The entire universe is a cryptogram set by the Almighty.
- Sir Isaac Newton
Fans of the popular TV science fiction series, Star Trek, are familiar with the "Beam-me-up-Scotty" concept of "teleporting." In an Austrian laboratory, it appears that scientists have now been able to destroy bits of light in one place and make perfect replicas appear about three feet away. They did this by transferring information about a crucial physical characteristic of the original light bits, or photons. The information was picked up by other photons, which took on that characteristic and thus became replicas of the originals.
While broader applications of these techniques still remain rather distant on the horizon of our new 21st century, the experiment raises some basic questions. Is our universe itself digital?
The startling discovery of 20th century science was that our universe is finite. Scientists now acknowledge that the universe had a beginning. They call the singularity from which it all began the "Big Bang." While the details among the many variants of these theories remain quite controversial, the fact that there was a definite beginning has gained widespread agreement. 1 This is, of course, what the Bible has maintained throughout its 66 books.
From thermodynamic considerations, it also appears that all processes in the universe inevitably contribute their losses from their inefficiencies to the ambient temperature, and thus the universe ultimately will attain a uniform temperature in which no work - all of which derives from temperature differences - will occur. Scientists call this final ultimate physical destiny the "heat death."
Mankind, therefore, finds itself caught in a finite interval between the singularity that began it all and its inevitable termination. The mathematical concept of infinity - in any spatial direction or in terms of time - seems astonishingly absent in the macrocosm, the domain of the astronomers and cosmologists.
In the microcosmic domain, there appears to be an even more astonishing boundary to smallness. If we take a segment of length, we can divide it in half. We can take one of the remaining halves, and we can divide it in half again. We naturally assume that this can go on forever. We assume that no matter how small a length we end up dealing with, we can always - at least conceptually - divide any remainder in half. It turns out that this is not true. There is a length, known as the Planck length, 10-33 centimeters, that is indivisible.
The same thing is true of mass, energy, and even time. There is a unit of time which cannot be further divided: 10-43 seconds. It is in this strange world of subatomic behavior that scientists have encountered the very boundaries of physical reality, as we experience it. The study of these subatomic components is called quantum mechanics, or quantum physics.
The startling discovery made by the quantum physicists is that if you break matter into smaller and smaller pieces, you eventually reach a point where those pieces - electrons, protons, etc. - no longer possess the traits of objects. Although they can sometimes behave as if they were a compact little particle, physicists have found that they literally possess no dimension. They call this non-locality.
Is Our Reality Only Virtual?
Anyone who has seen the science fiction movie, The Thirteenth Floor , has pondered the question of the substance of our reality. (The plot involves a computer project that created an entire virtual reality - a sort of super "computer game," replicating Los Angeles in 1937 as a software program within a giant supercomputer. Participants are able to enter that virtual reality for brief periods and return. A murder mystery ensues, the solution of which requires retrieving clues from within the project's virtual reality. A dramatic plot twist involves the discovery that the project participants themselves are only virtual simulations from an even larger reality: Los Angeles in the year 2025! A stimulating piece of entertainment, but it cleverly raises some provocative questions about our own existence...)
The more we know about quantum physics, the less confidence we can have concerning the nature of our own physical reality. It seems that it is but a subset of a larger hyperspace we call the spiritual reality.
The Dual Nature of Particles
Another discovery of the physicists is that a subatomic particle, such as an electron, can manifest itself as either a particle or a wave. If you shoot an electron at a television screen that has been turned off, a tiny point of light will appear when it strikes the phosphorescent chemicals that coat the glass. The single point of impact which the electron leaves on the screen clearly reveals the particle-like side of its nature.
But that is not the only form the electron can assume. It can also dissolve into a blurry cloud of energy and behave as if it were a wave spread out over space. When an electron manifests itself as a wave, it can do things no particle can. If it is fired at a barrier in which two slits have been cut, it can go through both slits simultaneously. When wavelike electrons collide with each other they even create interference patterns.
It is interesting that in 1906, J. J. Thomson received the Nobel Prize for proving that electrons are particles. In 1937 he saw his son awarded the Nobel Prize for proving that electrons were waves. Both father and son were correct. From then on, the evidence for the wave/particle duality has become overwhelming.
This chameleon-like ability is common to all subatomic particles. Called quanta, they can manifest themselves either as particles or waves.
The first actual teleporting experiment has now been reported in the scientific journal, Nature , by Anton Zeilinger and colleagues at the University of Innsbruck in Austria.2 (Another research team, based in Rome, has done similar work and submitted its report to another journal.) The work is the first to demonstrate "quantum teleportation," a bizarre shifting of physical characteristics between nature's tiniest particles, no matter how far apart they are.
"Scientists might be able to achieve teleportation between complete atoms within a few years and molecules within a decade or so," Zeilinger has speculated.
The technique is still a long way away from the Star Trek process of beaming people around, but it raises the question, "Could teleportation be used on people?" Could scientists extract information from every tiny particle in a person, transfer it to a bunch of particles elsewhere, and then assemble those particles into an exact replica of the person? There's no theoretical problem with that, several experts have suggested. But get real: "I think it's quite clear that anything approximating teleportation of complex living beings, even bacteria, is so far away technologically that it's not really worth thinking about it," claimed IBM physicist Charles H. Bennett. He and other physicists had proposed quantum teleportation as early as 1993. "There would just be too much information to assemble and transmit," he and others have said.
Well, we'll see. (Is it just a question of bandwidth?) But there are other applications.
It is much more likely, experts suggest, that teleportation between tiny particles might facilitate quantum computers. Such devices would use teleportation to transfer data around, and they could solve certain complex problems much faster than today's machines. In the recent experiment, scientists transferred the trait of "polarization" between photons. A light wave has peaks and troughs like an ocean wave, and polarization refers to the directions in which these peaks and troughs point. Photons retain this trait. To transfer the polarization between photons, the researchers used a phenomenon called entanglement. When two photons are entangled, "they have opposite luck," said IBM's Bennett. Whatever happens to one is the opposite of what happens to the other. In particular, their polarizations are the opposite of each other. This binary phenomenon could be exploited in an advanced processor design.
A Glimpse of Hyperspace
Current cosmological conjectures assume a universe of more than three spatial dimensions-mathematically called a hyperspace. Current views envision a universe of ten dimensions: four directly measurable (three spatial dimensions, plus time) and six that can only be determined indirectly. This is precisely what the ancient Hebrew sage, Nachmonides, writing in the 12th century, concluded from his study of Genesis!
The Bible is unique in that it presents a universe of more than three dimensions,3 and reveals a Creator that is transcendent over His creation.4 It is the only "holy book" that possesses such contemporary insights.
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Much of this article was excerpted from the book, Cosmic Codes: Hidden Messages From the Edge of Eternity, and from our audio and video study, Learn the Bible in 24 Hours. We will continue this exploration of the nature of our "digital" universe in our next article, which will explore Einstein's skepticism and Niehl Bohr's provocative alternatives, the discovery of the non-locality of subatomic particles and their implications, as we are confronted by the very boundaries of our physical reality.