Joy of Dialectical Matrix Mechanics
love plus quantum mechanics equals apocalyptic science faction
in Mobius Dick by Andrew Crumey MATT THORNE
by Andrew Crumey
Picador £16.99, pp312
novel that has a mirrored double personality at its heart
should be called Mobius Dick,' Andrew Crumey informs us helpfully,
after his protagonist wonders if 'some imaginative novelist
could conceive a logical scheme linking everything... some
grand unified theory in which [people] would be quantum resonances'.
Dick has more than a mirrored double personality at its heart;
it has the whole of history, humanity, philosophy and physics
at its radioactive core. Crumey traverses time, space and
multiple universes to develop a new paradigm of causality
and explain, basically, why a random text message can generate
all manner of emotional, epistemological, ontological, transcendental
and dialectical chaos. (Or, in layman's terms, what happens
when a misdirected text prompts you to think it might be from
somebody you were once in love with and then makes you think
you see them disappearing round a street corner.)
is a professor of theoretical physics who 'inadvertently'
stumbles into a literature seminar called 'Vicious Cycloids'.
Annoyed by its 'parade of coincidences masquerading as insight',
John is, nevertheless, dogged by its question of whether history
is hinged on chance and coincidence and whether events are
as random as they seem.
his receipt of a text which simply says: 'Call me: H.' Having
once loved a Helen, he obsesses that it might be from her
-- all the way to Craigcarron, where he's to give a lecture
and meet an old student who works at the nuclear plant there.
The same student divulges Craigcarron's plan to build a network
of quantum computers to create instantaneous and total global
communication. Ringer worries this would be preposterously
dangerous, because, harnessing the energy of the vacuum between
reflective plates, the potential production of a non-collapsible
wave function corresponding to a high-energy photon could
wreak all manner of havoc on the universe.
in case you're having trouble remembering your Copenhagen
Interpretation, let me refresh your memory. When waves are
measured, they mysteriously 'collapse' in a quantum jump;
thus, an electron is everywhere and nowhere until it interacts,
leaving its footprint on the universe. Two conflicting stories
can therefore be true, because when the universe splits after
any event, what is 'real' depends on your frame of reference.)
wave function must collapse and, if Ringer's fears are justified
and some 'stubborn, vacillating, recalcitrant' wave refuses,
the hall of quantum mirrors will mutate from a device for
communication into one of confusion and chaos. 'Its trapped,
rebounding particles would be ghosts and vampires, oscillating
eternally between one universe and the next, bridging worlds
and confounding them.'
would it take to lead to disaster? Nothing so monumental,
apparently, as a stray hair. The earth, the planet, 'perhaps
even the very cosmos itself', would become 'make-believe,
a joke'. What's more, it could be happening already and we
wouldn't even know about it. Cue spooky music.
into John's story are alternative narratives of music, madness,
memory, mobiles, Mann, Melville and, er, whales; none of whose
relevance is quite grasped until the novel's apocalyptic resolution.
But forget collapsible wave functions; Mobius Dick is so self-referential
it threatens to collapse in on itself. Crumey is a talented
writer and a major brain, but he will need to turn his hand
to something non-scientific soon in order to prove he can
transcend science faction.
this may just be the green-eyed gripe of someone who abandoned
physics with unbridled glee after GCSEs. Because despite the
exegesis of dialectical matrix mechanics (do I sound like
I understand it yet?) Mobius Dick is quite light-hearted and
fun, beginning with a text message and ending with an old
chestnut. 'How vivid it all was,' he writes. 'How soon the
dream is finished.'
Well, it's good to know that even scarily intelligent theoretical
physicists can't get themselves out of some narrative dilemmas.
(R) thedailystar.net 2004