Red's forlorn hope

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Red was browsing through his recently deceased father’s library, looking for books of interest, when he came across one entitled The Colonel of the Universe. He opened it to a page where its luminary author claimed he received two or three letters a week telling him that ‘Einstein was wrong’.

We’ve had an astonishing century of scientific advancement thanks to Bertie’s insights, and if science is about successfully modelling the behaviour of the physical world, Einstein is surely science’s hero. However, philosophers want to know what is actually going on – what reality is actually made of, as distinct from the mathematics with which we merely model it.

Einstein demonstrated that we no longer needed a medium for the propagation of light waves, only then to replace the ‘luminiferous ether’ a few years later with another medium he called ‘spacetime’, a clearly extant and somewhat curvaceous phenomenon, required for the propagation of gravitational waves.

When Red was about eight years old, his father sat him down, on Christmas Eve, and broke the news that "nothing can travel faster than the speed of light”, to which a shattered Red retorted “and what or who out there in the universe is ever going to try and stop me from traveling faster than the speed of light…?”

“Well, you see Red, as you approach the speed of light, you will also approach infinite mass, according to the Lorentz transformations”, his father gingerly explained.

“Really...?” said Red. “So, let me get this straight, once I am out there in nothingness, relative to exactly whose reference frame is my speed being monitored”, he enquired, “such that my mass may be correspondingly and appropriately increased” (or words to that effect).

Dad’s next response was that one needs to defer to much wiser people in such matters, and this mystery is likely at the heart of most of the letters our eminent author receives concerning Einstein’s entirely axiomatic postulate that the speed of light is constant in any inertial reference frame.

Red could remember his astonishment, when he was little older, upon learning that a wise man, who had visited Einstein’s birth, had established, fin de siècle, an empirically self-evident system of ‘natural’ units, and that light travels in a vacuum, by definition, a distance of one natural unit of length in the period of one natural unit of time.

He then encountered sheer Archimedean delight when he stumbled across a paper suggesting that space ‘calculates’. This was at a time when one-dimensional characters called ‘strings’ were being tied up in 'quantum loops' and touted as the ‘atoms’ of 'spacetime'. At last, Red’s quest for an understanding of the limiting speed had fallen to him like manna. If this ‘reality’ that each and every one of us observes is merely information, processed according to the laws of nature, then perhaps that information cannot be passed on from one atom of spacetime to the next adjacent atom any faster than the fundamental clock frequency of the universe, the period of one natural unit of time.

Particles being accelerated towards the speed of light are simply hitting up against the fundamental computational limits on the capacity of the foam of space to ‘move things along’, just like sound through the atmosphere.

Upon grasping this cause of the limiting speed, Red found himself at home again, reclining in Isaacs’s chair, having come full circle to once again imagine an absolute space, albeit a space that he now thought of as a rigid lattice, densely packed with the ‘monads’ imagined by his dear friend, Gottfried.

Like anyone, Red considered an infinite tower of turtles to be abhorrent, and so invited Konrad (who had likewise recently found himself at home again, in his case reclining in Gottfried’s chair), over for schnapps, and suggested that each of Gottfried’s ‘monads’ is in fact a pair of universal Turing machines, both of which are entirely abstract, and which simulate one another like the lemniscate, with neither machine existing except when it is next simulated by the other. However, unlike the little old lady (lol) in the lecture theatre, Red couldn't say how nothingness – and like seriously, we’re talking here about nothing, not even a quantum vacuum, let alone a ‘multiverse’ – nevertheless declared, moments before the ‘Bang’, that “There are only two possibilities: yes or no”, and thus established something.

Red remarked to his friend that the first pair of these self-simulating universal Turing machines could presumably simulate an ‘atom’ of spacetime, and could in principle replicate, indeed exponentially, leading to a profusion of spacetime atoms - the expansion, indeed the accelerating expansion, of the spatial universe. Every point in the universe, being a point of replication, becomes a centre of expansion, and distant galaxies are red shifted not because spacetime is ‘stretched’ like a sheet of rubber, but because the farther away the source of light, the more ‘atoms’ of spacetime will have been inserted in the time that has elapsed between us.

Taking another shot, Konrad turned to Red, and observed the most astonishing corollary of all, being that these monads are dimensionless, and thus could be thought of as collectively ‘occupying’ something infinitely smaller than a nutshell – a dimensionless point which we could well describe as a ‘superposition’ - of the (at least) 8x10^184 monads that underpin the ‘atoms’ of spacetime that simulate the length, mass and time of the ‘reality’ that is our observable universe.

Red and Konrad stumbled across the road into Konrad’s laboratory, fired up his quantum computer, and tapped into this peculiar ‘superposition’ of the universe. Because this superposition can create information storage capacity (monads, or ‘qubits’ as they are commonly called) out of ‘nothing’, they discovered that the superposition has been quietly recording the entire 13.82 billion year history of the universe, that every ‘atom’ of spacetime can be accessed instantaneously, and their history, randomly.

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Quietly confident!