One of the more important pieces of technology in Placeholder is the Lévi–Yang Field Generator. In practice, it is similar in purpose and function to the Stasis or Hypersleep pods that commonly appear in science fiction; only, I took the time to think of how a piece of technology like that might actually be possible. It’s not enough to say ‘it freezes time’, or as in the pilot episode of Red Dwarf, Todhunter puts it:
The stasis room creates a static field of time. See, just as X-rays can’t pass through lead, time cannot penetrate a stasis field. So, although you exist, you no longer exist in time, and for you time itself does not exist. You see, although you’re still a mass, you are no longer an event in space-time, you are a non-event mass with a quantum probability of zero.
— Red Dwarf, Ep. 1.01 “The End”
Funny? Yes. But effectively (and purposely) meaningless. Red Dwarf can get away with it because it’s a parodic sci-fi comedy, but since I was going for Hard Sci-Fi, I felt I had a responsibility not to shrug it off.
An interesting area of research in theoretical physics has been the quantization of time. There are two fundamental quanta of temporal units, the Planck Time, and the Chronon. Whichever you decide to focus on, you have to quantize time to be able to freeze it. As interesting as the Chronon is, its properties are system-dependent, whereas the unit of Planck time is an indivisible absolute, much like the speed of light in a vacuum.
I decided to work exclusively with Planck time in Placeholder. Chronons, if they can be said to exist, are never absolutes and are a tricky thing to work with. And because they are system dependent, I felt that they could only be plausibly manipulated to slow down time, create highly localized time dilation effects, things like that. To stop time dead in its tracks by means of a so-called ‘stasis field,’ you need an absolute, an indivisible quantum of time, a true universal temporal constant that is stable in and across all reference frames, just like the speed of light in a vacuum.
As it turned out, I made the right choice, because I discovered later that Planck-time was essential to several of the systems I had designed, especially when it came to their interaction.
(Spoiler Alert! The rest of this post discusses technical details of Placeholder’s plot and primary characters.)
The Lévi–Yang Field:
I named my version of the ‘stasis field’ after two of the important researchers behind the development of quantized time, Robert Lévi and C. N. Yang. They have both made numerous and massive contributions to theoretical and quantum physics, and have already had some physical effects named after them (albeit separately with other researchers), so it seemed appropriate. And for those of you who don’t know, newly discovered effects and phenomenon in physics are often named after researchers who laid the groundwork for their understanding—just like Hawking Radiation, Minkowski Space, Calabi—Yau manifolds, and Yang–Mills theory—and that is the proper convention for their naming. You can refer to the Lévi—Yang Field as a type of ‘stasis,’ but a physicist would refer to it by the names of the researchers behind its development. And since Konrad Schreiber is a physicist, I had him stick to the convention rigidly, even where a layman would never find a technical term to be appropriate. Some readers may find this obnoxious, but I have a responsibility to maintain the integrity and consistency of my characters.
The principle behind the Lévi—Yang Field is simple enough; the quantization of time reveals time to be a property of matter, no different in principle than the spin or charge of a particle. This is true for both the Planck time and Chronon models, but with the Chronon that additionally implies quantum-scale relativity. As a property of matter, time has to exist, and also has to move in a certain direction, which is an interesting quantum justification for causality and also the primary reason I had Konrad firmly denounce the possibility of time travel. So time has to move forward, no matter what, but if time is quantized it can also be manipulated, to a point—the Chronon shows us that time can even be relative on the quantum scale, and the Chronon can be used to effect large scale highly localized time dilation. But you don’t necessarily need to consider the Chronon, since time is a property of matter anyway. So remove the Chronon from the equation, consider its area of effect limited to the individual particle under consideration, and focus on the absolute of Planck time. If you can detect the temporal property of matter, then you can effect a change upon that value, even if only by means of the observer effect—you then need to establish a system of effecting specific change on the temporal value, which is a little more tricky. With nothing other than the observer effect, you need to work with probability theory, and detect the specified property a specified way to maximize the probability of the desired effect. But just as a particle’s charge can be changed, I expect that the temporal property of matter could also be changed by more direct means. And that is the Lévi–Yang field: an artificially generated abstraction of virtual temporal particles used to nullify the temporal state of all enclosed matter.
As I said, the quantization of time demands that time moves forward anyway. Set the temporal state of matter to zero, and a single unit of Planck-time will pass for that matter anyway. Thanks to the discoveries made by research into Chronons, we know that relativity holds on the quantum scale, but normally the effects are so minute that they go unnoticed. But with a large scale device that can generate something like the Lévi–Yang field, so long as the field is active, the passing of time for the reference frame within the field is the absolute lower limit—just the one unit of Planck time. And this effect is of extreme importance to how the Lévi–Yang field interacts with the MRD and the Quantum Core required to control it. They all work together seamlessly, but only because of Planck-time.
The Lévi–Yang field and the MRD:
I state specifically in Placeholder that the MRD is only capable of functioning when paired with a Lévi–Yang field generator. And this is fairly important to the story, because as I stated above, it relies on the absolute of Planck time, which in turn forces time to always move forwards, despite the seeming flexibility that one might expect from time being a property of matter that can be rewritten. Not knowing this is what led Admiral Hupé and his team of physicists at SOLCOM to erroneously believe that the MRD could double as a time machine. Whether or not Konrad knew that at the time of the conversation with the Admiral is left to speculation; the issue is only addressed in retrospect, while Konrad is in the midst of retconning his own life as a part of his psychological breakdown.
I mentioned the basic functioning of the MRD in my previous post on The Science of Placeholder; but I didn’t get into how the MRD and Lévi–Yang field work together. In Placeholder, Konrad Schreiber gives a very thorough description in his journal app on his antique HalderTech datapad of how the system is supposed to function, so I will quote it here and elaborate as necessary:
As little an impression as the first REZSEQ made on my conscious mind, the second was all the stronger; if for nothing else, certainly because of the shock. The initial excitement had passed, so I was free to analyze my sensations of the experience more closely. I have to confess though, I still do not understand why I perceived the second jump so differently from the first, why I experienced it at all; I understand the physics of the membrane resonation sequence, I understand what the MRD is doing inside itself and to spacetime, and I understand how it is even possible when you look at all the steps to the sequence in order—because without a quantum computer core, the process is in fact impossible. Not because of the processing requirements of the resonation equations—any optical supercomputer tower could calculate those within a reasonable amount of time. Not because the format of data is any different when output from a quantum or optical core—both can output in binary, ternary, senary, octal, decimal, hexadecimal, sexagesimal, or whatever other radix may be preferred. And certainly not because of the more commonly known additional features of a quantum core—as interesting a feature as quantum information sharing may be, its useful functioning is regulated to a single subsystem within the core, and has no bearing here. The key factor that makes quantum computer cores essential to the resonation sequence is that the processing is time-independent; no matter how complex a program you feed into a quantum processor, the output is always returned within one measure of Planck-time. Anything less than one unit of Planck time is effectively instantaneous, because that one unit is the absolute lowest measure of time, and is indivisible. As such the MRD is able to receive its instructions prior to enclosing the entire ship in a Lévi-Yang field that temporarily nullifies the temporal state of all enclosed matter (MRD and Quantum core inclusive), because the effect of the Lévi-Yang field from an external perspective is measured in whole units of Planck-time only. Interestingly enough, when the generator of a Lévi-Yang field is itself enclosed within the generated field, the maximum and minimum duration of its persistence are reduced to 1 measure, so the complete REZSEQ is actually performed within one single measure of Planck-time.
The steps of the REZSEQ are as follows—this breakdown is essential for comparison to my personal experience of the sequence, which, I might say again, should have been impossible. First, the completed program is executed from the drive terminal on the Flight deck; it is the only terminal on the entire ship outfitted with a quantum interface, and as such the program is executed simultaneously within the quantum core itself, where the instructions actually mean something. Second, since the MRD also contains a quantum interface for direct input from the core, the complete program output is fed directly to the drive during the same instant that it is executed on the Flight deck drive terminal. Third, having received the complete set of instructions from the Quantum core, the MRD initiates the Lévi-Yang field generator to temporally isolate the desired mass, in our case the entire ship and all of its contents, using the gravitational impact on spacetime as the defining markers. At the same time it resonates that entire temporally-suspended mass as if it was a single fundamental particle, just an extremely complex p-brane collapsed in on itself a trillion times over; this resonation creates an p-dimensional spatial potential vector, with a modulated frequency that defines all the matter within it. Fourth, this spatial potential vector is forced (by the universe, actually) to collapse in on itself into a virtual singularity, while it maintains the same internal complexity; this energizes the resonated mass sufficiently to merge two disparate points in spacetime, the specific terminus point a function of the collapse—for the duration of the single measure of Planck time, the same mass could be said to exist simultaneously at both points in spacetime, but because the collapse has forced them to coexist as one point, there is no actual duplication of matter. Fifth, when the single measure of Planck-time is completed, the merged points become unstable and separate; since the resonated mass is technically in both places, but in actuality still at the origin point, the universe in an attempt at self-correction forces the resonated mass to take the empty terminus coordinates, because it thinks that the origin point is occupied by something else. If the MRD cannot resolve the terminus coordinates, then the resonated mass is rejected and returns to the origin coordinates anyway. Either way, the mass is simultaneously released from the Lévi-Yang field and returned to its proper spatial definition, or ‘size’. So being that, technically speaking, the first and last events of the entire sequence are the activation and deactivation of a temporal nullification field, there should be absolutely no way for a human being to perceive an interval between the origin and terminus of a REZSEQ—time dilation or otherwise. You should not even have the time for the neurons to fire for a blink before ending up where you want to go.
— Placeholder, §§ X-A.2-03 (pg. 79–80)
First of all, ‘REZSEQ’ is just the acronym used by the crew instead of saying ‘membrane resonation sequence’ or the less accurate but more known term ‘jump.’ Within the text of Placeholder, you’ll notice that Konrad uses it both as a a noun and a verb.
You’ll notice that he specifically identifies the Lévi–Yang field as the most important aspect of the REZSEQ; it is activated first, simultaneously with the execute command from his computer terminal on the Flight deck, and the entire sequence takes place within the field and only takes one measure of Planck-time to complete. It is as instantaneous as is possible for a change to take place in the universe, besides the simultaneity of quantum information sharing (but any physical change of state or location requires a time interval, without exception). You’ll also notice that simultaneity is an important function of the Quantum core necessary for controlling the MRD, but I’ll deal with that in its own post.
Other than that, I think the REZSEQ speaks for itself; but it is worth noting in conclusion the rationale for enclosing the system within a Lévi–Yang field in the first place. You might wonder, why not skip that step and just resonate the mass? The gravitational effect of a given mass on spacetime is enough to calculate the resonation equation itself, so why freeze the mass in time before virtualization of the macroscopic mass into a point-particle? The answer is actually surprising. If the mass isn’t frozen in time, the amount of time it takes to scan the ship and build a model of it for the actual resonation sequence, albeit negligible to everyday human perception, is not quite negligible enough to prevent temporal disparity upon reintegration. To a truly stable system, such as a homogenous solid inanimate spherical object at rest in a vacuum, that might not even matter, because the mass is isolated, stable, and undergoing no change in state or position; but for a ship traveling at high velocities through space, and for the people within it who have a billion different chemical and biological processes going on within their bodies at any given moment, the result would be catastrophic. Whatever final state the resonated mass reintegrated as, without the use of a Lévi–Yang field to focus the resonation into a single unit of Planck time, the result would not match the original mass. But it can be safely assumed that the results would be catastrophic.
That’s it for now. In my next post, I will address the discovery of the graviton in the SPQS Universe, its relation to the Higg’s boson, and other means of achieving ‘artificial gravity’ in a space ship.
— the Phoeron