Strange Physics (and Chickens too)

long shadows on a summer evening with chickens and child

Transitions, dusk and dawn, the “in betweens” that fall between day and night and of seasons, fall and spring, these times are on the borders and edges.  The edges of days and nights, the edges of seasons, the edge of time as it changes from “then” to “here” to “was”, and the edges of documents and ideas:  the edges and borders of life are where anything is possible (even if just an increment at a time), and where change can occur and where (I think) the most interesting parts of life happen. 

The edges and borders of childhood and subsequent years, the unknowns of what could have been from then, to here, and onward.  Sitting before a wide open window as a summer evening begins to darken, watching blinking fireflies, I can remember what it felt like to be a child on summer nights long ago.  I remember time seeming to stretch out infinitely ahead.

There is a border too, between memory and habit, the past and the now.  Each time I save a new Word document, a date comes up, the same date every time, always the same reminder from the past, like a  ghost in the machine, a several times over daily message  “remember this always” and I click and highlight and save over that date with a new file name every time, as I type into that edge on the border of existence, saving, remembering.

The other night we had a visitor make an appearance after a long absence: an enormous porcupine walked out of the woods and across the lawn.  This same porcupine has made the trip before, I have seen it a handful of times, and I know it is the same animal, remarkable in that it’s larger than any porcupine I have ever seen, the size of a 40 pound dog, always walking with a limp and always set in its course from the woods to the apple trees, then across the road through corn and to the river.  Since the last trip made, the chicken coop fencing was new, set across the porcupine’s usual path, and the porcupine walked right into the fence. It must have been walking by memory rather than sight.  It struggled in trying to get under (the fence bending, the porcupine determined), and then the porcupine backed away and reset to walking in a new course, a narrow slice trimmed off routine habit, a new path. 

Earlier tonight, another visitor, this time a large gray fox.  I caught movement out of the corner of my eye through the back window, and saw the fox not twenty feet from some free ranging chickens.  Gray foxes are taller than red fox, with longer legs. He (she?) was stalking, lurking behind a mulch pile, eying my chickens.  I stepped out onto the deck, said something to the effect of “hey! you! get away from my chickens!” and it left, away into the woods.  We stayed outside to keep an eye out until every chicken was safely roosting and locked up tight.  Battle won, war no doubt to follow.  These chickens are mine, I am drawing a line that fox had better not cross.

long evening shadows summer chickens

But back to the border between memory and habit, the past and now:  “so what” you may ask.  What does it matter?  I asked myself this, and I poked around a bit, and I came across a fascinating bit of quantum physics theory about how we, the world, the universe, all is held together by “quantum entanglement on the boundary.”

In 2010, Van Raamsdonk studied what that means when quantum particles on the boundary are ‘entangled’ — meaning that measurements made on one inevitably affect the other.* He discovered that if every particle entanglement between two separate regions of the boundary is steadily reduced to zero, so that the quantum links between the two disappear, the three-dimensional space responds by gradually dividing itself like a splitting cell, until the last, thin connection between the two halves snaps. Repeating that process will subdivide the three-dimensional space again and again, while the two-dimensional boundary stays connected. So, in effect, Van Raamsdonk concluded, the three-dimensional universe is being held together by quantum entanglement on the boundary — which means that in some sense, quantum entanglement and space-time are the same thing.”

Quote from August 28, 2013, Theoretical Physics: the origins of space and time by Zeeya Merali
* SOURCE Raamsdonk, M. V. Gen. Rel. Grav. 42, 2323–2329 (2010)

Mottled Java chicks free range outside the coop

My (non-scientific) interpretation of this is that some of the answers to who we are and why we are here might be found in the entanglements on the boundaries, the edges in flux, the connections between discrete parts, and the “in betweens.” Threads in the fabric of existence, the edge of time as it changes from “then” to “here” to “was”, and the edges of documents and ideas, the edges of objects, the edges of atoms.  Interesting, no?

For interesting reading on quantum physics,
please see physicist Christopher Fuchs and this article in Quanta magazine.

For interesting science reading, definitely visit Quanta Magazine

For more on Mark Van Raamsdonk, I recommend this article on FQXi Community.

If you liked this post, you’d probably also like A Simple Rearrangement of Atoms.

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A simple rearrangement of atoms

It has been so long since I have heard wind rustling leaves on trees; I had forgotten how it can sound like the ocean when the wind picks up and the branches sway and the leaves rustle.   We have a steady wind from the south, and the new spring leaves sound like ocean waves. A rearrangement of atoms, air to water, air and leaves colliding, water rushing and crashing. 

The breeze and the ocean, they each carry a constellation of atoms.  And just a small shift of those atoms, like a twist of genetics, or a change in time and place will change everything: fur or feathers, skin or scales, this century or a few before, or even back to the last evolutionary era.

I sometimes wonder if genetics or strands of DNA can carry with them a sense of geographical place, a sort of muscle memory of home.  I have moved so much all my life; I have never considered any one place to be my home.  One side of my family has lived in upstate New York for hundreds of years and it is there, driving through, that I sometimes feel what I imagine it feels like to call a long-time familiar place home. We will round the curves of Route 40 in Easton, or in some places of Greenwich, Albany, or Saratoga, and I feel it, a sense of place, a feeling as if belonging, like fitting in a puzzle piece, or the magnets of an electronic lock all lining up. The feeling, if distilled to its essence, is a sense of utter calm. This place was once home to family, there was their house, this a road they knew well, but two hundred some odd years ago. There is the Hudson River, there is Saratoga Battlefield where some of them fought, this the farm that overlooks the valley that they tended, hundreds of acres, before tractors existed.  I think I could recognize these places blindfolded, just by the feeling of place, in some parts of New York. A simple rearrangement of atoms and DNA, perhaps the genetics of familiar patterns, a century or two later. Or is it the place itself, and the sense of place that this side of my family also felt, and were drawn to back then?  I have run into a similar feeling in a city and village an ocean away, but New York is so much closer to where I live now.

And now, back at my home in Vermont the southerly wind blows the new spring leaves, and the chickens rustle in their coop, settling on their roosts for the night.  The southerly wind is steady, a warm breeze, the leaves still sound like the ocean.  A slight rearrangement of atoms, air and water, time and place, fur or feathers, skin or scales.

free range Vermont chickens
Free ranging Barred Rocks
Bean & Bantam Chicken Coop
Chickens are sticking pretty close to home; they have a lot of room to roam