Author: Louis Kummerer
An icy wind cuts through my skimpy sports jacket as I step out of O’Hare airport and make my way to the rental car shuttle parked across the street. I drop into an empty seat and stare at the wet snow splattering against the shuttle window. I’m already regretting making this trip.
I shake my head and ponder my reason for going to Terra Haute in January: Dr. Grant my doctoral thesis advisor at MIT. As the shuttle pulls into traffic, my mind drifts back to my student days, to him, his disheveled appearance, his austere office with a sign hanging above his desk that said “I THINK, THEREFORE I AM. I THINK.”
In those days, Dr. Grant was a towering figure in particle physics. But after I’d graduated, he began promoting a series of unhinged theories that he couldn’t back up with data. His credibility was irreparably damaged, and he was eventually forced out at MIT. He ended up teaching undergraduate math at Indiana State.
We lost contact after I began teaching at Stanford. I hadn’t thought of him in years.
Until last month, when I attended a symposium on quantum physics. I walked into a session on particle wave functions and was shocked to find Dr. Grant arguing with the speaker over the probability that his hand might actually be on Mars.
“We see your hand here,” the speaker said dismissively, “The waveform has collapsed.”
“Maybe we only think we see it,” Dr. Grant said.
After the lecture, Dr Grant sought me out.
“You have to come to Indiana,” he insisted, “I’m doing the most significant research of my life, maybe anybody’s life. You need to see my results.”
I arrive at Dr Grant’s office in the late afternoon. We exchange greetings and he moves immediately to the whiteboard.
“We’ve been looking at the wrong end,” he begins, “We should be looking at quantum physics holistically, specifically at the role we play as observers.”
“Assume the universe is Schrodinger’s cat,” he continues, “We observe the universe and see that the cat is alive. But what if an observer outside our frame of reference observes the cat as dead?”
He looks at me and shrugs. “Our minds can’t grapple with that ambiguity. We have to trust the math. And you’re one of the few people capable of understanding it.”
“The key,” he continues, “is a set of state vectors that apply, not at the particle level but at the macroscopic level, encompassing the entire universe.”
Picking up a marker he begins scrawling on the white board, explaining each step, sometimes stopping to elaborate on a point. I struggle to keep up at first, but eventually, the light comes on.
“Unbelievable!” I exclaim.
“Well… let’s go one step further.”
He quickly erases the board and begins scrawling again.
“Let’s start with this state vector,” he says.
He’s writing furiously now, only looking over occasionally to confirm that I am still following. Finally, he stops with a flourish and puts the marker down. I continue working through the calculations until I suddenly grasp the conclusion they lead to.
“This can’t be,” I stammer, a confused look on my face.
“I hope not,” Dr. Grant says, “You need to go back to Stanford and prove that I am wrong.”
“But…if this is true, we, our universe, everything…” I stall.
“We don’t exist,” Dr. Grant finishes the sentence for me.
I leave Dr. Grant’s office and walk briskly to my car. I’m running late, but I think I can still make my flight. I think I’ll be okay. I think.