Articles from the August 1997 Unification News

Teleportation and the Coming Kingdom

Down poured the rain as I, along with thousands of other dispirited commuters, sloshed my way towards Grand Central terminal and the train to Westchester. Not for the first time, my thoughts turned to how much time is wasted just getting from one place to another-all those billions of hours the human race spends sitting in cars and trains and boats and planes just to get from one place to someplace else.

Fearing the onset of a depression to match the weather, I quickly comforted myself with the thought that, even though it would not emerge in my lifetime, yet another step towards teleportation had recently been accomplished in the laboratory.

Of course, teleportation-the travel from one place to another without the bother of having to traverse all the intervening places-has been around for some time in the fertile imaginations of science-fiction writers-"Beam me up, Scotty" being just the most famous of the genre.

Indubitably, the scientist's task of creating a real teleportation device is a lot more complicated than the author's, who can offhandedly scribble "and the multiphasic neutronium plexitron hummed and her living room was replaced by the IRS office on Mars"-but an honest-to-goodness real step in the right direction just recently happened. Mind you, it was just one atom and the distance was only millimeters, but it was real matter and it was the second step towards real teleportation.

It is not something you learn in high school (but then, what is, these days), but the first step happened decades ago and now features in commercially-available devices. The step up from no teleportation to a microscopic amount of it involved electrons, just bits of atoms, in the phenomenon known as tunneling.


Schematically, this remarkable phenomenon-which is totally impossible according to the old-science view of matter-involves an electron zipping around in area A appearing in area C without ever being in area B.

It is clearly very difficult to explain such phenomena with classical 'billiard-ball' type physics. Such quantum tunneling occurs because, while the electron has a probability of being in A and a probability of being in C, it has a zero probability of being in B.

Unfortunately for the reluctant commuter, such 'teleportation' tendencies of electrons usually cancel each other-tunneling devices have to be designed very craftily to bring out this side of the electron's character.

This is why, even though we are basically just a mass of electrons (along with some nuclear matter to keep it all together), we can only move from one place to another by sequentially traversing all the intervening space. Thus the slosh through the rain. Overall, however, I must admit that this cancellation is a Good Thing, as otherwise our electrons would be bopping about all over the cosmos instead of sticking around and giving us a body to commute with in the first place.

The modern explanation for such odd behavior is that the electron is ruled by what is called its wavefunction, an abstract aspect internal to the electron that decides (on a very primitive level, to be sure) what the electron will do. This inherent directive aspect of the electron-call it its mind, if you must-creates the probability of finding the electron somewhere. And mind is master: if the wavefunction says be in area A and area C but never in area B, the 'body' of the electron obeys.

Measuring the internal

One of the great triumphs of the new physics is that it has a highly accurate mathematical description of the mind-like wavefunction as a set of "probability amplitudes," one for each of the possible things the electron might do (such as go from area A to area B).

The techniques using probability amplitude have been remarkably successful and accurate. As Richard. P. Feynman, one of its pioneers, has noted: "The theory of quantum electrodynamics has now lasted more than fifty years and has been tested more and more accurately over a wider and wider range of conditions. At the present time I can proudly say that there is no significant difference between experiment and theory! ... To give you a feeling for the accuracy [of the quantum description of the electron]: if you were to measure the distance from Los Angeles to New York to this accuracy, it would be exact to the thickness of a human hair. That's how delicately quantum electrodynamics has, in the last fifty years, been checked-both theoretically and experimentally" (QED: The Strange Theory of Light and Matter Princeton U Press (1985), p. 7).

Hardly modest, but then his recent obituary did merit almost a full page in The New York Times.

The measurement of a probability amplitude is complex-not in the sense of not being simple, but in the mathematical sense of needing a sophisticated kind of number called complex.

The key characteristic of the regular numbers we use every day (the real numbers to a math major) is that they have a magnitude, a size-2 is bigger than 1, 4 is bigger than 2, etc. The complex numbers, on the other hand, have an imaginary side to them as well as a real one (see previous column or any math book) which gives them another characteristic-they have a direction as well as a size-think of them as little arrows and you'll do fine.

Now if you were ever bored in school by the monotony of 2 + 2 = 4, you will love the diversity of complex numbers, where 2+2 can be any number of a variety of answers-the direction has to be taken into account as well as the size.

A very simple and widely used technique used to calculate with probability amplitudes in QED uses this representation of the complex numbers in a method, technically known as 'Feynman diagrams,' but often called "adding little arrows."

The wavefunction of the electron-its mind, so to speak-is a set of probability amplitudes, a set of little arrows. These arrows, of course, are not pointing anywhere in regular space, they are pointing in abstract dimensions, the so-called internal spaces of the electron.

This is how tunneling makes sense. All the little arrows combine to give a big probability of going from area A to area C and back again-like 2+2=4. But all the little arrows for going from A or C into B cancel out-like 2+2=0-and the electron never goes there. The electron, unlike others I know, does not have a problem with mind-body unity.

This behavior of the electron has been around for decades. Now matter is made of atoms, and atoms are made up of electrons and quarks (particles that can teleport just like the electron but are a lot more reclusive.) So, while it is obvious that in regular matter the teleportation tendencies of electrons and quarks cancel out-the 2+2=0 type situation-there is, in principle, no reason why, given the right set-up, these teleportation-tendencies can not be encouraged to emerge-just as it took careful design to get the electron to reveal its tunneling propensities.

This has happened, the second step towards real teleportation I mentioned in the beginning. Just recently they got atoms in the lab to interfere with each other, to exhibit the 2+2=0 type of behavior that underlies teleportation.

In the spring of 1991 four different laboratories independently demonstrated the interference of atoms. "The first to report was Professor Jürgen Mlynek.... The sketch of [his] apparatus might have come from Young's own papers: the experiment itself was a repetition of the original 1803 version, with the crucial difference that the slits were irradiated not by sunlight but by a stream of material particles.... The most mysterious feature of the experiment the fact that each atom traversed the apparatus alone, uninfluenced by the jostle of other particles." (Hans Christian von Baeyer Taming the Atom: Emergence of the Visible Microworld, Random House, NY 1992, p. 166-7)

As atoms are considered to be "real" matter (no one has much to say about what electrons or photons are) such experiments can be considered to be exploring the teleportation of matter. Commercial applications, it should be noted, are probably quite a way off.

The next step is just one of scale, how to get a quintillion, quintillion atoms to do it all at the same time. Once that's done, Sony, no doubt, will be ready to bring out its portable teleportation device-the No-Walkman, perhaps.


The new-physics understanding of the electron's internal aspects has some profound implications for philosophers as well as for commuters hoping to avoid the rain.

The chance-and-accident perspective of evolution founded by Darwin is built upon the mechanistic perspective of matter developed by Newton and, as he was the first to admit, "If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants." One of those upon whom Newton clambered was Rene Descartes.

Before Descartes, there was little impetus to explore the world through the methods of science because the world of material was inextricably mixed in with the realm of the mind. Descartes, however, separated them; he divided the world into two sets of the res extensa (extended things) and res cogitans (thinking things). To him, the great difference between mind and material was that matter has extension while mind does not.

With mind and matter dissociated, Newton was free to explore the workings of the material world without reference to the realm of the mind-and, in the process, gave birth to modern science.

Later, Darwin would articulate his vision of the chance-and-accident origin of species based on the mechanistic concepts of Newton and the mind-less matter of Descartes.

But, as we have just seen, Descartes was wrong. You cannot differentiate between mind and matter using extension.

The mind-the inherent directive aspect of the electron measured by the little arrows-also has extension; it's just that it's in an internal dimension rather than an external one.

Just as it took Einstein to reveal that the belief in the absolute reality of physical extension was mistaken-it is an artifact of the fact that we habitually travel around at speeds significantly slower than that of light-quantum physics says that the division into mind and body is also mistaken-it is an artifact of a limitation of our senses as we cannot directly perceive extension in an internal dimension-just its projection as probability.

So teleportation takes another tiny step out of the pages of science fiction into everyday life. How wonderful to think that the Kingdom of Heaven will not just be a place where the major ills of our age will seem as a nightmare-even the minor nuisances will be gone. Step into the booth, dial home-or Seoul, or the Andromeda galaxy-step out: simple. As for sloshing about in the rain, I'm sure people will still do it, but only when they want to.

Well, those thoughts cheered me up no end-here's the station. Now for the slosh to the car, the slosh from car to front door, and I'm home. Primitive!! Tell me about it!

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