2020. In my opinion it is likely that they will be around for some time to come.

The key reason for the Hercules’ success is its flexibility. It can carry cargo or drop bombs. It can carry troops and it can carry supplies. It can act as a tanker and spread water or chemicals over large areas. If you can’t land you can chuck stuff out of the back with parachutes of course and troops often parachute out of the back of the plane.

The Hercules was able to take off from short and unprepared airstrips so was a really versatile tool for armed forces everywhere. Apparently it is a noisy aircraft to travel in, with no real creature comforts. Nevertheless its ability to fit stuff in and operate under marginal conditions means that it remains a very popular aircraft to this day.

Well, I’ve only got through four aircraft and I have some more in mind, so I may come back to this in a future posting.