Quantum Killer

Likely to be part of a larger installation, this piece is in development for the Art Necro exhibition in 2016 where the brief was a single word ‘death’. With knowledge of the Schrödinger’s Cat paradox designer Justas Motuzas wanted to talk death in the realm of quantum physics. Months of conversation alongside knowledge and practice sharing led to a multitude of exciting ideas surrounding not just the cat paradox, but quantum physics more generally.

On a laptop screen a video is playing. You cannot sit and watch the video though. Each time you face the screen to look the video pauses. Not only that but when still it only displays just a fraction of the paused frame. Each time you look away you can sense in your peripheral vision that the playback has continued once more. A glance back to the screen stops the video again and yet again just a fraction of the frame is all we are allowed to see. How will you ever get to watch the entire video if each time you observe it we can only see a small fragment of a single frame.

What if you record somehow those pixels in each frame you can see; collect as many observations at many different times; then sew the observations together as one. Piece by piece and frame by frame the video will take shape. The more observations made, the more accurate a reconstruction of the hidden video we can compile.

The piece is not designed just to frustrate and annoy, but instead provide a humanised analogy of quantum physics theory and experiment. In the quantum world of subatomic particles things behave very differently to our large macroscopic world.

Original Video

Composition from an evening at the Royal Institute

A football, when kicked with a known force, at a known angle, in known conditions can be determined to either score a goal or miss. This is because given the unique set of starting conditions there can only be one path that a football can possibly take. If all initial conditions of large macroscopic things are understood then one can determine the fate of that large macroscopic thing at some later time. A football, and all large objects, follow the laws of classical physics which due to their nature is said to be deterministic.

Tiny quantum objects like electrons or photon particle of light do not behave like macroscopic objects. If the initial conditions of an electron are uniquely known it turns out that there isn’t a single unique path the electron can take. Instead an electron has a collection of almost infinite paths it could take between one place and another, each with a different associated probability of occurring. One can only hope to calculate the probability for all of these possible outcomes, but can never determine exactly where an electron fired with a known force at a known angle will end up.

When an electron is given a force or created it does so through contact with other quantum objects. This contact is an observation of one quantum object by another quantum object, telling each other that they are in a certain place, at a certain time, with certain properties. When not in contact with anything a quantum object slips into a haze of all of the possible places it can be and things it can do. This rolling fog of possibilities evolves in a mathematically understandable way which is not too different to waves in water. We understand this happens but cannot see it directly, for in her wisdom Nature has installed a firewall.

A real or digital firewall prevents anything on one side from observing, or interacting directly with, anything on the other side. This is installed into Universe thanks to a finite resolution to Nature. We cannot experimentally determine a size smaller than a Planck length or a time less than a Planck time. We can only make sense of our universe one Planck time after the Big Bang when it was one Planck length in diameter and a Planck temperature of one. Our experiments, it seems, cannot see beyond this natural resolution barrier; hence it is a real firewall to our current scientific understanding of Nature. To understand this mist of possibilities and associated probabilities of quantum objects we must find new means.