WP7: Quantum: Emergent time scale and temporal arrangements

WP7 Leader: Bodhisattva Chattopadhyay

In terms of a real-time engagement with the present, WP7 deals with the emergent paradigm that we have identified as “quantum”, including quantum mechanics and quantum information theory, “the most seminal change in viewpoint since the early Greeks gave up mythology.” (Lederman 2011: 33). The product of different fields originating in particle physics in the early 20th century, the quantum is now entering into a phase that is being designated the “second quantum revolution” (Jason Palmer in The Economist, 11 March 2017), where the effects of quantum as a theoretical model are entering into new technological ways of processing nature and dealing with data, such as different kinds of measuring in everyday gps tracking, time tracking, climate science research, cryptography, and the radical epistemological propositions of the multiverse emerging from practical advances in quantum computing (Barad 2007; Deutsch 2011; O’Brien 2016). While natural history after natural history has introduced the idea of scale for inscribing information flow between the human and the non-human worlds, the emergent paradigm of quantum both subsumes and supercedes the question of scale, by reframing historical questions from reality as something that exists to reality as everything that exists and could possibly exist, but which is in permanent state of possibility and flux (Deutsch 2011). Studying this emergent structure is crucial to a project on time in the present, because “time” is itself the first quantum concept: it divides an apparent continuity (the flow of time) into discrete moments. This WP will be in two parts.

1) The first part will deal with the possibilities offered by quantum theory within the discipline of history, both for the practice of history and the writing of it. The WP will explore the larger history of multiple possible worlds (a discussion in which humanities, social sciences, natural sciences and philosophy are already closely interlinked) and their implications for a new model of time, working through its Enlightenment models in Gottfried Leibniz’s theory of time to its present constitutions through the different “Arrow of time” models, the work of Gilles Deleuze, up to the unified model of “constructor theory” proposed by David Deutsch and Chiara Marletto (Deutsch and Marletto 2014). This WP will focus on the entanglement between new technologies in the humanities for analysing historical data at an unprecedented scale (referred to as big data), technologies of measuring and sensing in complex systems (in climate science research; cf. O’Brien 2016), and technologies for creating and processing meaning information out of data (in the field of quantum computing).

2) The second part of the WP deals with another field where quantum has found a home: the field of allohistories and “quantum-fiction” within science fiction. While future histories posit the existence of different possible futures based on the directionality of the present, allohistories, which are also often time travel narratives, posit the whole temporal order and any history or reality dependent on it as permanently in flux, a set of infinite possibles (cf. Nahin 1999; Nahin 2016). Within this construct, time is neither linear nor does it flow in one direction: it is possible to move within time to produce different versions of reality, and it is even possible for these realities to intersect, and conflict with each other. In science fiction, times are held together in “jonbar point”, the point at which small actions split the universe, reality, and future into divergent paths (Westfahl et al, 2002). While a lot of these narratives deal with the effects of quantum by presenting the “multiverse” as an entry point into the “what-ifs,” changing elements of past history to explore alternate possible presents (alternate histories), their real contribution is to offer an expansion in the range of possibles that circumscribe reality.