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Archive for February, 2016

Science and Me.


There was a sudden loud noise, pieces of a slender metal dowel shot at some great speed across the large table of the physics room. Everything made more dramatic by the expectancy, the waiting; tension increasing in the light of what was about to happen. It was a Friday afternoon. Double physics, a welcome end to the school week. This was the first scientific experiment I had witnessed. It demonstrated expansion and contraction and from that moment – I can still picture it so clearly in my mind – my interest in science was kindled. Two years later I was performing experiments myself, simple ones, a Wheatstone Bridge, simple circuitry, proving what had already been proven a million times, yet still being filled with a thrill of achievement when the results obtained were acceptable. Was I not following in the footsteps of Faraday, Kelvin, Boyle, Cavendish, Dalton, Doppler, Maxwell…? Yes, my school physics was more a review of historical science rather than anything more contemporary but for me it was a history that was both new and enlightening and it came with bunsen burners which soon became instrumental in helping us schoolboys to develop our own, quite radical, subversive lines of experimentation. Very few of us were actually caught, non were immolated. I do remember some minor conflagrations of which our physics teacher remained completely oblivious.

Then there were epoch-defining explorations of space. What I had read so often about in my childhood comics was now reality. Yuri Gagarin had superseded Dan Dare. All that was lacking was a little green man with a preposterously large head floating around in a mind controlled flying chair. The 1969 moon landing seen through ghostly black and white images had made Jules Verne, H.G.Wells, Ballard, Asimov redundant, passe. Reality had overtaken science fiction.

I rode my bicycle through the roads of Cheshire to gaze in wonderment at the Jodrell Bank Radio telescope, now the Lovell telescope. On more than one occasion I witnessed the huge gleaming white bowl obligingly, majestically, being repositioned by unseen forces and I speculated upon which distant object it was now being programmed to interrogate, objects that I would, so I thought at the time, never see.

All were mileposts of scientific discovery and progress. They became the stepping stones for my burgeoning curiosity. I read about Big Things in the Heavens, the cosmos; the Big Bang, inflation, supernova, black holes, branes, multiple universes, dark energy, dark matter. I blinked disbelievingly at the most amazing photographs of objects that are far away. Photographs provided by the Hubble Space Telescope and Voyagers 1 and 2. No special effects or CGI were necessary.

And then, one day, I walked past an old building in my home city, Manchester, and saw a blue plaque upon which was inscribed Ernest Rutherford, Nobel Laureate. This was a man who, only a few miles from where I live, created a new scientific discipline, nuclear physics. He was the first to conduct an artificially-induced nuclear reaction. He changed the world forever. Through reading about this remarkable man and his achievements I was unwittingly drawn into the world of Very Small Things and Very Fast Moving Things. I had entered into the realm of what is for me Very Difficult Science, Quantum Mechanics, about which I understood little and at first accepted even less of what I found. I read about theories that were counter-intuitive, bewildering, especially so when I realised that, unlike those schoolboy experiments in the old physics classroom, no experiment on any quantum system has any certain outcome, prediction. Here, it seems, we deal only with probabilities. Everything quantum appears to be in an indeterminate state where everything is possible. Classical physics becomes flawed, turned upon its scientific head.

I intentionally read about the same quantum phenomena from different authors with their different approaches, perspectives. I am slowly acquiring some understanding. I am fortunate to have a dear friend, Peter Vodden, who patiently listens to my endless questions and is always able to set me on the right path. He clears away the clouds of uncertainty, explains with clarity. The unacceptable becomes less so. It is perhaps unfortunate that the more I read, the further I delve, the more questions arise. For, as far as I can  make out, theoretical science rarely provides answers or solutions that can be experimentally validated, corroborated. Enquiry, it seems only gives rise to further lines of enquiry, yet more possibilities.

One of the many fascinating, and for me, challenging phenomenon of the quantum world, something that I constantly revisit, is a condition called entanglement. As I have become more familiar with this quantum state, I have become increasingly struck by some parallels that can be drawn between Quantum Entanglement (QE) and my Non-Prescriptive methods (NP). I consider the two to be quite analogous. The following is intended to demonstrate why this is so.

If you are not familiar with either QE or NP then I can refer you to Dr. Scott McLaughlin’s comprehensive sleeve notes for the latter and as for the former I can offer you the briefest, and because of that, inadequate explanation of QE. This condition occurs when two particles can no longer be described independently, rather like the unfortunate case of siamese twins. The quantum state of one has to be described with reference to the other. (A quantum is the minimum amount of matter involved in an interaction between two particles). In this state there are no longer two independent wave functions, there is only one which includes the properties of both entangled particles.

As you read this, bear in mind what you know about NP which, at Mo and Ho levels, is dependent upon the composer and performer losing their historical, separated, traditional roles or identities and uniting to form a relationship which I describe as a synergy which can be defined as the co-operation and interaction of two or more people.

Furthermore, the properties of the particles cannot be anticipated until one or the other of the particles is observed or, to construct a parallel, the nature of any realisation cannot be known until the performer has processed the given data (music). With both QE and NP any outcome can be possible. In the case of NP this is made possible by my having developed systems of notation that can offer an infinite number of realisations.

It is unlikely that there is anything actually being communicated between the entangled particles but there seems to me a case for advancing the idea that, as in NP, there is some kind of correlation, a co-operation towards a goal or musical realisation. Scientists, I have found, use the term influence to describe this relationship, the effect that the two particles exert upon each other.

Can I digress for a moment? As science progresses old models are continually replaced by new models, for example electrons apparently now do not encircle a nucleus in an orbital trajectory which was Rutherford’s original model. No. Now they gather in a cloud the position of which  can never be determined. New theories such as this require, certainly on my part, extensive mental recalibration. Another example. I have been referring throughout this post to particles, little points of matter, but recent thinking postulates that particles are not particles at all. They are not the tiny material things that we are familiar with. It seems that they are quantum excitations. The world, the universe, you and me do not consist of little ball bearings. Everything is made from relationships (that word again) properties such as mass, charge, fields, spin, direction of spin. (For mass, read energy. One does not argue with Einstein).

I have included this because this idea helps me to proceed beyond some of the quantum brick walls that I have been banging my head (brane) against for some time. For example particle wave duality and that pesky two slit experiment. Particles becoming waves in order to progress through two slits has always presented me with an overload of scepticism. If in the first place they are not particles which somehow can change their state my problem disappears.Sorry not to explain this but this post, I feel, is becoming overly long.

The point of all this has been to show that there are similarities, parallels, that can be drawn between the two unlikely bedfellows QE and NP. So much so that this has helped determine the title of my next CD. So, accompanied by a fanfare of trumpets, a roll of drums, fireworks illuminating the sky, streamers and due pomp, may I present the denouement, the tying together of these strands. It is to be called (did you guess?) Entangled States. Because of the degree of congruence, correspondence, agreement and equivalence that I hope I have established, it is I believe a justified title and one which celebrates two of the most wonderful disciplines which challenge, fascinate and interest me, science and music.

QE is a phenomenon that I have taken from the field (oops) of QM because it shares some common conditions and properties that are also to be found in NP. The two entangled particles (or non particles) are bound together in a very similar way to which the composer and the performer are. Their individual properties, identities, roles become subsumed, united in a common goal. There is an influence of one upon the other and it is not until an observation has been made or a realisation attempted that there can be any definitive outcome.

I wish to conclude by offering those of you who may have struggled with any of the above, compounded by my self-imposed brevity, those who have not before encountered such outrageous ideas, may I offer a quantum of solace. One hundred years ago Mark Twain said “Truth is stranger than fiction but it is because fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities, truth isn’t”. If he had lived in this present age of scientific discovery and enquiry, just how much more  strange (oops again) would he have found things today?

 

 

 

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