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Hot Desk Extract: Quantum Entanglement

As part of the Wheeler Centre’s Hot Desk Fellowship programme, Savannah Indigo worked on Quantum Entanglement, an essay that is both a love letter to science and a critique of Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84. This excerpt is a snapshot of a story that shows the shared power of physics and language to teach us about love.

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She’s given a gun early in her story as a way to end it,[1] but the story takes shape with Janáček’s Sinfonietta.[2] She hears it in the back of a cab, recognises it. She knows where it comes from – the radio, clearly – but doesn’t know why it plays. Sinfonietta takes her beyond the traffic gridlocked over the expressway, towards the stairway winding down to street level[3] and into another world.

Once, I met a boy in Tokyo who asked why I listened to music. I told him that I listen to music that I feel in my body, with notes that open a space that is unknown, untested and undocumented. Sometimes or frequently, I laugh, I believe it takes me to new realities.

He tells me that music makes him feel alive, that he cannot imagine life without the thrum. His headphones are a constant; small white buds slipped into his ears, offering a soundtrack for every moment.

With the headphones split between us, I ask if he thinks our lives would be different, if only for one choice. He tells me that he never could have imagined that this would be his reality.

I wonder if we’re in the same world, seeing the same things.[4]

In Principia, Isaac Newton imagines that Earth, like Jupiter, had many moons. He speaks of the “little moon”, orbiting Earth at a short distance just above the mountain peaks. The little moon would complete its orbit around Earth every hour and a half,[5] changing direction as it makes its journey – attracted and accelerating to Earth, he understands, by gravity. Without the little moon’s attraction to Earth, the pull of the moons to Jupiter, each celestial body would move in a straight line[6] without another to deviate them. Their path is a force generated by others.[7]

Interaction – not fated, but inevitable.

I enjoy reading about unexplainable phenomena that offer pockets of information, giving me just enough to believe in the impossible.

I return, over and over, to writing about quantum entanglement. It tells me of two intricately-linked systems. Learning about one yields information about the other. Each measurement may only be partial, but offers valuable insights into both systems.

I imagine two celestial bodies hurtling through space, intertwined as two halves forming a whole. Two tiny specks in the universe, rushing at impossible speeds. No matter where they go or how far they stretch, the two systems stay connected. An action that occurs to one, occurs to the other and aspects of each system can be measured by the other. They are entangled. The ultimate story of star-crossed lovers.

Partway down the fire escape, high heels shoved into her shoulder bag,[8] the woman from the cab moves into the next part of her story. Ladders running up her tights from the journey, skin still numb from the wind, she looks at the sky that night, unable to grasp the difference. Unsure if she should believe what she sees.

I like to reimagine moments; to think about what life could be. Revel in the experiences I might never have had and dwell on the moments that have never been. I am indulgent in my musings and dream, often, of what’s ahead. I get so caught up in indulgences that I forget about reality.

I met an editor who reads novels to escape from the confines of his reality. He explains that sometimes, when he “returns” to the real world, lessons from the novel come to light. Lessons he did not know he had even learnt. He calls it a ‘kind of narrative suggestion’[9] that could give him a solution to the complexities of his own life.

When I think about the woman from the cab, I think of his narrative suggestion. When she sees not one, but two moons in the sky, is it to provide an answer of no definite shape, or is it to connect her to another who shares her way of seeing the world?

It would be foolish[10] to accept the two moons with the same level of certainty as one accepts the double line of cars on the expressway and the breeze running through the gaps in the stairway.[11] But perhaps the tools to discern reality ‘are only tools, like the instruments of musicians.’[12]

As the woman from the cab looks to the sky, she thinks something’s wrong with the world, or something’s wrong with me: one or the other. The bottle and the cap don’t fit: is the problem with the bottle or the cap?[13]

I wonder if the narratives we create for ourselves, in a wild attempt to understand reality, are in fact truth. I wonder if ‘truth’ is the same for one person as it is another. I wonder if we are closer to fiction or reality.

Years after we first met, I sent the boy from Tokyo some words about how our lives, though disconnected, remain interwoven. He tells me it is like reading a love letter, but one he had written with my pen putting it to the page. Is it through words that we influence each other? Or the songs played through headphones split into two? Or are they simply the tools used to understand a moment in time?

The woman from the cab is given a gun to end her own story. But she thinks: Not all guns have to be fired … A pistol is just a tool, and where I’m living is not a storybook world. It’s the real world, full of gaps and inconsistencies and anticlimaxes’.[14] Without the gun fired, the ending may not come immediately, it may take years beyond the story’s narration or it might fade into nothing. Perhaps the ending exists whether shots are fired or not, if one were to reimagine what constitutes an ending.

[1] Haruki Murakami, 1Q84 (Random House USA, Inc. 2012) 434.

[2] Haruki Murakami, 1Q84 (Random House USA, Inc. 2012) 6.

[3] Haruki Murakami, 1Q84 (Random House USA, Inc. 2012) 9.

[4] Haruki Murakami, 1Q84 (Random House USA, Inc. 2012) 1134.

[5] Cited in Carlo Rovelli, Reality is Not What it Seems (Riverhead Books,  2017) 49.

[6] Carlo Rovelli, Reality is Not What it Seems (Riverhead Books,  2017) 49.

[7] Carlo Rovelli, Reality is Not What it Seems (Riverhead Books,  2017) 50.

[8] Haruki Murakami, 1Q84 (Random House USA, Inc. 2012) 13.

[9]  Haruki Murakami, 1Q84 (Random House USA, Inc. 2012) 223.

[10] Haruki Murakami, 1Q84 (Random House USA, Inc. 2012) 14.

[11] Haruki Murakami, 1Q84 (Random House USA, Inc. 2012) 14.

[12] Carlo Rovelli, Reality is Not What it Seems (Riverhead Books,  2017) 9.

[13]  Haruki Murakami, 1Q84 (Random House USA, Inc. 2012) 246.

[14]  Haruki Murakami, 1Q84 (Random House USA, Inc. 2012) 441.

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