“That Silly Science Fiction Stuff”
Posted by hyperpat on July 27, 2006
“Just before they went into warp, I beamed the whole kit and kaboodle into their engine room, where they’ll be no tribble at all.” — Scotty, explaining how he got rid of the tribbles (The original Star Trek series, the episode of The Trouble With Tribbles)
Now, besides all the fun with tribbles (an idea that was partially stolen from the Martian Flat Cats of Robert Heinlein’s The Rolling Stones), there is a more serious side to the above: the concept of ‘beaming’, or instant matter transport. Surely this is pure fantasy; no such device could ever exist, at least according to theory. Right along side this concept is the ‘warp drive’, enabling the spaceship to travel at many times the speed of light. But concepts like these just may be possible.
Modern physics contains quite a few mind-boggling and non-intuitive concepts.
One of these is that it is possible for a particle to surmount a barrier, even though it does not have the required kinetic energy. If you take a marble and try and roll it up a hill, if you don’t give it enough initial velocity it will go up a ways and then it will invariably come back down, never getting over the hill. You can do this again and again, and always get the same result. But doing the same thing with a sub-atomic particle, every once in while it will get over the ‘hill’. Lest you think this is something that has no everyday relevance, there are quite a few electronic devices that depend on this effect.
Then we have ‘tangled quantum states’. Here we find not only Einstein’s “spooky action at a distance” but the possibility of both faster-than-light drives and instant matter transport. Two particles forming a paired system of quantum states will preserve the sum of those states, regarless of how far apart the two particles eventually get. Measurement of one particle’s quantum state means that the other particle’s state is instantly determinate – so an action at one end of the galaxy could have an effect at the other end in zero time.
Worm holes are yet another way physics is pointing to FTL capabilities, and may be closer to the Star Trek concept. Instead of actually travelling through the entire distance between two points, why not ‘bend’ space until the two points are almost on top of each other?
Superstring theory posits that there may be as many 20 dimensions, rather than just the four we commonly know about. So far, no one has been able to prove the validity of this concept, and what could be done with it if true is not clear. But it is indicative of where physics is heading – concepts that seem more and more bizarre (besides being very complicated), but which just might allow us to some day make a reality much like that of Star Trek.