Weekly Editorials Page
9/27 to 10/3, 2001


Previous Weekly Editorials

9-30-2001:     The article, "Trillion-Atom Triumph", on today's Science News page, explains that the University of Aarhus' team was only able to keep their trillion-atom cesium samples in perfect sync with each other for no more than a femtosecond (ten-to-the-minus-15th seconds), although they were able to maintain partial entanglement for half a millisecond. For the foreseeable future, it sounds as though this quantum-entanglement technique will be targeted primarily toward communication. Still, instantaneous communications over interplanetary distances could redefine our space program.
9-29-2001:     Today's comments concern the University of Aarhus' announcement (Denmark) that they have just succeeded in establishing instantaneous quantum communication between two clouds of trillions of cesium atoms, possibly paving the way for instantaneous communications across interstellar, or presumably, even intergalactic distances. This also suggests the possibility of a species of matter transmission in which information about matter, rather than matter itself, is "teleported". This technique requires partial destruction of the matter to be transmitted, with reconstruction at the "receiver". In this respect, it would work like the transporters of Star Trek fame, although differing somewhat in that it would require equipment at both ends. 
    There would be special problems with transmitting matter itself having to do with differences in momenta, and in kinetic and potential energies between the transmitter and the receiver, but these strictures wouldn't be present in the case of the transmission of information about matter where no mass is involved. Still, there are possible problems. One of them has to do with the fact that there is no such thing as absolute simultaneity. Simultaneity can possibly be defined for two objects moving at the same speed... that is, at rest with respect to each other. However, when objects are moving at relativistic speeds with respect to each other, they have different standards of simultaneity. Information from our future would be concurrent with someone light-years away who were moving toward us at a speed approaching the speed of light. If this information from our future could be instantaneously transmitted to this person, and if this person were to relay this information to someone in her neighborhood who were at rest with respect to us, and if that information were then to be instantly transmitted to us from that distant someone at rest with respect to us, we would be able to receive information from our future. I suspect that there are provisions that prevent this. It will be interesting to see what happens when the two "objects" that are to be brought into congruence are moving at different velocities: e. g., over interplanetary distances. Even the difference in speeds between a lab at the equator and a lab at the north pole would be about 1,600 kilometers per hour. It might be that velocities would have to be matched to some very high degree of precision to allow quantum entanglement to transmit useful information. 
    Frederick Pohl and Jack Williamson, among others, have written about this kind of "matter transmission" in their science fiction novel, "Wall Around a Star". In their story, a person can be scanned at the source, and his or her blueprint sent nearly instantaneously via tachyon transmission to some distant star, where an identical facsimile of the individual is reconstructed. In their novel, the transmitted individual is a clone of the original.
    Putting on my hat as a quondam science fiction writer, I could fantasize this quantum entanglement information transmission mechanism allowing us to achieve the kind of instantaneous (for all practical purposes) communication that we now enjoy on Earth. I could imagine it affording telepresence and control in interplanetary space and on other planets. Beyond that would come interstellar telepresence and control. However, our present model would require that we convey equipment to the neighborhoods of other stars, and my present technological projections would suggest to me that this initial transfer of equipment could take place at no more than 1/10th light speed. At that rate, it would take about 50 years to reach the Centauri system, and about 100 years to reach tau-Ceti. That's a very long time by today's standards, but given an extension of the youth-span to allow a vigorous 150 or 200 year lifespan, 50 years wouldn't be too hard to take. (A combination of restricted caloric intake and dietary supplementation with the proteins produced by centenarian genes might in itself give a healthy, vigorous 150-year lifespan.) (I envision telepresence and earthbound simulations giving us all some sense of visiting interplanetary space and other planets.) If it were eventually possible to instantaneously transport humans over interstellar distances, interstellar civilizations would be on our doorsteps. Even without human teleportation, instantaneous interstellar communications should be an enabling technology for interstellar civilization. For example, robotic intelligence could be instantaneously transferred.
    Quantum teleporation certainly bears continued scrutiny.

9-27-2001:
     After observing U. S. strategy and media coverage over the past two weeks, I personally feel much better about our course of action. It seems to me that we're in the position of trying to eradicate nests of poisonous spiders located in various houses in the neighborhood. We couldn't get rid of all of the spiders by destroying the houses. Their elimination will require time and finesse, and it appears that the U. S. is prepared to approach the problem in that rational way.
    Terrorism isn't a recent strategy. The Russian revolutionary and nihilist Michael Bakunin constructed and deployed bombs, including (?) the 1881 bomb that killed Tsar Alexander II of Russia. (The assassination of Alexander II had the effect of turning his son, Alexander III, toward a harshly repressive regime. In other words, its effects were exactly opposite to those that Bakunin was seeking.) It was the Black Hand Serbian terrorist, Princip Gavrilo, who triggered World War I by assassinating the Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo in 1914. As usual, when violent means are employed to secure a supposedly benign end, the results were opposite to what was intended.
    It would have been possible to have flown a transcontinental aircraft into the Empire State Building, the White House, and the Capitol Building at any time from the 1930's onward. It would have been possible to detonate a dray wagon filled with combustibles (e. g., naphtha or Greek Fire) or explosives on a bridge or beside a building at any time in history. The only reason it didn't happen was because, apparently, it wasn't tried.
    I think that terrorists are everyone's enemy. The Muslim terrorists who attack the West would target every other non-Muslim venue, including China and non-Muslim Africa, if the West were no longer a breakwater. Terrorism is a banner that attracts and semi-legitimatizes goons and psychopaths, like the SS in Nazi Germany. And if terrorism works, psychopathic miscreants will adopt terrorist methods in droves. [It seems to me that their understanding of human nature must be wrapped around feelings of powerlessness, and an inability to understand the mentalities of the powers-that-be, or the power of gentler ways of securing justice. (Gandhi's policy of non-violence must at least have contributed to the British departure from India.) But whatever the mindset, terrorists are vermin.] Muslims above all others should consider Muslim terrorists Islam's enemy. Precious few Muslims would want to live under the heavy hand of the Taliban. Terrorism is monstrously incompetent, achieving results diametrically opposed to its goals.. Terrorism has the effect of attracting the wrath of the entire world, whose countries realize that they are also vulnerable to these poisonous spiders. In the end, I think that we need to send them the message that crime does not pay.
    Phrases from the Koran have been quoted to show that Muslims are enjoined to seek world domination. I would suggest that there are similar drastic phrases within the Bible that no one takes literally, such as, "And if your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; it is better for you to enter life with crippled or lame than having two hands or two feet to be cast into the eternal fire." Offhand, I don't know anyone who cut off his hand or foot because it offended him (or her).
   Some of us tend to see beyond thud-and-blunder approaches to problem-solving. (Some of us also tend to be empathetic and fair-minded, and can be gulled into supporting impractical or unworkable causes.) I think some of us were put off when President Bush announced a "war" on terrorism, visualizing the carpet bombing of Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya, and the slaughter of millions of innocent civilians, setting the stage for retaliation by the children or grandchildren of the innocent victims of such a pogrom. In the meantime, many, or most of the terrorists would have slipped the hounds, and would be plotting their next depredations. But at least so far, good judgment seems to have prevailed in Washington.
    There is a tendency for some of us to see the motes in our own eye while remaining blind to the beam in our neighbor's eye. Some of us have been concerned about what the U. S. may have done to warrant suicide raids on our tallest towers. But no matter how upset you and I were, we wouldn't have done what these terrorists did. And beyond these Muslim terrorists lies a potential army of other terrorists with other "causes". What we need to accomplish is to discredit terrorism as a means to an end.
    Not even the most liberal of liberals would argue that a positive end, such as improving the lot of Palestinians, justifies any means, such as the mass murder of civilians in other countries.
    The "war" on terrorism has only just begun, and I can now feel as supportive of our cause as I could about overthrowing Hitler.