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Sunday, January 03, 2010

Infinite Improbability

I am a big fan of Douglas Adams.  He's the guy that wrote Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.  For those of you who don't know the story, it is, among other things, a story about a guy named Zaphod Beeblebrox, who steels a spaceship with an Infinite Improbability drive.  Adams wrote some very funny material, but what is little known is his fascination with science.  It turns out that some of his silly ideas may not be so silly after all (or maybe they are).

The drive system in question took advantage of an element of quantum mechanics known as the Uncertainty Principle.  In essence, this principle postulates that at any given point in time and space, a particle may or may not exist.  Further, our observation of the particle has an influence on this outcome.  This seems to create a paradox because without observing something, we can't really know whether it exists or not.  Apparently, our universe has a sense of humor, too.

But, what if this is just another puzzle to be solved by our meager brains?  Maybe we just aren't smart enough yet to overcome this little conundrum.  Assuming our species survives long enough, we just might figure this one out.  If we do, we could unlock a universe of unlimited possibilities.  Think of it -- if we harness the power of improbable events, we could bring about scenarios that are "almost" impossible, but not completely impossible.

The infinite improbability drive essentially passed through every point in the universe, which allowed the ship's computer to identify the desired destination coordinates and stop the process there.  I know, it sounds silly (which is why Adams was such a genius), but it is "possible."  How about an infinite improbability replicator?  You just tell the replicator what you want and it just cycles through an infinite number of permutations and finishes on the one you wanted.

I know, I know -- if it's infinite, how can you cycle through all of them?  Details, details.  We need to leave these issues to our great great great great grand children.  They'll be much smarter than us.

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