Tanya Bub: Things My Father Taught Me (quantum edition)

Totally Random is a comic for the serious reader who wants to really understand the central mystery of quantum mechanics–entanglement: what it is, what it means, and what you can do with it.  In honor of father’s day, we asked author Tanya Bub to reflect on some “totally random” memories with her dad, theoretical physicist and co-author Jeffrey Bub. 

BubOne of the earliest memories I have of my father is of playing “the limerick game”. I think we came up with it when I was about six or seven years old. We’d play in the car. One of us would throw down an opening line like a gauntlet. Then the other had to repeat it back and follow up with the next invented line of the poem. For example:

Quoin landings are totally random.
They nevertheless land in tandem.

Then the ball is back in the opener’s court for the third and fourth lines, ideally punchy five to six syllable zingers. Bonus points for gratuitous rhyming, double meanings and clever silliness.

Quoin landings are totally random.
They nevertheless land in tandem.
What gives us pause,
is the laws have no cause.

The last line, always the hardest, had to rhyme with the first two and tie everything together. The best would add something new or surprising to the theme.

Quoin landings are totally random
they nevertheless land in tandem.
What gives us pause,
is the laws have no cause.

Einstein for one couldn’t stand ’em.

We might be driving down some icy Ontario road as we played, but really we were somewhere else. Traffic lights, snow drifts and pedestrians had to be respected of course, but only in the most perfunctory way. Because all the action was elsewhere. We were together in a far more exciting place playing with words, extending their meanings. I always had the feeling that that world, the one outside the world we see, smell, touch and taste was more important and maybe even more real to my Dad than the one in which you tie your shoes, take out the garbage and walk the dog. That was where all the really fantastic and important stuff happened.

And in fact my Dad, a theoretical physicist, has spent the better part of a lifetime thinking about things that can’t be seen or touched or even easily imagined. He has “lived” much of his life in the quantum world, exploring the reality that underlies the everyday one we perceive.  Growing up with a father like that makes an impression.

So this father’s day, I decided to reflect on the ways my Dad’s unusual relationship with reality has influenced me, by creating a Things My Father Taught Me (quantum edition) list.

Here are my top three.

1. The world is stranger than you can possibly imagine.
Be willing to change your ideas if the evidence demands it. But not without a fight.

2.  Follow the Rabbit.
Should you be so lucky to be invited down a conceptual rabbit hole, go! You may be in for the adventure of a lifetime.

3. Don’t be afraid to think.
You have just as much of a right as anyone to wrestle with life’s mysteries. Do it well! The rewards are incalculable.

Now, as a fully-fledged adult and mother, I find myself a steward of two fresh, bright and curious minds, passing on these very same values and ideas.

And we also play the limerick game.

Curious about the meaning of the limerick in this article? Then pick up a copy of Totally Random, the book my Dad and I wrote together. It’s a graphic interpretation of my Dad’s life work and an extension of our lifelong collaborative exploration of reality in all it’s delightfully impossible and sometimes hilarious presentations.

Tanya Bub is founder of 48th Ave Productions, a web development company. She lives in Victoria, British Columbia. Jeffrey Bub is Distinguished University Professor in the Department of Philosophy and the Institute for Physical Science and Technology at the University of Maryland, where he is also a fellow of the Joint Center for Quantum Information and Computer Science. His books include Bananaworld: Quantum Mechanics for Primates. He lives in Washington, DC.

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Totally Random is a comic for the serious reader who wants to really understand the central mystery of quantum mechanics–entanglement: what it is, what it means, and what you can do with it.

Measure two entangled particles separately, and the outcomes are totally random. But compare the outcomes, and the particles seem as if they are instantaneously influencing each other at a distance—even if they are light-years apart. This, in a nutshell, is entanglement, and if it seems weird, then this book is for you.

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