This is a big day for any and all of us interested in science fiction and nonfiction writing. Not only is it the anniversary of Maria Mitchell’s 1847 discovery of Miss Mitchell’s Comet, making her “the first to discover and chart the orbit of a new comet” (she was also, of course, “the first female professional astronomer in the United States”) (Tretkoff), but it is also the time that we may one day look back on and say: “That’s when physicists finally put Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity in harmony with quantum physics.”
“What [Juan] Maldacena and [Leonard] Susskind showed was that their black holes + wormhole system was also an entangled quantum system of space-time. With their calculations, the two physicists had explicitly made the link [Mark] Van Raamsdonk’s work implied. They put teeth on the connection between entanglement (an essentially quantum idea) and space-time (an essentially General Relativistic idea).”
And, while this may not seem major, if you’re at all interested in the world of physics, you’ll know that this is BIG. Einstein, after all, spent the majority of his career post-quantum physics trying to show that there aren’t two separate theories for understanding the inner-workings of the universe (General Relativity explaining the world of the Large and quantum physics explaining the world of the Small). In fact, in argument against quantum physics, Einstein famously said: “God does not play dice,” (“referring to the theory that the world is governed by the accumulations of outcomes of essentially random ‘choices’ of possibilities at the quantum level”) (Gribbin, 3).
For more information and a much better explanation of this development between the concepts of quantum’s “entanglement” and General Relativism’s “space-time,” please check out the link provided here to Adam Frank’s NPR article, “Black Holes + Wormholes = Quantum Answers.”
But let’s now consider the implications for writing and science fiction — this sort of discovery, after all, could mean even more than the eventual achievement of travelling at warp speed through space. This could lead to an entirely new and, arguably, more elegant way of understanding how our universe “works” and why.
This means new uses for black holes in stories, new mad scientists, new stories focused upon the wild and emotional world of physicists, new uses for entanglement in linking different worlds and characters, new adventures for comets and quirky astronomers, and much more. Reading up on new scientific discoveries always fills me with a euphoric sense of possibility — and, in this case, one of those possibilities is the very real chance of such discoveries helping to inspire writers to put the science back in science fiction. The genre is worth more than aliens and super technologies; the genre of science fiction is capable of imagining entirely new worlds and entirely new ways for our world to work in the here and now, in mathematics, in young minds, in the Large and Small, on notebook paper in a physicist’s office….
Science fiction, in other words, is a genre that demands something more than emotional truth and reality (the only real demands of fantasy writing). Science fiction depends upon the understanding, appreciation, and extrapolation of the scientifically possible — and this is a foundation that many science fiction writers continue to stray from today. If we continue to stray further and further from the scientific bedrock of the genre, however, we’ll fall ever further into the realm of fantasy where any and all discoveries and tools can be explained away as magic, as magic that is impossible outside the realm of the inherently unreal or fantastical.
Altogether now: let’s take back science fiction from the world of fantasy! Let’s refocus our attentions on the science of today in order to dream up and write about the potential of the science of tomorrow.
Frank, Adam. “Black Holes + Wormholes = Quantum Answers”
Gribbin, John. In Search of Schrodinger’s Cat: Quantum Physics and Realisty
Tretkoff, Ernie. http://www.aps.org/publications/apsnews/200610/history.cfm