/ short-story

Quantum Eternity

Let me ask you a question. Call it a thought experiment. What happens when we die? Tell me because I want to know what you think. I know the truth, but your understanding is critical here.

You think that our soul carries on? That we are reborn? Judged? That we rot in the ground?

All wrong.

I'll tell you what happens. We never die. Our consciousness is incapable of experiencing death. Only transition. Recall those moments your life flashed before your eyes. At those moments you died in another reality, but your consciousness traversed to the reality in which you lived. Your consciousness... it activated a mechanism within us. It interacts with the core network of all possible realities.

Old age? The Hindus were closest. Something like "rebirth," in the form of a transition of consciousness, takes place. Of course we lose all of the data we've collected, transferring consciousness to a new physical entity, mortal coil, hard drive, whatever you will. But your consciousness persists.

Recall one reality we shared... Background details don't matter, only the crux.


We are standing in a stark white room, the only color coming from worn pencils and metal instruments. There is a large island counter top across which is strewn a number of papers and, amidst them all in the center of the counter top, a large box. It is perfectly black, as if no light escapes from it. Somehow that part of the room sounds silent, and your ears feel that it has the same effect on sound. A feeling arises in you that nothing that hits the countertop box comes back, and you feel certain that anything inside cannot get out.

...Except by through the opaque door on the front. The seal is perfect and invisible, and only the handle reveals the door's existence. I reach my hand out and operate the handle, and the door swings open, silent as the gaping mouth of empty space.

Out of it comes a small black cat. It walks in front of the both of us. Then it flicks its tail, completely unaware of what just happened except that it was inside some small place for a few moments.

"Do you understand it yet?" I ask you, almost quivering.

You shake your head.

"Then come with me, my love, while I give you a mental tour through the horrid reality I've created," I say to you. "I hope you'll come to understand why I brought you here, today." Then I proceed to the stairs, footsteps evenly paced but not slow.

You follow me upstairs from my laboratory to the ground floor. My maid stares blankly at you as we walk past. You investigate the rugs over my hardwood floor with your feet, and gaze into the porcelain statue of a sphinx, resting on a white pedestal, by my front doorway. Its eyes seem to follow you, human face gazing wherever you are. Indeed that was why I chose to purchase it. And knowing me, you know that too. The mysterious has always intrigued me.

Other physical details elude you.

The butler sidles past us both and swings one of the doors opened. A subtle spring breeze makes its way in, as do a couple small leaves from a Japanese maple. They are bright green. But like all things their color won't last.

"Don't you see it?" This reality is utterly broken. I gesture to the wall.

I catch you looking at me with a puzzled look. "Don't you understand what I just showed you?"

You nod at me, so I finish my thought: "I showed you Quantum Eternity."

A thought crosses your mind, though I'm unaware: This reality doesn't seem so bad. Scary, on the outside, perhaps...

And I continue, oblivious to the thought wandering your mind. "Look at the wall around my home."

You do.

Twenty-foot concrete walls, two feet thick, decorated on the inside to hide their purpose. But you then recall the graffiti and chaos on the outside. One thing you didn't notice coming in was the pillbox holes along the top of the wall, through which you occasionally see movement. Guards, surely armed with scoped rifles. Another thought crosses your mind: All this to protect a scientist?

"Do you know why I have this wall?" I ask you.

You think it, but say nothing: For protection.

"Of course. Let me rephrase. Do you know why I need this wall?"

You remain silent.

"I have another question for you."

From the corner of my eye I see you raise your eyebrows, only slightly. Oh, the way you do that. I'll miss it, my dear.

"What do you think happened from the cat's perspective, only a few minutes ago?"

As you contemplate the answer, I watch you. After a short time you remember what I said in the interview, months ago, and I see the words cross your minds eye:


I sat in front of the world, with a stack of documents and a suit that didn't fit. The interviewer introduced the story to a live audience, on a live broadcast. Anomalously, millions watched one humble scientist speak of his experimentation.

"Tonight we speak with one of the world's most brilliant minds. He's lived as a recluse for the last ten years, researching quantum mechanics and corresponding only by physical mail with university professors and scientists around the world, from the seclusion of his home."

The reason they all watched is because some part of them knew the truth of what was to come. My discovery had implications for our existence that could imply proof of God, or of His nonexistence.

"Yet he's produced some of the most groundbreaking quantum research in history. And tonight he's come out of his home to this exclusive interview, in order to explain his latest research, which he calls Quantum Eternity.

"Earlier you were explaining how Schrodinger's experiment impacted your work. Can you revisit that?"

Sure. You're all familiar with the experiment, I hope.
Because radioactive atoms decay randomly, we measure the
speed of their decay in half lives. If I take 100 atoms of
some material, there is some set chance that any of them
will decay in a certain amount of time. If the half life is
one minute, it's almost certain that after one minute, fifty
of those atoms will have decayed away.

So if you take a single atom of that same material, and wait
one minute, there is almost precisely a fifty percent chance
that it will have decayed and released radiation. This is due
to the radioactive atom's quantum state, and so it's utterly
and purely random, as far as we know.

Based on that principle, you put a living creature inside of
a box, that contains a single radioactive atom. You design
the box to release a deadly poison, or to otherwise destroy
the cat, if that atom decays; and to do nothing if the atom
does not decay. That means that there is a truly random fifty
percent chance that the cat will die.

And there is no way to know whether the cat is alive or dead
until it is observed.

"So that means the cat is in some unknown state."

Yes. Almost. It is actually in a known state, called a
superposition. It's known to be both alive and dead.
So if I perform the experiment on a cat, I actually split
the universe into two possibilities. For the duration of
the experiment, the cat is in a superstate of alive and dead.
He is literally both, and it's impossible to know until I
observe which state he is in—which universe I've entered—
until I observe the cat's state.

And once I enter that universe, then suddenly the cat was dead
the whole time, as soon as the atom decayed. I have just entered
a new universe: the universe in which the cat died instantly.

But which universe does the cat enter? Does the cat have a
random chance of dying, versus living? And what does are the
implications for consciousness, if the cat deterministically
enters a particular universe?

Is there a way to experimentally determine that split?

"Those were the questions that prompted your research, then?"

Yes.

When I performed the experiment on insects, almost precisely
fifty percent of the time my subject died. Unsurprising, of
course. Simple statistics show the probability distribution of
atomic decay, and thus my experiment simply verifies that
probability.

The interviewer asks, "So what does that mean?"

Every time I perform that experiment, the universe splits
into two complete universes, with one where that insect did not
die. How is it decided which of those the observers traverse?
There has to be some sort of reason to it. Some way to
influence that traversal.

Then I realized the confounding factor in my experiment: the
observer. Deterministic non-determinism due simply to the
existence of a third-party observer. Of myself.

The interviewer cuts in again: "Does that mean you had to perform the experiment, and not observe the subject yourself?"

No, that means I had to be the subject, ladies and gentlemen.

The audience gasped, as if on cue.

And so that is what I did.

"You got into the box?"

Yes.

"The box that had a fifty percent chance of killing you?"

Yes. Almost. I'll get to that.

I created a new Schrodinger box for myself, ensuring the utter
absence of any chance that the result could be measured. Because
if it could be measured by the outside universe, that necessitates
that the outcome could be observed by someone other than myself.
That necessitates that the experiment I was about to perform would,
at its core, be identical to myself experimenting on a subject.
And then there would be no way of determining what happened when the
only observer was the subject itself.

Rather than simply kill me, and allow the chance that the results
be observed by a third party, I designed this new box to utterly
destroy my atoms, preventing their observation. That is, if
quantum chance determined I should die, I would simply cease to
exist completely. I brought into the box with me all of my designs
and plans associated with the experiment. And thus, the only way
my experiment could even exist would be if it succeeded.

Ladies and gentlemen, this means that my presence today is proof
of its success. It is proof of Quantum Eternity.

"Can you explain what that means? What is Quantum Eternity?"

I remained silent for a few moments, preparing to pronounce a reality-shattering truth.

My existence today proves that our consciousness traverses through
the multiverse fluidly, toward the universe in which we live longest.

That is, my existence today, the fact that I have not disappeared,
proves that in the absence of other observers, quantum chance
reliably favors those who experience it.

"In this case, you."

Yes.

Each time I killed an insect from my perspective, the insect
did not experience death. To each and every one upon which I
experimented, they all experienced their survival, and may simply
wonder why I put them in such a plain and small box. When the
universe splits, it does so in a way that ensures the existence of the
observer.

Consider this: If I performed the same test, where there would
be equal but mutually exclusive chance of the insect and of myself
dying at the same time, each of us would observe the other's
death. Every time. I would enter the universe where I survived,
and the cat would enter the universe where it survived.

This is what I call the "two-party experiment."

"So our realities split, and we each experience a different one?"

Precisely.

Ladies and gentlemen, I performed this Schrodinger box
experiment on myself one thousand times, over the course of the
last two months. I have five-sigma data indicating its
verifiability, which means there is a 99.99994% chance that I
am correct.

This is the requisite in the scientific community to pronounce
something "Scientific Fact."

That that means that we currently reside in a universe favoring
my existence. I have proven that you all are in my reality.

Silence from everyone.

Eventually, the interviewer asks, "What does that mean for us?"

It means you are currently in a reality that is not your own.

"And how do we enter one in which it does?"

Well, my experiment split the universe one thousand times. In
theory, you would have to have already been in one of those
realities. Since you are not, you would have to split it again.

"Does that mean you would have have died in one of those experiments?

I suppose so.


I watch as you recall all this, standing silently next to you. "These walls are very much like the walls of my Schrodinger box, downstairs. They separate those observers from my reality.

Your eyes come to focus again, and turn to mine. Still you are just a silent listener, a drifting vessel floating without friction through emptiness.

"But this reality of mine... it is done. You know they are coming for me. The whole world has realized that, due to this experiment, my very existence indicates their doom. Of course that was always the case, but now that it's been proven, they all grow fearful of their death.

"You have been here with me since you put on that ring, for whatever foolish reason you chose to do so. But all that means to them is that you must also go. So long as we share a universe, yours is also one that ensures their doom."

"Do you understand what I am getting at, love?"

You look confused. I continue: "I've created chaos. Since the revelation they want me dead. But if they simply kill me, nothing will change."

I break a twig off from the nearby maple. A single leaf is attached to it, swaying in the slight wind. I hold it up between my eyes and the smoke rising beyond the wall. Beyond the barrier.

The gunshots start breaking out, meaning the guards are worried. We both become aware of this fully, instantly. We have only borrowed time left.

For a few moments I am silent, and you simply watch me formulate the words in the relative peace of my estate. I flinch slightly as an explosion erupts on the other side.

"And even worse, I know they are going to kill you too. I know it because we are in a universe that is not yours. This is all mine, and I am sure it will happen.

"And I can't let it.

"Come back with me."

I throw the twig to the ground. The smoke beyond the barrier has thickened, and no other details can be ascertained. The shouting is only getting stronger, like a droning constant sound.

I walk inside, and you also enter silently. Leaving the door opened, I head back towards the laboratory door, and walk down it. Will you follow? Of course you will. It's simple for me to know this.

The butler and maid are both gone, and the sphinx watches you walk past. The bare floor feels cold and without texture, like feet exposed to chilled air.

"And the only way they won't, the only way there is even a chance you are spared, is if we perform the two-party experiment."

Another, larger explosion breaks out. The ground shakes.

"Come with me," and with that I lead you back inside.

"My love, the two party experiment is the only way for us to separate realities. You must get inside this box." I pull open the black door in the room, adjacent to yet another black door. Side by side, these are portals to our separate realities. One in which you are not just a subject of my existence.

Without objection you enter the room and I shut the door. It is silent, wholly silent, and dark, wholly dark.

Moments pass like this.

And then you hear a click.

A white light blinds you as the door swings opened, and a rush of cold air flows around you. Your vision is washed out completely.


TO BE CONTINUED
Nick Giampietro

Nick Giampietro

Nick graduated from Portland State University with a degree in Japanese Literature and a minor in English, and works as a Software Engineer in Portland. He lives with his wife and dog-of-a-cat.

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