Aug 13

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How Quantum Incoherence Got its Name

Quantum Incoherence is the title of a science fiction and fantasy anthology that I’ll publish eventually.  As for the name, well, if you’re old enough, you’ll remember the song Monster Mash immortalized by Bobby Pickett.

I was working in the lab late one night
When my eyes beheld an eerie sight.

Well, I was working in the lab, and in this lab there are many eerie things going on.  You see, our work involves … [drum roll here] … quantum mechanics, and that is just plain weird.  Richard Feynman, a physicist who had the brains to create a whole new formulation of quantum mechanics, a feat not equaled that I know of since P. A. M. Dirac in 1928, publicly stated that it’s safe to say that no one understands quantum mechanics.  You can do the math, but it doesn’t mean that you have any idea what is actually going on.

Enter the quantum coherence.  It is a — it.  Without a solid background in quantum mechanics and linear algebra, it’s probably impossible to explain what the dang thing is, and even once you explain it with math, you still can’t really explain it with words.  But I’ll give it a shot.  You might remember from high school or college physics or chemistry that electrons in atoms occupy different discrete energy levels.  They can be here, or here, but not anywhere in between.  You might also remember that a particle of light at the right frequency can come in and bump an electron up to a higher level.

Naturally, that is an obRandom 2DIR equationsscene oversimplification, but it’s enough to score an A on a freshman exam.  Maybe enough to score an A on a physical chemistry or atomic physics exam.  But in the “real” world, there’s a step in between where the electron is in both energy levels at the same time, but really in neither, where it can’t be, and because it is in both, something called the density matrix time evolves under something called the Hamiltonian and … blah, blah, blah.  And not only that, there are actually two ways to be in that coherence state that are complex conjugates of each other, and are really the same, but still take different Feynman (that name again!) paths … blah, blah, blah.  And in Raman spectroscopy you work with coherences between virtual states that don’t physically exist….  It’s a mess.

It all sounds pretty INcoherent to me.  And there, in an inspired vision, came the term quantum incoherence.  I thought it a much more accurate descriptor of what we were trying to wade through than the official term quantum coherence.

Which brings us back to science fiction and fantasy.  As you well know, stories in those genres can be mighty weird, though in all probability not as weird as quantum mechanics.  Still, I reasoned, “Weird stuff here, weird stuff in my stories….  Hey!  That could be the name of my anthology.

Quantum Incoherence.

Take note, though, that some of my really weird stories won’t come out until the next anthology, Statistical Psychodynamics.


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