It is not surprising that some of the best visions of technological resurrection have been proposed by science fiction writers. What is science fiction, after all, but the best way to talk meaningfully of wild speculative, still mysterious science and technology, and their likely impact on our world?
The Light of Other Days is one of my favorite science fiction books ever. It was written in 2000 by Stephen Baxter based on a synopsis by Arthur C. Clarke. This breathtaking and well written story features awesome, “magic” science and technology, from a communication breakthrough based on the exotic physics of quantum wormholes all the way to mind fusion, group minds, past viewing, and the resurrection of the dead.
Even in my most optimistic moments I don’t dare to imagine that the science and technology to resurrect the dead may be developed soon. Clarke’s and Baxter’s imagination is much wilder and much more optimistic than mine: in this novel, they chart the development of resurrection science and technology in this century and the next. Their ideas are not only compatible with known science, but actually suggested by recent developments.
The novel starts in 2035. Hiram Patterson, a ruthless billionaire businessman, is the founder and CEO of the fictional company OurWorld (a future Google, but based in the current Microsoft campus in Seattle). His son and heir Bobby, a spoiled playboy, is actually Hiram’s clone, and a much nicer person than he appears at the beginning. Hiram’s other son from a previous marriage, David, is a brilliant theoretical physicist. Journalist Kate Manzoni, known for breaking the story of a large comet on a direct collision course with Earth, a doomsday extinction-level event five hundred years in the future, goes to Seattle to cover a world changing new technology developed by OurWorld.
At the OurWorld announcement party, at the beginning of the book, we can see current technology (that is, the current technology of 2035) in action. The “Search Engine,” an omnipresent Google on steroids that you can talk to and access via retinal implants, flying drones that serve drinks, holgraphic virtual projections and other cool things of the future. But the new technology, data communications via wormholes, is really “magic” (in the sense of Clarke’s Third Law). It has been found that space is full of microscopic wormholes, distributed with very high density, in such a way that here are always wormholes connecting any location to any other location:
“Yes, wormholes, Hiram said. What we’re seeing here are the mouths of wormholes, spontaneously forming, threaded with electric fields. Space is what keeps everything from being in the same place. Right? But at this level space is grainy, and we can’t trust it to do its job any more. And so a wormhole mouth can connect any point, in this small region of spacetime, to any other point — anywhere: downtown Seattle, or Brisbane, Australia, or a planet of Alpha Centauri. It’s as if spacetime bridges are spontaneously popping into and out of existence.” “What’s more important is what we intend to do with all this. Simply put, we are going to reach into this quantum foam and pluck out the wormhole we want: a wormhole connecting our laboratory, here in Seattle, with an identical facility in Brisbane, Australia. And when we have it stabilized, that wormhole will form a link down which we can send signals — beating light itself. And this, ladies and gentlemen, is the basis of a new communications revolution.”
OurWorld engineers, led by David, find out how to enlarge and stabilize wormholes to transmit visible light, and discover how to use remote wormholes without remote equipment. Now, with the “WormCam,” they can pop wormholes at remote locations open and watch what happens there. The WormCam is a remote viewing device, ideal for news gathering and spying. OurWorld’s monopoly on WormCam technology doesn’t last long, and of course intelligence agencies get access, but also hackers. The book follows the vicissitudes of Hiram, Bobby, David, Kate, FBI agent Michael Mavens, and angry young woman Mary, as humanity enters the era of total transparency.
But there is another, even more momentous breakthrough: the WormCam can access not only other locations, but also other times. The fabric of space-time is full of micro wormholes, and WormCam technology permits establishing data links to everywhere, anytime. It is Hiram who first realizes the awesome potential of the new development:
“‘Don’t you see? If he’s right this is a turning point in history, this moment, right here and right now, the invention of this, this past viewer. Probably the air around us is fizzing with WormCam viewpoints, sent back by future historians. Biographers. Hagiographers.’ He lifted up his head and bared his teeth. ‘Are you watching me? Are you? Do you remember my name? I’m Hiram Patterson! Hah! See what I did, you arseholes!’ And in the corridors of the future, innumerable watchers met his challenging gaze.”
The book has many asides on the huge social impact of remote viewing, and past viewing. One is especially interesting: now that we can watch past events in details, 12,000 volunteers (one per day), including David, embark in a project to chronicle the life of the most important person of our history. The Jesus revealed by direct WormCam obervation is, of course, different from the Jesus of the Gospels. Will the historical truth destroy Christianity? Perhaps not:
“Perhaps we have lost Christ. But we have found Jesus. And His example can still lead us into an unknown future.”
The new generation of “WormCam natives” pushes the new technology to really “magic” extremes, using wormholes and WormCam viewpoints embedded in the brain to achieve telepathy and mind fusion. The effect is similar to that of the neural nanobots imagined by Ramez Naam in the recent Nexus novels, but the underlying technology is much more exotic:
“The new cortical implants, adapted from neural implant VR apparatus, were the final expression of WormCam technology: a small squeezed-vacuum wormhole generator, together with neural sensor apparatus, buried deep in the cortex of the recipient… The neural sensor was a highly sensitive neuron activity pattern analyser, capable of pinpointing individual neuronal synapses. Such an implant could read and write to a brain, and link it to others… Brains joined to brains, minds linked. They called themselves the Joined.”
By combining past viewing with neural sensing wormholes, scientists will find ways to copy the dead from the past and upload them to the present, achieving Nikolai Fedorov‘s vision of technological resurrection of the dead, bringing back to life all the dead from the past. When Bobby is resurrected, about a hundred years from the beginning of the novel, Mary explains to Bobby:
“It was possible now to look back into time and read off a complete DNA sequence from any moment in an individual’s life. And it was possible to download a copy of that person’s mind — making her briefly Joined, across years, even decades — and, by putting the two together, regenerated body and downloaded mind, to restore her. To bring her back from the dead… We live on Mars, the moons of the outer planets, and we’re heading for the stars. There have even been experiments in downloading human minds into the quantum foam… We intend to restore all human souls, back to the beginning of the species. Every refugee, every aborted child. We intend to put right the past, to defeat the awful tragedy of death in a universe that may last tens of billions of years.”
Is something like the WormCam even remotely possible? We don’t know, but new research seems to imply that the magic technologies described in the novel could perhaps be realized. These preliminary results don’t tell us how to build a WormCam, not yet, and they don’t provide proof that such a device is physically possible. A lot of theoretical and experimental work will be needed for that. But these results do show that quantum reality is weird enough to give plausibility to the intuition that every space-time pixel is connected to every other space-time pixels by information conduits that, perhaps, future engineers will be able to exploit with awesome results.
Quantum entanglement is a “weird” conduit between events in spacetime, not limited by the speed of light. Wormholes are also a “weird” conduit between events in spacetime, not limited by the speed of light. Recent research seems to imply that perhaps these two weird things are really one and the same.
Quantum entanglement is the “spooky action at a distance” that so puzzled Einstein. But Bell and other physicists have shown that entanglement is real: there are faster than light correlations between entangled particles, and these faster than light correlations can be confirmed in the lab. But Einstein’s special relativity and many parts of modern physics would collapse if the instantaneous correlations between entangled particles could be used to send signals, actionable information. A no-communication theorem states that using spooky entangled correlations to send signals is impossible. Not everyone agrees though.
Quantum objects exist in an indeterminate states, for example a particle can be spin-up AND spin-down (don’t try to visualize that, it is impossible). More correctly, the state of a quantum object cannot be described by intuitive macroscopic concepts like spin, position, velocity etc. Observation “collapses” a quantum state to a macroscopically defined state. For example, after observation the particle is spin-up OR spin-down. Please don’t ask what is an observation, or what/who can be an observer.
Particles that have interacted in the past can be “entangled.” For example the spin state of a system composed by particles 1 and 2 can be such that both spins are undetermined, but correlated: particle 2′s spin is down when particle 1′s spin is up, and vice versa. After observation, each particle has a determined spin, but the spins are always correlated, if the first is spin up the second is spin down and vice versa. The correlations between 1 and 2 seem instantaneous, not limited by the speed of light. This is confirmed by both theoretical analysis and experiments in the lab.
Quantum entanglement is weird enough, but it might get weirder still through a possible association with hypothetical wormholes, as suggested by recent scientific advances published in in Physical Review Letters. An MIT press release says:
“But what enables particles to communicate instantaneously — and seemingly faster than the speed of light — over such vast distances? Earlier this year, physicists proposed an answer in the form of “wormholes,” or gravitational tunnels. The group showed that by creating two entangled black holes, then pulling them apart, they formed a wormhole — essentially a “shortcut” through the universe — connecting the distant black holes. Now an MIT physicist has found that, looked at through the lens of string theory, the creation of two entangled quarks — the building blocks of matter — simultaneously gives rise to a wormhole connecting the pair. The theoretical results bolster the relatively new and exciting idea that the laws of gravity holding together the universe may not be fundamental, but arise from something else: quantum entanglement.”
An interesting connection between the mathematics of entanglement and the mathematics of quantum wormholes is all we have at this moment. But research will go on, and it may show that the connection is deeper.
Many 19th century physicists were puzzled by the similarity between gravity and inertia. Why should inertial mass and gravitational mass have the same value? These were two totally unrelated concepts in 10th century physics. But Einstein showed that these two previously unrelated concepts were really different aspects of one and the same thing.
General relativity was an elegant way to unify previously separated concepts. In physics, elegant explanation often work. Of course these preliminary results are no guarantee that future physicists will find that entangled quantum objects and wormholes are really aspects of the same thing, but it is an “interesting truth” which shows that this may be a promising line of research.
Physicists have also shown that it would theoretically be possible for time travelers to copy quantum data from the past. The new approach allows for a particle, or a time traveler, to make multiple loops back in time. “That is, at certain locations in spacetime, there are wormholes such that, if you jump in, you’ll emerge at some point in the past,” Louisiana State University’s Mark Wilde said. “To the best of our knowledge, these time loops are not ruled out by the laws of physics.”
Again, this recent research does noy imply that WormCam technology for past viewing is behind the corner. But the plausibility of time scanning is suggested by more and more research results.