Thursday, January 30, 2014

Solutions experiment part 3

Instead of disbelief, Mark chose incredulous humour. "Look, ma, no hands," he said.

Mark ran his hands up to and through where the mesh had been, expecting to knock it over and ruin the optical illusion. Instead, his hand proceeded through the area where the mesh had been, encoutering no resistance. A ghostly trail of white wispy fog swirled in the wake of his hand. He jerked backward instinctively.

"What the fucking fuck?" he yelled.

Sam took two strides and punched off the laser. The computer's high pitched tone sputtered, then stopped. The mesh reassembled itself from wavy lines of nothingness in the fog.

"Please refrain from using obscene language, as I told you before," said Sam. "I can't tolerate that kind of lanugage in my laboratory."

"Oh, hell no," said Mark. "That motherfucker is some freaky shit and I have no fucking clue what just happened."

"Calm down," said Sam. "I know that you children use a vernacular that is full of explitives and dumbed down jargon. But you're a graduate student seeking a Ph.D. so I think you should use some more adult conversation. Please."

"No way. What just happend?" he asked.

"I don't know. I've never seen that before. It's an optical effect. Maybe a reflection. Or an interference pattern that obscured the mesh. It could happen," Sam said.

"Oh no you don't. You can't expalin it away that easily. I put my hand right through the middle of it and didn't feel anything," Mark said.

"The track could have come loose and fell down," she said.

"Then how did it come back to life all oogly woogly boogly like that?" Mark asked. He waved his hands and hips to show how it had reappeared.

Sam laughed. "The scientific term is 'spooky action'," she said. She laughed again.

"Don't make fun of me. What does the computer say?" he asked.

Sam turned to the screen. "Good idea! Let me stop it." She touched the big red button that read "STOP". She answered that yes, she was sure she wanted to stop the collection. A turning hourglass showed that the computer was digesting information and needed time before it would be ready with results.

"We'll have some good answers in about five minutes," she said.

"Five minutes?" he asked. "Who wrote that software?"

"A few graduate students. It's really good. I published two papers with the results I got from this application. The two graduate students got their Ph.D.s helping me write this. We're going to open source it. The college and I."

"Let me help you with it. I can write it to work better," Mark said.

"Sure, maybe later. You're in comp-sci so you probably could add some features I need." Sam motioned to the door. Let's go take a break while it crunches the numbers."

"Okay, I need a break from that freaky sh... Stuff," he said.

As they walked down the hallway toward the stairs to the lobby, Sam said, "Don't worry about optical illusions. They happen all the time. Anyone can do a magic trick. The brain is easily fooled into believing something that can't possible happen."

"But how did we see the same illusion from different sides of the room?" he asked.

"Easy. The lenses sand mirrors could have setup a wave front or a diffraction scatter that would hit our laser glasses. This would block any other view of something in the middle since the laser light is being absorbed. It could also only be partially absorbed by the glass and some amount of the laser might even go into our eyes and temporarily blind us."

"Blind us?" he asked loudly.

"Temporarily. As in, not permanently. There isn't enough energy in a scattered laser, at least not the class 1 lasers that I use to actually do permanent injuries. Especially through these glasses that are tuned to the light I use." She put her hands to her face and realised she was still wearing her glasses. She took them off and waved at Mark to take his off.

They stopped at a vending machine. "Take a look at this vending machine," Sam said. "Once I came up to the machine and saw my favourite peanut bag snack in C5. I dropped in my money and pressed the C and the 5 button. I saw the correct letter and number appear here," and she pointed. "The machine whirred and I saw out of the corner of my eye that a pack of gum being dispensed." Here she pointed at the chips. "Sure enough, the gum in C7 was dispensed. Even worse, C5 was empty where I had previously seen peanuts."

Mark considered the vending machine and looked at the buttons. "The 5 and 7 buttons are far apart. They aren't above and below or diagonal," he noted. The 7 could appear very similar to a 5 on these red LEDs." He frowned.

"Very good," Sam said. "You're discounting my experience correctly and applying logic and analysis of the situation to try to determine what happened. What about my seeing peanut bags where they should not be?"

"That's what she said," he joked.

Sam stared.

"'Peanut bag. That's what she said, get it?" he asked.

"No. Should I say something else? Bag of peanuts?" she asked.

"That's better I guess," said Mark.

"So what about it? What about seeing a bag of peanuts that wasn't there?" she asked again.

"I guess you just thought you were going to see a peanut bag," here he giggled, "and you were used to seeing those bags of peanuts every day," here he giggled again, "so your brain filled in the details for you and told you that you saw something that wasn't actually there." Mark tried not to laugh.

"That's exactly what I think," said Sam. "It shows that the brain is fantastic at deceiving us and filling in information and also removing information to tell us what we want to see, or what we think we should see."

"So you saw a penis bag and instead got a wad of cum," said Mark, mumbling the words to disguise them.

"You mean peanuts and gum?" said Sam.

"Yes, of course," he nodded and smiled.

"If you speak to me like that again, I'll report you to the dean and fire you immediately," she said and turned to go back to the lab.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Solution experiment part 2

"We have the origin laser here," said Sam as she pointed each item on the laboratory table. "Where are your safety glasses?" she asked.
"Oh," said Mark as he fished a pair out from his lab pocket and put them on.
"Here we have a splitter, and we'll come back to that in a second." Mark nodded and made finger gestures on his phone. "Here one path of light goes to the double slit, which is just a photographic film with small circular pinholes," Sam said. "This is where the interference pattern should begin." She pointed a little further down the table at a wire mesh. "That's the mesh that we will line up with the interference pattern so that the darker parts of the interference pattern are blocked by the mesh. We can move it forward and backward to line it up with the dark fringes of an interference pattern."
Sam pointed at a long, crudely made track that both held the mesh stand in place and also allowed it to move up and down the table. "The mesh can also expand to cover more area and line up better with the pattern. This part here is a big lens that will collect the light and direct any patterns on the left side to the left and any light on the right side to the right." The big round lens distorted everything behind it so much that objects were unrecognisable through it.
"There are a bunch of mirrors and some other pieces in there but those just help move things around to make it easier to fit on this table. This part over here has two light receptors attached to sensors that record how many photons are received. The photons that went through the right slit should diffract, go to the right on the lens, then go into the right-side sensor to be counted. The other side should do the same thing on the other side."
"What happens when you turn it on?" Mark asked, continuing to make finger motions on his phone.
"We see a laser follow the pathways and a counter increasing on the screen."
"That's it?" Mark asked.
"That's it. Oh, and we take the other light that was taken from the splitter at the front and measure those photons too. The sum of the two sensors at the back of the experiment should match the count coming from the front of the experiment to find out if Ashfar is an idiot or not." Sam smiled.
"What about the interference pattern?"
"We take away the lens at first to align the mesh with the dark fringes. Then we add the lens, which gives us left-right determination. That proves that we are counting particles. The mesh stands in for the diffraction pattern in front of the lens."
"I think I understand," said Mark. "Ashfar is moving the interference pattern up front and claiming that the interference pattern waveform must exist in order to go around the mesh. But then he counts the photons in the collectors and claims that they are particles."
"That's the idea," said Sam. "Every time I do it, the experiment works. But that doesn't mean his conclusions are correct. Watch."
Samantha checked her glasses were on her face. She pointed at Mark to make sure his were on as well. She counted each piece of equipment on the table and then pushed a switch that turned on a green laser. She tapped a big green "START" button on a screen next to her and  turned back to the table.
Nothing was happening. "Turn on the fog machine," Sam said to Mark. "We need to line up the experiment." Mark nodded and switched on the fog machine so that a blanket of steam revealed the path of the laser through the various pieces of equipment.
Sam pointed at the mesh. "You can see a lot of green scatter from the mesh. That's the wrong position."
Mark nodded. He reached forward and slid the mesh forward. The computer next to Sam beeped several times and the counters displayed on the screen moved in fits and starts.
"It's okay," Sam said, "You're moving the mesh and your arm is blocking one of the pinholes. The computer beeps when the counters are mismatched."
Mark nodded and kept fiddling with the mesh. No matter which way he pushed or pulled it, the green lines seemed to cross or scatter around the mesh. "Jesus," he said, "That's a lot of fog."
"Turn it off now, we have enough," said Sam.
Mark turned to switch the fog machine off. As he turned back, his arm brushed one of the mirrors on his side of the table. He continued to adjust the mesh.
"Can't you turn of the beeping?" he asked.
Sam shook her head. She was looking at the receptor sensor on the left side of the table.
Mark finally lined the mesh up in such a way that he stopped seeing any green dots or lines forming in the wavy steam in front of the mesh. The computer started beeping faster and faster until it was a continuous tone.
"There," he said.
"What what what?" asked Sam.
"Done," Mark announced.
The computer tone shifted higher and higher in pitch until Sam covered her ears.
"What's that noise?" said Mark, raising his voice and then covering his ears as well. The computer speaker wasn't very loud but the high pitched squeal was very sharp.
Sam took her hands off her ears oblivious to the sound. She pointed at the mesh Mark had been moving. Mark turned his head to follow her pointing finger slowly. His mouth opened and his hands fell from his ears as well.
The mesh had disappeared.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Solution experiment

"So what do we do first?" asked Mark, showing up to work at the laboratory.
"I'm working on reproducing the results of Ashfar's experiment," Sam said. Mark looked puzzled so Sam explained, "Ashfar is an idiot who claims the impossible. He ranks up there with those who believe in cold fusion, time travel, and perpetual motion. Not to put too fine a point on it."
"Those don't exist?" Mark joked.
"No, they don't," said Sam. "Ashfar thinks that it should be possible to perform a double-slit experiment with a wire mesh blocking the dark part of the interference patterns and use separate light sensors to count photons with sensors. He believes that by blocking certain light paths with the mesh he can deduce which slit each photon traveled through."
"Maybe you should explain that a little better. I know the double-slit experiment. But the mesh part is confusing."
"Okay. Let's start a little earlier. The double-slit experiment which you say you know and most people say they know is not actually as well known as you and they think. The concept is relatively simple but has far reaching consequences. Feynman said that the double-slit experiment contains all the secrets of quantum physics. He said that anyone who didn't comprehend the impact of the experiment did not understand quantum physics."
"I understand it," Mark said.
"I know you think you do," said Sam and smiled.
"Light travels through a narrow slit and it behaves like a wave." Mark said. "If you allow light to travel through a double-slit then an interference patter appears. This interference pattern is the result of the two waves interacting. But if you measure which slit a photon travels through, then the interference pattern disappears and light behaves like a particle."
"Not really. No one really observes the interference pattern disappearing and reappearing. That's the ultimate effect of the math. But there are a few flaws in your statement. First, light is not the only thing that behaves this way in a double-slit experiment. Electrons and even atoms can display interference patterns in a double-slit experiment. Although they behave like waves and particles, they're clearly particles. Secondly, you can't 'measure which slit' a photon passes through. You can't detect a photon and have it continue on without interruption. The double-slit experiment is just the embodiment of quantum states and superposition."
"Superposition is the waveform math that describes multiple scenarios being present simultaneously," Mark said. "And when any one version is observed, the other waveforms collapse around the one scenario that is observed."
"In a very loose sense, yes" said Sam. "You know Schrödinger's equation?"
"Yes," said Mark. "That's some heavy math."
"Not really," said Sam. "Schrödinger described quantum positions using standard wave equations but that doesn't mean that superposition is just a wave. It's more complex. As his cat experiment showed, the state of the cat is unknown until such time as the cat is observed."
"I like the cat experiment," Mark said. "The cat is inside a box with a gas that will randomly sublimate into a poison and kill the cat. The cat is both alive and dead at the same time until you open the box."
"That's a bit too simplistic again," Sam said. "When the box the cat is in is closed to observers, the cat's state is both alive and dead. But that doesn't mean the cat is actually alive and actually dead at the same time. The cat is only alive or dead not both. You're a card player?"
"Yes. I mean, online."
"So if you take a deck of cards that are shuffled into a particular order, you never know what order the deck of cards is in unless you look. By simple combinatorial analysis, a deck of cards has 52 factorial distinct orderings. That's such a big number, it might exceed the number of stars in our galaxy, or even the number of galaxies in the universe. Imagine each star in the Milky Way being named after a unique ordering of a deck of cards. Now the Sun is just the one deck of cards you've shuffled and hold in your hand."
"Yeah," said Mark grinning.
"So this unique deck that you've shuffled that you hold in your hand is a unique deck among all shuffled decks as the sun is unique from all other stars in the Milky Way."
"I like it."
"But I'll repeat again that this deck of cards is set in a particular sequence. It doesn't change. It is not 52 factorial number of decks simultaneously held in one hand, like a Milky Way Galaxy in your palm. It is only one deck and no other deck. Do you see the difference?"
"Sort of," said Mark. "I really like the idea of the galaxy in my palm, like the galaxy on Orion the cat's belt in _Men in Black_."
Samantha rolled her eyes. "I don't even know what you're talking about," she said. "I assume it's the Will Ferrel movie."
"No, Will Smith."
"Oh," said Sam.
"No, but I get it," said Mark. "There are no multiverses. Only one universe with the present state. The superposition is possibility but only because we haven't observed all the information available yet."
"Now you're getting it," said Sam. "We don't know the position of each card in the deck until they're turned over one by one. Only after they're turned over do we know which specific deck we hold from the galaxy of all possible decks. Schrödinger's cat could be alive or dead but we have no way of knowing."
"How does that refer back to Ashfar being an idiot?" asked Mark gesturing at the table in the lab.
"Ashfar believes that we can infer from two sensors at the diffusion pattern where a particular photon originated, either through one slit or the other. He believes that we can see the cat as both dead and alive at the same time."
"Impossible if you describe it that way," said Mark.
"Exactly. But it's not that simple."
"It never is," said Mark.
"No, it isn't. The basic derivation of the double slit experiment is that the probability of viewing the diffraction pattern which is V squared plus the probability of determining which slit a particular path was chosen called D squared is less than or equal to one." Sam turned and wrote on a white board:
V^2 + D^2 <= 1
"That is," she continued, "Our intuition tells us that when we measure the interference pattern at the back of the experiment with very high probabilities, then the probability of measuring with determination which slit was traversed by a particular wave or particle should go to zero. And vice-versa. If we determine which slit a particle or wave travelled through, the probability of viewing an interference pattern should go to zero. Since a probability of one means that an event is guaranteed to happen, then the probability of one increasing means the other must decrease.
Sam continued, "You can't know for sure which path a light wave travels through the double-slit experiment at the same time you also know for sure there is an interference pattern."
"It's like the Heisenberg uncertainty principle," Mark said.
"The equations are interpreted similarly. Heisenberg actually turned out to be wrong. But his math was correct. His explanation that the observer affects the outcome of the measurements (for example, knowing a particle's location affects the particle in such a way that the momentum cannot be measured) was the wrong explanation. The fact that we cannot observe two pieces of information about a wave or particle is due to the underlying quantum properties of the particle rather than any flaws related to how or what we use to measure things with our sensors."
"Heisenberg's formulas used Planck's constant, though."
"It's similar enough," said Sam. "And please say 'forumlae' although both are correct. Heisenberg used the sum of the standard deviations and set them greater than half the standardised Planck's constant. He used standard deviations and we're using the square of probabilities. What's a standard deviation?"
"The square root of the deviation," said Mark. "Oh yeah, duh."
"So let me show you how I laid out Ashfar's experiment."

Monday, January 27, 2014

Solution interview part 3

"What is the number one?" she asked.
"That's easy," said Mark. "It's the successor to zero." He grinned.
"That's a good answer from math theory. The successor to one is two and so forth. Easy enough, but what is the predecessor for zero?"
"Negative one, I guess," said Mark.
"It's not turtles all the way down," Sam said and laughed. "Negative numbers come from subtraction, which is derived later by negating addition. We're not at addition yet. Okay, we're side tracked. One is defined as the successor to zero. That answer means you had a very good math theory class. What other properties does the number one have?"
"Identity, um, something else," said Mark.
"Identity is good, what is identity?"
"Some number multiplied by one is the same number."
"Very nice, and the something else, do you remember?"
"Identity is multiplication. What's before multiplication?"
"Addition. Um, uh, some whole number N plus one is defined as the successor of N."
"Very nicely done," said Sam. "Now on to multiplication which is the usual order people do things in school. What is the inverse of the identity function?"
"Any number divided by one is the same number," said Mark. "What's the deal with all these nonsense questions?"
"That's not a very nice attitude," Sam said. "I need to interview an intern for my lab. I have some experiments I'm verifying before I go to the Cern Hadron super collider."
"Cool," said Mark. "They shut down for a while."
"Again," clarified Sam. "They have some instrumentation issues. They have some equipment refactoring to do as well. They are always shutting down for a while after each batch of experiments they run. The whole thing is so big and complex that by the time they finish building something it's nearly obsolete. They are constantly playing catch up and I'm trying to put them ahead of the curve."
"Neat. My dad's company finances some of the equipment there."
"I know," Sam said. "So now, you've got good fundamentals in conceptual thought without the common affliction of rote memorisation of facts," said Samantha. "Now to see how you think in one of your weak subjects like biology. This is my favourite question because no one really knows the answer. You can't even Google it! Don't worry if you don't know it, I want to hear what kind of ideas you have."
"Huh?" asked Mark. "Is this like those questions where they ask you how much Mount Everest weighs or something like that?"
"No this one is a good question. Put on your thinking cap for a second. We know that cats love seafood. They love fish, shrimp, and crab. The most popular symbol of a cat treat is a dead fish. A blue fish with black lines for scales and 'X's for eyes. They love fish, right?"
"Sure. You're the cat lady."
"I don't have any cats. Another feature of cats is they tend to dislike water. They aren't hydrophobic, but they don't want to get wet. There's only one cat that I know of that spends meaningful time in the water: the Bengal tiger. A Bengal tiger will swim for miles in the open estuaries of the mangroves. So the question is, how did the cat learn to eat any kind of seafood? Why do cats like fish at all if they hate water?"
Mark was silent. He grinned slowly. "That's a really good question," he said. "Maybe they descended from the Bengal?"
"Not every cat descended from a Bengal tiger. Bengals are unique in that they have adapted to water. If you see a trait that is very specific to one species in one area then you could assume it must be a very specific selection in one area, or else that it is selected against in all other areas. Also, the Bengal is a large cat. I'm referring to the common small cat, _Felidaes_."
"Huh. I guess that they've been living around humans who hunted fish in some areas. Like the Egyptians who worshipped cats, say."
"Nice guess. The Egyptians were indeed probably the first humans who domesticated cats, maybe 10,000 years ago. But that's the weakness of your theory. The dog has been domesticated for hundreds of thousands of years. Dogs were useful as nomadic hunters looked for prey. Humans didn't settle down and farm wheat until maybe fifteen or twenty thousand years ago. The storage of wheat would attract mice, which made cats useful.  So they eat rats, that makes sense. Dogs being domesticated far earlier means that dogs should prefer fish, or at least some dogs. I don't know any dogs that like fish more than the average cat."
"Further, you'd have to point to some evidence of humans cohabitating with cats in the same place with a lot of fish. That place would have to precede most of the future generations of partly-domesticated cats today. For example, you'd have to find early enough archaeological dig site near the sea, with lots of human bones, cooking pots, cat bones inside huts, and fish bones. All in one place at one time, and then trace a lot of cat lines back to that area."
Mark stared at a point above Sam's head. He unconsciously reached for his phone.
"The Internet won't help you," Sam insisted.
"Oh," Mark said and put his phone down again. "Um, maybe fish has some kind of amino acid or protein that cats love. Like potassium in an avocado or something, that they need."
Sam smiled. "It's a good idea, but you have to show what that ingredient or vitamin is. And you'd have to show it was mostly abundant in fishes. Then you'd further have to show that this need for the ingredient was present (perhaps latent) in other cat families as well. Those cats would have to supplement this ingredient some other way because obviously they survive without seafood in their diet."
"What the fuck, with the cat questions and the metaphysical physics and shit?" asked Mark.
"Please don't use obscene language," said Samantha.
A high-pitched beeping suddenly blared from a speaker on the wall. A bright strobe flashed from the same wall-mounted box. Down the hallway, a combination of whoops, loud chirps, and even a bell could be heard at various distances.
"Fire." said Sam calmly. Then, quickly, "Oh crap. My experiments!" She suddenly stood and grabbed her hair.
Mark stood just as quickly. "What? Where?" he asked.
"The third floor," Sam yelled and walked out of the conference room. Mark grabbed his phone and headphones and followed her quickly. Sam was ahead of him but he caught up quickly.
"Maybe we should leave the building," he yelled above a fire alarm that whooped nearby.
In between whoops, a strangely calm male voice said, "Fire. Fire. Please evacuate the building. Fire. Fire."
Sam shook her head and hurried her pace to a hallway door marked with a green exit sign. She opened the door and started up the stairs. "I'm going to make sure everything is okay," she said.
Mark saw two students running down the stairs and followed them with his eyes. He looked up at Sam disappearing upward. He looked down again and put his headphones around his neck. He stuffed his phone into his hoodie pockets in front. Then he followed her upstairs.
On the third floor, Samantha walked quickly down the hallway toward her laboratory. White smoke billowed ominously in the middle of the hallway. Two firemen in full heat suits and respiration masks appeared in the middle of the smoke and turned toward her door. One tried the handle to the lab but it was locked. The other raised his axe.
"Stop!" cried Sam, raising her hand. She held up her ID badge in her other hand. "I have the lab key!" she yelled.
The second firefighter held his axe over his shoulder hesitantly, then put it down. Sam strode up to him and shoved him aside with her shoulder. She held her badge in front of the card reader next to the door lock, then opened the door. The first firefighter grabbed her arm to pull her back as huge volumes of smoke engulfed them from inside the lab.
Mark had stayed back and couldn't see Sam or the firefighters as they were hidden from view by the smoke. He could hear Sam yelling and screaming in pain. Instinctively he rushed forward toward her voice.
"Get off me! Let me go!" Samantha was yelling above the cacophony of sirens. Mark plowed into something bulky with combinations of hard and soft parts. He and the bulky item fell to the ground.
Sam finally shook loose of the first fireman's grip and stumbled forward toward her door. She found the doorjamb with her hands and walked inside. She strode a precise path through the empty whiteness. She reached her destination by feeling along a table edge inside the lab. She switched off the fog machine after fumbling along the surface of the machine.
Outside, the second fireman and Mark wrestled on the ground in the hallway. The smoke began to settle toward the ground and dissipate. The first fireman came over and grabbed both of the men by the shoulders and lifted them up so they could see. Mark struggled against the grip on his shoulder. He realised he could see now and it slowly dawned on him that he couldn't smell smoke and wasn't coughing.
"What the hell?" he asked.
The firemen realised what was going on and took off their respirator masks. "It's steam?" asked the first fireman. The whooping siren turned off but a high-pitched chirp and ringing bell could still be heard.
Mark walked toward the lab door and cried out in pain. A loud clunk and clanging metal noise was heard. Mark hopped on one leg in the knee-high fog. "I kicked the axe!" he screamed.
Samantha appeared from inside the lab. "Stop being a baby," she said. She reached down and fished around, finally finding the wooden handle. She stood up and handed the axe to one of the firemen. "Everything is okay here," she said. "I'll file a report later."
Mark fell down against the wall and asked, "What the fuck?"
"Please don't use profane language," Sam said. The only sound they could hear was the ringing of the external bell. "It was just a little fog. I think you can be my intern. You have the job," she said. She nodded to the firemen and walked back into the laboratory. She pulled out a doorstop and used it to wedge open the door.

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