Placeholder, SPQS Universe

Psychoanalysis of Konrad Schreiber

Konrad Schreiber is an incredibly complex character, hence why it took me so long to create him. That being said, certain aspects of him were obvious to me from the very beginning: I knew he would have to be a quantum programmer, I knew he would have to become a killer, and I knew he would have to be a schizophrenic. Everything else evolved over time.

Somewhere along the way, I decided it would be better if he didn’t simply snap out of nowhere from a single trauma and become a schizophrenic overnight—sure, there are a few legitimate cases of paranoid schizophrenia which were trauma-induced, but normally trauma-spectrum disorders are separate from schizophrenia-spectrum disorders—so I thought, what if he developed it along the way, and it was simply exacerbated by a traumatic event?

I started doing some digging on schizophrenia-spectrum disorders, and made some interesting discoveries. If you have an appreciation for psychology, I think you’ll enjoy what I found and how I implemented it into his character.

 

(Spoiler Alert! The rest of this post discusses technical details of Placeholder’s plot and primary characters.)

Konrad Schreiber’s psychological state before Operation Storm Cloud:

These days, if you have an indicator of poor health or mental illness, you don’t stand a chance of getting into the military or a space agency. In the SPQS Universe, it’s the same, only much stricter—if you have even the slightest whiff of abnormality about you, your gene pool will be carefully bred out. And even though the SPQS is a social climate of total observation, everyone who’s taken first year psychology knows that most mental illnesses (the way we currently classify them) don’t show up until late adolescence and early adulthood. Now, the SPQS starts the recruitment process for the Armed Forces as early as they can, at twelve years of age—as far as IQs and aptitudes and personalities are concerned, everything you need to know about an individual has already developed by that age. Whatever they may experience later in life, whatever they may turn into as adults, it will most likely be an extension of the person they decided they wanted to become then (the funny thing is that most people don’t realize that their so-called talents and natural abilities are usually a product of conscious choice; they decided that something interested them, and applied themselves to it enough to find some pride or personal satisfaction from doing it—alternatively, some people are fine with and gain enough personal satisfaction from applied disciplines that their parents forced them into as children, but that’s rarer… most people, even as children, are determined to find their own way through life).

So that’s fine—the SPQS organizes society into a rigid class system based on individual potential, insofar as that individual potential is useful to them: there are civilians and the armed forces. Basically, anybody of real use is automatically recruited for training in the SFAF, but there’s a class-system within the SFAF too—it pretends to be a meritocracy, and on very rare occasion a big spectacle is made out of ‘exceptional individuals’ from ‘humble backgrounds’ for the purpose of propaganda, but normally, you’re stuck in the rank class you’re first assigned to. This is especially true for the civilian class.

Civilians are basically treated as peasants. Right from the outset, they are denied an education beyond elementary school—they are sent to a trade-school instead of high-school, but their courses are short and entirely applied. They are allowed to engage in small business ventures when it doesn’t interfere with their state-appointed job after trade-school, but the economy of the SPQS is ultimately transnationalist; private business ventures are kept small and uncompetitive, corporations don’t exist, and no individual civilian actually owns their own property. The civilian governments are limited to the production and distribution of goods under the auspices of some figurehead that represents the national identity—but they have no real control, no real political value. But they do feed the people, so obviously they have a valid economic value.

The military seems more fair at the outset. Most recruits will enlist as Privates and have the potential to work up to Chief Petty Officers if they have the ability and skill to handle such a task. Some recruits may qualify for an instant promotion if they do well enough in Basic, and show a finesse for military protocol and leadership (inasmuch as leadership means obeying orders without question and convincing a group of people who have a lot more to lose than you do that the orders are worth following, even when obviously dangerous). Those who qualify for Officer candidacy have other perks. They get to go to university, but get a much better education at the military Academies (the SPQS’ equivalent of high-school) to begin with, better than the Enlisted ranks, anyway. So that means the entire intelligentsia of the human population is entirely contained within the SFAF, and all knowledge taught by the universities is classified material—in other words, even as an Officer, you only have the right to know what you need to know for your assigned role in the Armed Forces.

The Officer class is further divided into Junior and Senior (or Commanding) Officers. Being promoted from Junior to Senior Officer is much more common than other promotions within the SFAF. Basically, nobody is initially assigned to be a Senior Officer; if the SFAF thinks you have the potential, they will make you a Lieutenant first and see how you fare with a bit of power. If you abuse it or let it get to your head, well then that’s as far as you can go. You’ll never get any real power because you can’t handle it (according to their standards).

There are then the Fleet Officers, the Admiralty. The Officers are led to believe that you have to prove yourself as a Senior Officer to be promoted to the Admiralty (as it is now), but in actuality the Admiralty is chosen on political grounds and usually are directly recruited from the universities. They may be given a few initial assignments, to infiltrate the Junior Officer ranks to get field-ready, but they are already far higher up the social ladder than Officers. They are also the real politicians. Most of the Admiralty operates out of SOLCOM HQ, which is located in Antarctica.

And then there’s Ordo A.R.S. To be initiated into the Ordo, you have to become a General. They do recruit from amongst the Senior Officers, but they usually have their candidates in mind from a very early age. The only reason they wait in the shadows, watching, is to test their candidates to see if they live up to their exceptional potential. For example, it’s suggested in Placeholder that Konrad Schreiber may have been a candidate for Ordo A.R.S., but he did something in grad school that made the Ordo change their minds and put him on Operation Storm Cloud instead. He doesn’t know this—he thinks that it was his little stunt, aka ‘the Alpha Centauri’ incident, that cost him his promotion and his future, but in actuality it was something much earlier, a trivial little thing that he just glossed over in his autobiography. But to the Ordo it wasn’t trivial. It was enough for them to write him off completely and stick him on a suicide mission. Go ahead and try to find it. 😉

So then, Konrad Schreiber was obviously sane and healthy enough to pass all the way to Officer Cadet without raising any flags; as with all Officer Cadets, he was trained as an astronaut too, which means he also passed the psychological assessments that approved him for duty in confined spaces and extreme environments for extended periods of time. He was, so far as SOLCOM was able to determine, completely fit for duty as an Officer, posing no risk to the command structure or to the success of the mission. His personality was also compatible with the rest of the crew of the SFS Fulgora, so there was no reason to assume that he, or any of the other crew, would endanger the mission. And yet, he wound up killing them all and hijacking the ship, so obviously SOLCOM missed something.

 

Konrad Schreiber’s first diagnosis:

After the so-called Alpha Centauri incident, where Konrad got a little too excited by the power of the MRD and programmed a REZSEQ that he thought would bring the ship into a distant orbit around the Andromeda Galaxy, SOLCOM had him carefully reassessed by the onboard physician and psychologist, his friend Dr Hannah Kaplan.

You might want to stop me here and say, “What the hell? Hannah and Konrad weren’t friends, he hated her.” Sure, you may be right when you’re talking about the time-frame of the narrative. He’s writing his journal entries retrospectively, since he felt unable to write down his true thoughts and feelings about the early years of the mission when the SFS Fulgora still had its crew (even when his thoughts and feelings were innocent enough to be ignored). But you’ll notice that he often depicts Hannah in a variety of ways. Sometimes he talks about her quite fondly, sometimes objectively as if she’s just an object and not a person, and sometimes he presents her as the bane of his life. The fact is, from an objective third person perspective presented simultaneously with the events being depicted and not as retrospect, Konrad was quite fond of Hannah in the beginning, slowly began to dislike her, and then was hit by a sudden and unforgivable betrayal—and I shouldn’t have to point this out, but I will anyway for the sake of completeness, you can’t be betrayed by someone you don’t trust, don’t like, don’t care about and consider a close friend. You can really only be betrayed to the degree that Konrad felt betrayed by your closest friends and confidants.

Now, as the ship’s medical officer, Hannah was in a unique position of trust. But it wasn’t always that way. Hannah and Konrad came through the selection process for Operation Storm Cloud together (unlike the Captain, his wife, and Major Jeanville, who were pre-selected specifically for the mission and also an integral part of the mission planning and selection process), so initially they were on equal footing. He even mentions in his journal how much she stood out to him right from the get-go, and they clicked instantly. He even quotes some of their conversations from memory, and by his voice you can tell he got on really well with her in the beginning—they even had their own little inside jokes and ongoing private discussion topics. Had he not specifically contradicted that line of reasoning, you would normally assume that they were also close enough and friendly enough to be sleeping together. You might even say it was suspicious that they weren’t. And the really interesting thing, even once she did get chosen as Chief Medical Officer, and thus became senior in rank to Konrad, she still treated him as an equal and not a subordinate. She showed him favouritism—maybe not overt favouritism, but in the military treating a subordinate as an equal is odd enough.

She was also strangely patient with him, which suggests that she also thought of him as more than just an acquaintance. But in the end, he was unnecessarily cruel to her, which was completely and totally out of place. For what he pulled the last time they took a walk together in the North Gardens, she had every right to be mad at him, spiteful even, but you may be surprised to find that she wasn’t. She was just hurt, but not hurt enough to be cruel.

This is an important point, because it brings us back to her initial diagnosis of him immediately after the Alpha Centauri incident. Now, Konrad pulled a pretty big stunt, hijacking the ship the way he did, convincing a subordinate to obey unauthorized orders, dismissing protocol, etc., etc. SOLCOM was already convinced that he had suffered a major mental breakdown, simply from the way he had behaved towards Hannah in response to a sexual advance; so this further instance of instability merited a full investigation. As far as Konrad was concerned, he was being analyzed by Hannah; but the medical staff at SOLCOM HQ was observing the entire process, giving her suggestions and such, with the intention of coming back together at the end with their final diagnosis. She had to diagnose him with something that explained his sudden change in behaviour and disregard for rules, and couldn’t get away with a simple “it’s just mission stress” or “overexcitement.” Normal emotionally and mentally balanced individuals don’t get panic attacks, major mood swings, or sudden unstoppable compulsions to misbehave. And furthermore, it takes so much effort to fake a mental illness, most people just can’t commit to the task unless they’re desperate.

Now, a really good psychiatrist would pick up on a few of the subtler points of Konrad’s condition. The problem is that a tyrannical society actually encourages behavioural patterns eerily similar to certain symptoms of a few interesting mental illnesses (although theocracies and fundamentalist religions are the worst for that). But even though Hannah was supposed to be a pretty good doctor and psychologist, and had the benefit of working with SOLCOM’s top medical experts, she misdiagnosed him. So you’re forced to assume that she misdiagnosed him on purpose. She was hurt by him, but not spiteful, because she had accurately identified his mental illness—but if she put down his real condition in a report, that would be the end of him. So she came up with an alternate diagnosis, something that wouldn’t guarantee the end of the mission and the end of his life; and she even convinced the Medical Experts at SOLCOM HQ that their assessments were skewed because they were too far removed to see how well he functioned on a day-to-day basis. She convinced them that all he had was a minor case of borderline personality disorder, that was triggered by an unexpected separation anxiety from leaving the Solar system behind.

Now, if you’re reading Konrad’s descriptions of his own experiences, you’ll have a really hard time believing that diagnosis. But without that perspective, you could readily believe it if you ignored the subtle hints floating behind his actions as subtext. But of course, psychology depends on subtleties and nuance of behaviour. So again, a really good psychiatrist would see past what’s presented on the surface, and focus on the subtext, the context of the episodes. They would need to get to the heart of the matter before they came to any conclusion. But an academically strong psychiatrist does not mean a good one—to be good at psychology or psychiatry, you have to have insight; you have to be able to see into people no matter what mask they wear, and really understand why they are acting out or unable to control their behaviour.

 

Konrad Schreiber’s real diagnosis:

Initially this was discussed within the narrative, but it was in one of the sections that didn’t make it through the final edits. In a way, it worked out better as an implication within the narrative, instead of explicitly being said. It adds more satisfaction for the reader, who gets to try and figure out Konrad for themselves as his mind spirals into madness and oblivion. So if you do want to figure it out for yourself, you should probably stop reading here.

Let me start by pointing out certain key symptoms that Konrad had before the Alpha Centauri incident.

  • total aloofness, inability to display genuine emotion, thus forcing him to fake them to blend in
  • having to fake behaviour he sees as normal by copying others
  • overelaborate and stereotyped thinking, bizarre speech patterns, consistently tangential thought-processes and speech
  • ‘magical thinking’ (despite being a scientist)
  • tendency for social withdrawal and solo-activities
  • minor auditory hallucinations, depersonalization, derealization
  • pathological fear of sexual intimacy

These are most of the symptoms of Schizotypal Personality Disorder (although to be diagnosed Schizotypal, one must not meet the additional and/or differing criteria of Schizophrenia). Interestingly enough, Schizotypal disorder is highly co-morbid with Borderline personality disorder, so you can see how it would not have been so difficult for Hannah to prove it in her report to SOLCOM.

Some other symptoms of Schizotypal disorder, which are not specifically addressed for Konrad before the Alpha Centauri incident, but come up as a part of it and become much worse after, are:

  • Obsessive ruminations without inner resistance
  • Poor rapport with others (in particular, Konrad finds it extremely difficult to behave in accordance with Kiko’s and Maj Jeanville’s expectations)
  • Odd and eccentric behaviour or appearance (appearance is less of a concern for Konrad since the SFAF has strict guidelines about uniforms to follow)
  • Occasional transient quasi-psychotic episodes occurring without external provocation
  • Suspiciousness and paranoid ideas

There are other symptoms to Schizotypal disorder which can manifest, but don’t in Konrad.

So Konrad starts out with Schizotypal Personality Disorder, but the initial symptoms don’t stop him from being highly functional and actually add to his apparent strength as an officer, until he feels cornered by a sexual advance from Hannah and panics. He brushes it off as a panic attack, but strictly speaking it was a triggered schizotypal depersonalization episode. When Hannah doesn’t give up on him, but tries to make him more comfortable, he instead feels more threatened. This starts his paranoia about Hannah, making him believe the delusion that she is being malevolent to him when in fact she is simply attempting to express her affection, and going about it in the best way she knows—slowly and carefully. After her last attempt, Konrad is triggered into a pretty wild demonization of Hannah, and accuses her of all sorts of negative properties and intent. And despite this, she still tries to do him a favour by limiting his diagnosis to the absolute minimum believable condition—one that doesn’t require medication, and won’t necessarily interfere with the mission.

But his paranoid delusions take over, and he gets inquisitive. His minor episode of impulsive nonconformity turns into a habit, and he starts using the skills he already knows well to break through various security measures in place on the SFS Fulgora. Naturally, because of his paranoia, anything he found would confirm his delusions, even if it specifically denied them—but Hannah’s report was middle-ground. It did state that he had been diagnosed with a mental illness, and was therefore unsuitable for promotion; but even though Hannah should have either had the mission cancelled or Konrad euthanized (according to mission regulations enforced by SOLCOM), she actually managed to convince them that what he had was no big deal.

Now this is really funny, because if she had given him a diagnosis, she would have told him about it to his face. But when he found the report, he acted as if it was some big surprise. So what did Hannah tell him? She would have had to have told him something, because SOLCOM was watching—but she may very well have been extra careful in her wording, because she herself didn’t want Konrad to think that she herself believed in the report she was forced to submit; she couldn’t say what she actually knew either, because then SOLCOM would know she filed a false report. What was she to do?

 

The Evolution of Konrad Schreiber’s Mental Illness:

By the time Konrad gets back to the SFS Fulgora, you really have to ask yourself if he’s really just Schizotypal. The fact is, by that point in the story he isn’t. He’s already transitioned entirely to Paranoid Schizophrenia. Now, the transition to Schizophrenia is a feature of Schizotypal disorder, but it can’t be said to happen all at once. Certain factors can contribute to the transition process speeding up, but it still happens over time, a bit here, a bit there, until the transition can be said to be complete.

I leave little nuggets throughout the narrative, showing the process of transition. One of the most obvious things is when he becomes sexually attracted to Nadya, a feeling he is very much not used to. He also has no trouble becoming intimate with her, even though otherwise you can tell he is still emotionless. Then of course there are his actual killings. At first they are carefully plotted and methodical, as if he couldn’t stop obsessing over the plots until they measured up to his unreasonable standard of perfection. But after the first two killings, he allows his plans to be interrupted, sidetracked, derailed, and even starts to improvise. By the time he gets to the Sergeant, you have to wonder where his obsessions went. And after that, it’s total mayhem. He was obviously having psychotic fits for the rest of them, because he can’t even (or maybe chooses not to) remember how they actually happened.

There are actually many instances of him rewriting his own memory. But you have to wonder if he did it intentionally or if it’s a symptom of his illness. That’s a funny feature of schizophrenia; you can’t really call it memory loss, because there are memories, but they aren’t memories of what actually happened. They are modified, purged of the distasteful psychotic behaviour, and ultimately made to conform with the schizophrenic’s limited sense of rational, appropriate behaviour.

And then of course there’s his number of growing hallucinations, delusions, and delirium. He has several complete breakdowns and goes on an adventure to a non-existent and fairly childish planet; not only does that all-encompassing hallucination represent delusional thinking, but it also contains a reversion to his childhood personality, spattered with random fluff mixed in his unconscious mind.

Finally, you can no longer doubt the transition is complete when after completing his retconned autobiography, he starts interacting with a particularly malevolent demonic alter-ego that takes the form of the Norse god Loki. Loki first appears to him as a hallucination of Hannah, just to spite himself. But there are a few other forms that his alter-ego takes before coalescing into a singular Alter.

His state of mind is ultimately captured by the Placeholder Theory. As I said at length in my post yesterday, The Science of Placeholder Pt.9, the whole pseudo-theory is a (purposeful) mess, something that you would expect from a Schizophrenic, yet nevertheless strangely seductive in its presentation. And he caps it all off with the ultimate delusion, thinking that he can find eternal life through suicide (schizophrenics don’t usually kill themselves unless it will feed into their delusions).

 

That about covers the most important points of Konrad Schreiber’s mental condition. If you want to learn more about the Schizophrenia-spectrum disorders I was working with for this story, the Wikipedia articles have some interesting info and list all the main psychologists and researchers to read up on.

Schizotypy

Schizotypal personality disorder

Schizophrenia

And of course,

Borderline personality disorder (so that you can compare it for yourself against Schizotypal personality disorder to see how Hannah could have gotten away with her purposeful misdiagnosis)

— the Phoeron

Placeholder, SPQS Universe

The Science of Placeholder, Pt. 9

Along with today’s post on The Placeholder Theory, I’m happy to announce that Placeholder is now available in Ebook in all major formats (ePub, Mobi, Palm doc, Sony LRF, PDF, RTF, Plain Text, and HTML/JavaScript versions for instant online gratification), and of course, you can read a free sample of the book right there on the website (no sign-in required).  Check out my twitter feed for a limited time half-price coupon code, too.  Smashwords.com also distributes ebooks to all major vendors, so keep an eye out for it in the coming weeks on the Apple iBookstore, Amazon Kindle store, Barnes & Noble Nook store, and even from Kobo.  If you haven’t already checked it out, now’s the best time.

There isn’t much in the way of preamble when it comes to the Placeholder Theory, since its creation by Konrad Schreiber is the main point of the novel.  To understand it, you have to know the context—so pay special attention to the spoiler alert below if you haven’t had a chance to read the book yet.

The only thing I want to say up-front is this—I was seriously tempted to follow the convention of the novel and wait for “The Science of Placeholder, Pt. 11” to discuss the Placeholder Theory, but the number 11 felt overused.  Yeah, it’s an important magickal number, and it’s also highly significant in M-Theory (it’s the number of dimensions needed to unify all variations of Superstring Theory into one model).  But enough’s enough.  Enjoy the post where it is.

 

(Spoiler Alert!  The rest of this post discusses technical details of Placeholder’s plot and primary characters.)

The Placeholder Theory:

While Konrad set out to unify physics and mysticism under one simultaneously qualitative and quantitative system, I just want to say up-front that I’m fully aware that the very idea is a fallacy.  And even Konrad, in his own special way, acknowledges this with the BS equation that caps the “theory” off.  An actual scientific theory, to be accepted as a theory and not simply random speculation, has to be entirely quantitative, and most importantly, your results have to be reproducible.  As soon as you start talking about ‘qualitative theories,’ you’re entering the world of (bad) philosophy and metaphysics.

So clearly, there are a few problems right away with “the Placeholder Theory.”  Konrad identified his 11 postulates as a theory without having it peer-reviewed or reproduced: problem.  No matter how complex the math, when you start using quantitative reasoning to represent qualitative ideas, you are spinning up a monstrous effrontery to the scientific method: problem.  When you have to purposely misuse said quantitative reasoning to make your qualitative ideas fit into a pseudo-mathematical model, then you are also insulting the very foundation of logic: problem.  If you feel that you have to force your qualitative ideas into said pseudo-mathematical model to make the premises seem rational and logically derived, there is obviously something wrong with those premises to begin with: problem.  Lastly, if you come up with your premises by way of random ‘inspiration,’ and stick to them blindly even when what little experimental data you do manage to drag up obviously contradicts them, then you’re not a scientist, you’re a fraud: big BIG problem.  And yes, Konrad is guilty of them all.

This is extremely important to remember: I did this all on purpose, to illustrate some interesting points about human nature, as well as to drive home just how far Konrad fell from genius and sanity (but the specific psychoanalysis of Konrad Schreiber will be detailed in its own post).  And yeah, there’s a deeper mystical message in there too: keep science and philosophy separate, don’t try to find meaning in the Universe, just accept it for what it is, for what you can explicitly measure; but most interesting is the idea within the converse—turn that perspective on yourself.  Don’t think you can escape the Void by turning your back on it, like Konrad, because it will always catch up with you.

There are some other interesting sides to “The Placeholder Theory”; from the Notice at the front of the book, you may have realized that the subversive publishers of The “Placeholder” Report in my future history identify a state-sanctioned cult supposedly dedicated to the work of Konrad Schreiber, including such activities as the public worship of his image and pilgrimages to the landing site of the SFS Fulgora crew on Vega b, with the original inflatable surface habitations serving as a shrine and memorial to “the Sixteen Martyrs.”  In other words, somebody in the already corrupt and obviously evil military government decided to take the work of Konrad Schreiber and turn it into a religion.

If you’ve already read Placeholder all the way through to the end, or you’re well into Sec. X-A.2 at the least, you should have a pretty good idea at just why this is so effed up.  Konrad is first and foremost a psychopathic killer, so why would anyone sane be sick enough to base a religion on his pre-suicidal ramblings?  Well, that’s an interesting question actually, and one that happens to have consequences for religion in general.  Every once in a while, a particular psychopath and his ramblings just so happen to make enough sense to enough people to start a movement; as the murmuring whispers throughout the people, those in power often have a simple choice to make, that is an extension of the consistent dilemma of power (to try and keep it)—to suppress the movement with brute force, or to accept it in a clearly redefined form that stops it from being subversive.  It’s a numbers game, really—if the majority of any given sample population are more likely to turn against those in power in favour of the new movement, then those in power need to adopt a non-subversive version of the movement to survive and maintain their power.  But if it curries little enough favour amongst the population to safely allow them to crush it with violence, they most certainly will if they feel the ideology is dangerous to them.  Of course, both approaches come with certain dangers.  If as a person of power you too readily jump on any new movement that comes your way, then you’re perceived as a weak, floppy, weaselly, fish-handed ruler who’s trying far too hard to please the people (and by so doing, failing miserably).  And of course, if you stick too firmly to your principles when something the people feel is better comes along, you’re considered a tyrant.  Social change is inevitable, but it’s the responsibility of those in power to know when the right time for a change is, if they intend to stay in power.

A good historical example is the founding of the Roman Catholic Church (as it exists now).  It goes without saying that its origins are suspicious at best… especially how they claim a direct line of authority from a person who didn’t historically exist.  The Roman Empire was crumbling from within, riots and civil unrest were spreading throughout, the state Emperor cult was seen as a farce, and it’s very unlikely that many people still believed in the old Roman gods (although they certainly found it strange when the Christians refused to participate in public pagan festivals—they said all the same things about the early Christians that Catholics would later accuse neo-pagans and satanists of. ha!).  Politically, socially, religiously, Rome was on its knees.  And then somehow, Emperor Constantine found a solution.  He realized that Christianity—the radical Jewish sect that was spreading like wildfire throughout his Empire that happened to also be one of the main reasons for the decline of Rome, and also conveniently the very sect that he had spent most of his rule actively suppressing through the most vicious forms of persecution available—could be commandeered.  Of course, he had tried to destroy it first, as several of his Imperial predecessors, but that had proved fruitless.  The people wanted Christianity, and they were going to get it no matter what it cost.  Well, they got it alright, but not before Emperor Constantine had it thoroughly revised to acknowledge the divine authority of Rome.

Fine, that’s a gross over-simplification that certainly paid in accuracy for the sake of brevity—if you care about the details and complexities, there are many decent, unbiased presentations of the history of Catholicism (but the Wikipedia articles on Constantine I and the Catholic Church aren’t amongst them, just to warn you now).  The only point I’m making that ultimately matters is that Catholicism is a very particular kind of fraud—the same kind of fraud as the Placeholder Cult is to the writings of Konrad Schreiber.

That being said, I’m obviously drawing another parallel between the fictional Konrad Schreiber and the mythical Jesus of Nazareth—at best, they were both ‘off their meds’ and showing it.

Alright, fine, I’m inviting criticism by comparing my fictional psychopathic killer astronaut to a wandering hippie of antiquity.  Joseph Smith, jr., the so-called prophet and founder of Mormonism may be a little closer to Konrad—who knows what Joseph Smith was thinking in the early days as an illiterate, lazy, gold-digging Upstate New York farm-boy; one thing is for certain, he didn’t write the Book of Mormon by himself (but that’s a discussion for another post).  Anyway, the best examples are contemporary.  Take a look around at all the wild apocalyptic suicide cults and doomsday soothsayers.  It’s spooky how many people honestly believe the world is going to end within the next two years.  The basis for all of these ideologies are definitively on the side of delusion, yet somehow they suck people in—people who are otherwise not nearly that stupid yet nevertheless get sucked in by their need to believe in something, anything, so that they don’t have to face the one horrific truth about themselves: that in their hearts, the virtual core of their being, they are an empty and meaningless void.

 

The Void:

Other than the Placeholder Theory itself, the central running theme of Placeholder is The Void.  It is both a spatial non-dimension and a metaphor for the true nature of conscious beings like us humans—you might call it the Nihilist State, or when it is hidden behind horror and non-acceptance, an Existential Crisis.  Under the name of “ABSU,” it is also a central theme of Phoeronism (and yes, what this very blog is named after).

Now, everyone goes through an ‘existential crisis’ eventually (although many people don’t experience it at all until lying on their deathbeds, so to speak).  Typically, existential crises are used as an excuse to turn to religion by individuals who have given up all hope in themselves; they may not even be weak people, per se, but they no longer believe they can make it through life without some kind of help.  Why that help often takes the form of a religious calling is a mystery to me, but eh, “there’s no accounting for taste.”  What’s interesting to me is how few people simply accept the Void for what it is, and embrace it.  After all, what is meaning?  As I said in my post, The History of Placeholder and the SPQS Universe, the signifier and the signified are really the same thing, what we consider to be meaning and representation are arbitrary abstractions we’ve come to accept, but there is no reality to them.  Thoughts themselves are just associations—actually, “water feels wet, so anything that feels wet is like water” seems like a really simple association, right?  Well, it’s not.  Nobody even knows the exact amount of ultimately meaningless mental associations of sense and observation we had to make to even get to that simple of a conclusion.  It just keeps going and going, until ultimately, all words and thoughts are representations of all other words and thoughts.  We maintain our sanity and our ability to communicate by ignoring the infinite meaninglessness of associative understanding: we assume, incorrectly, that the core conceptualizations of our languages are ‘facts.’  The real problem comes from the misrepresentation of the word ‘facts,’ though.  In every day usage, it is equated with ‘self-apparent truth’ or ‘undeniable self-representative evidence.’  The fact of the matter is, ‘facts’ are just trivia, inconsequential pieces of information that nobody in the public forum has bothered to contradict; but that doesn’t make them true.  There’s only one ‘truth’ that everyone experiences eventually—the meaninglessness of the universe and their own existence.  Everything else is just fluff caught in the web of associations that form our perception and understanding of ourselves and the world.

Back to Placeholder—Konrad almost makes it to this realization, but doesn’t quite pull through, doesn’t really accept and embrace the Void.  You may notice, for example, his hallucination/vision of the Temple of the True Self.  If you explore that as a meditation after finishing the book, you’ll realize that Konrad got no further than the first of the eleven gates; and his last hallucination/vision before death makes you wonder if he even passed through that one.  Yet, he clearly adapted the Placeholder Theory on that vision.  He stood on the threshold, peered in, got a brief glimpse of what lay at the end, and considered that enough.  My point, therefore, is that even if the Placeholder Theory wasn’t a (purposely) fallacious jumble of psychonautics, zen buddhism, and theoretical physics, it was guaranteed to fail from the beginning, because Konrad Schreiber didn’t see the process he started through to the end.  And that’s also why humanity keeps failing, keeps getting sucked into ridiculous and delusional nonsense posing as religious truth.

I created the Placeholder Theory to be a mirror held up to the world.  It is a particular kind of fallacious jumble, designed in the same style as many other religious ideas that should make any rational person question the sanity of the creator—but you have to wonder, what will people see in it?  Will they see the world, will they see people they know?  Or will they just see the Void laughing back at them as they stop frozen in horror at the black truth of their own reflection?

Here’s hoping.

 

— the Phoeron

Placeholder, SPQS Universe

The Science of Placeholder, Pt.8

We finally arrive at quantum computer programming.  The thing you have to understand about quantum computers is that they aren’t just an improvement on technology, they are part of a whole new science of computing.  Being able to harness quantum states and systems as data and operators will allow us to accurately and precisely model all knowable aspects of quantum systems (inasmuch as ‘accurate’ and ‘precise’ serve as reliable descriptors of quantum phenomena).  And as a whole new science of computation, new low-level and high-level languages will be needed to program these quantum computers, because classical data types and operators are simply incompatible with quantum systems.  But there’s more to it than that—quantum computers also give us unique new approaches to computing that a classical system cannot even fathom.  That’s why Feynman suggested a quantum computer be built in the first place.

This topic is also an essential aspect of Placeholder, and of the story’s development, because right from the beginning I knew that Konrad would be a quantum programmer and he would need a quantum computer to program any sort of feasible ‘jump’ drive.  But he would also be able to use the quantum computer to turn the ship on his crew, which was essential to the plot right from the beginning as well.  In this post I will cover where high-level quantum computer programming stands today, but I will mostly focus on the approach I took specifically for Placeholder.

 

(Spoiler Alert!  The rest of this post discusses technical details of Placeholder’s plot and primary characters.)

Quantum Programming in the SPQS Universe:

Quantum computer programming is Konrad Schreiber’s assignment aboard the SFS Fulgora.  His task, as limited as it might seem on the outside, is to program the ship’s MRD via the Quantum core.  He has to coordinate this task carefully with the ship’s pilots and science officer, because a REZSEQ is an extremely complicated program and all the spatiotemporal variables need to be accounted for.  Of the ship itself, mass, trajectory, velocity.  Of spacetime, vector of system exit manoeuvre, relative time dilation (even if ultimately negligible), modelled warping of local spacetime due to gravity, distortion from plasma wake beyond the heliopause, and of course, all the predicted conditions at the terminus coordinates of the REZSEQ.

As the mission progresses, Konrad sets up various systems and programs to collect all this data automatically and feed it live into his REZSEQ programs.  But in order for him to have been able to accomplish that, he needed the experience of building it himself to show him what environmental data was really needed, when it was needed, and how it should be applied within the REZSEQ program.

So in this brief summary of his mission assignment, you get the impression that both quantum computers and quantum computer programming are sufficiently developed to use as tools in an applied task.  Obviously, in real life as of today, the state of quantum computer science is nowhere near that level of sophistication.  Nevertheless, there have already been several attempts made at building a high-level quantum computer programming language, and a few of those attempts have yielded excellent results, in my opinion (for whatever that’s worth).

 

Original Concepts for Quantum Computer Programming Languages:

When I first conceived of Placeholder in the spring of 2007, I initially drafted a high-level quantum computer programming language called Quantum C that was loosely derived from Objective C.  I liked how clean-cut Objective C was, especially when compared with C itself, C++, or C#.  Also, it seemed to me that the rigorous application of objects in Objective C suited the needs of quantum computer programming quite perfectly; they could be adapted into Fields and/or Systems, so that the programming of a quantum computer could remain completely in harmony with Quantum Mechanics (which is essential for some of the more advanced concepts in quantum programming).

I thought I had a winner, until I started writing code in my Quantum C for use in the novel.  It got messy fast, and I had accidentally lost the clean-cut perfection of Objective C—given more time and effort, I’m sure I could have kneaded it back to some state of orderly, presentable code, but I decided to set my language aside and research other people’s approaches to quantum programming.

That’s when I stumbled upon a very poorly written paper on QCLs and discovered that somebody else had already ‘invented’ Quantum C, and had done a worse job at implementing the idea than I had.  But the really annoying part was how they claimed trademark over the name “Quantum C”, and even several of the applied concepts that I was intending to use.  You can read the sloppy joke of a language definition here—Quantum Computers and Quantum Computer Languages: Quantum Assembly Language and Quantum C.  The PDF link at the top of the page is the paper itself.  Brace yourself, it’s truly awful.

Over time the Wikipedia article on quantum computer programming improved substantially, to include the work of real quantum computer scientists such as Bernhard Ömer and Peter Selinger.  Summaries of all the serious efforts into quantum computer programming languages are available from Simon J. Gay (University of Glasgow); the bibliography is useful, but in particular check out his article linked to in the first paragraph, Quantum Programming Languages: Survey and Bibliography (PDF).

I liked Ömer’s work the most, which you can read more about on his webpage: QCL – A Programming Language for Quantum Computers.  You’ll have to scroll down to the bottom to get at his “documentation,” ie., his masters and PhD theses.  His language is known simply as QCL (Quantum Computer Language), and allows quantum and classical operations and data-types to appear side-by-side (which is a very useful feature right now, as we continue to experiment with quantum computers, and will be even more useful when we have fully functional quantum computers working side by side with classically modelled optical computers).  QCL as it stands now appears to be procedural, however, so within Placeholder (even though it’s only ever referred to as simply ‘QCL’), Konrad Schreiber is actually using a fully object-oriented implementation of QCL, probably best called Objective QCL, or for those insistent on keeping things weird, “Flux-system QCL” (since the quantum objects are actually fields or quantum systems always in a state of flux).  The point of this system is to harness the fluctuations in quantum states, instead of trying to force a hard, definite value on them.

 

Applications of QCL Concepts in Placeholder:

Now, I make an interesting point in Placeholder in regards to the capabilities of this Flux-system QCL.  In a classical computer, data is data and operations are operations.  End of story.  You have a fixed and limited method of computation to work with, and quite frankly that seems to work out just fine.  You can approach Quantum Programming the same way, or, you can take advantage of certain unique properties of quantum computers that makes the line between data and operations a little fuzzier.  For example, a qubit can be just a 1 or a 0, but it can also be in a superposition of both values, which is something the classical bit cannot do.  And you can also treat the entangled system that is a logic gate as a type of data, while treating the qubit data as the operator that will act on the logic gate.  “But that will break the logic gate and cause unpredictable changes to the quantum system!” you might say.  Well, actually no it won’t.  As far as the quantum system is concerned, both the logic gate and the passing qubit are already both data and operator.  The outcome is probabilistically the same for both approaches.  But what that does allow you to do differently, is consider other quantum states of the qubits and logic gates within your programs, not necessarily as data or operators, but simply as what they are.  So if you start meddling with the other quantum states of your qubits, naturally, that’s going to introduce a change in the value of the state that is supposed to be measured because the probability of knowing the correct value of the qubit for the purposes of data is exponentially reduced.  If you know what you are doing, and work out the probabilities, you can introduce very specific changes to large systems completely under the radar.  And that’s exactly what Konrad does to hijack the ship, introduce major security holes, network the quantum core to all the other ship systems, and turn the ship on his crewmates.

Pretty wild, eh?  And maybe now you have a better idea of why I made the SPQS consider Quantum Computers to be more dangerous than nuclear weapons.  If you know what you’re doing, you can use a quantum computer to hijack any classical system.  And if you don’t know what you’re doing, you can completely destroy a quantum core with one errant line of code.

Lastly, it may be worth mentioning why I left out the page-long excerpts of code from Placeholder in the end.  I decided, first of all, that long excerpts of code would detract from the narrative.  Secondly, I would be opening myself up to a particularly dangerous kind of criticism by committing to a specific syntax that might very well be deprecated within the year—programming languages change and evolve as systems do, and we don’t even have a fully functional quantum computer yet.  Thirdly, as funny as it would be to include the code for a REZSEQ in a novel, the plot carried along better without the interruptions.  The occasional use of Unix-commands in-line with the narrative was enough tech-talk, and since I did go to the trouble of working out the actual quantum programs ahead of time, the summaries of them were suitably evocative.

Truth be told, I would like for a deluxe edition of Placeholder to be released, where I reintroduce everything I had to strip out to clean up the narrative (including the long redacted sections).  There were also some sketches that I didn’t have time to reproduce in illustrator—component designs, compartment plan of the ship, the map of Vega b and their camp on the surface, those kinds of things.  That would be a suitable edition to include the Flux-system QCL programs, and maybe even more details about the 11-dimensional spatiotemporal coordinate system I worked out.  I guess we’ll see.

 

I thought I would have more to say today, but that about covers it really.  And now that I’ve dealt with all the main weird scientific concepts from Placeholder, in my next post I’ll be getting to The Placeholder Theory itself.  Exciting times.

— the Phoeron

Placeholder, SPQS Universe

The Science of Placeholder, Pt.7

We’ve finally arrived at my favourite subject: computers.  Specifically, the quantum and optical computers used in the SPQS Universe.  Amusingly enough, I designed my first optical/quantum computer hybrid when I was 14 (it was the summer between grade 9 and 10, the same summer I postulated my first TOE, a hyperspace theory of quantum gravity—yeah yeah, it was hopelessly derivative and full of significant holes, but I was only a teenager and I had only just begun studying quantum mechanics and string theory.  Hyperspace seemed like a legitimate option until I realized it was the theoretical physics equivalent of the Aether).  At the time I didn’t really believe a solely quantum computer was possible, and I didn’t have much hope for any significant progress with nanocomputers either—even though around the same time I was a member of the Nanocomputer Dream Team.

Anyway, to the point.  In designing an optical/quantum computer hybrid, I sought to resolve certain issues at the time with early conceptions of quantum computers.  Definitions of Quantum data.  Quantum error correction.  Quantum logic gates.  All the things that made the dream of a quantum computer seem the stuff of technobabble.  Now, all of those issues have been resolved and my hybrid design is pretty much useless—quantum computer science has come a long way since 1996/97, and no longer needs to rely on interfaces for every different system within the quantum computer.  And most importantly, quantum processor cores are now a realistic possibility (and I’ve heard there are some working prototypes of single stage quantum logic gates, too), so the entire computing model can fully harness the principles of quantum mechanics, from processing to memory to storage.

Optical computers are really something else though.  They may not be quantum, but you can design them with quantum optics and metamaterials in mind (which is implied in the SPQS Universe).  And a lot of progress has been made in the field of optronics since ’97—we can certainly expect to have end-user optical computers before end-user quantum interfaces, decades in advance really.  Because the funny thing about quantum computers, is that everything we think we know about computer science has to be thrown out.  Quantum computers have their own logic, their own language, their own unique mechanics and conception of information.  Digital information isn’t equivalent to quantum, and won’t be transferrable in all cases.  It’s a whole new world in computing, which is scary, and one of the main reasons the field is being held back.  Optical computer science though… the hardware may be different, better, faster, more reliable, but ultimately, we can enforce the same electronic computing model onto the platform at no real (immediate) cost to us.

Of course, optronics are capable of much more sophisticated computing models, but our understanding of binary digital information is essential to maintaining functional computing as we migrate to better hardware concepts.  Later, once optical computing hardware is ‘perfected’, we can start playing with more sophisticated data models and error correction designed just for them.  I rather like a base-six data model (ie., instead of using binary code for the true computer language, you use senary), because quantum computers run optimally with a senary base code (although right now all quantum computer science is being done with binary in mind, because error correction for binary is the easiest to accomplish, and quantum states that have only two options are easiest to measure), and I think it would be useful to start migrating data to a datatype that is equally understood by quantum and optical computers (and as I already mentioned, binary information is not equivalent for quantum and electronic computers, but senary information would be equivalent across all platforms that used it as the basis of information, for several really good reasons).

So you see, optical and quantum computers can work well side-by-side, better than electronic and quantum computers can.  But it’s important to understand why you would need them to work side-by-side.  Why use optronics at all when you have ‘quantronics’?  Well, for one thing, even if you have a solely quantum computer where all data is processed and stored internally through manipulations of quantum states, you still need to build an interface that can interact with it so that a human can make any use of the data.  A quantum interface has to be sufficiently advanced to handle i/o of quantum information without itself being quantum.  An electronic quantum interface would suffice for most personal devices, but then, a quantum interface is serious overkill for your average end-user anyway.  Scientists need quantum computers, military personnel and field operatives need quantum computers, but say for example there was a quantum-based ipod.  That would be so over-the-top wasteful that you really have to laugh at it.  So for the people who legitimately need quantum computers, a quantum interface up to the tasks they have in mind is necessary.  The best candidate is an optical-based quantum interface, so that it can handle the amount of data a creative scientist can fathom.

Imagine being able to take a sample of human tissue and decode the DNA in under ten seconds, while simultaneously networking to other quantum computers and searching for a positive match through all international databases.  Imagine being able to reconstruct a complete interactive 3D model of any organism from its DNA sequence alone.  Imagine being able to take the known properties of any given planetary system and automatically generate a working gravitational model, including estimates regarding non-observable bodies.  Imagine being able to solve an n-body problem for a quantum system without generalization in as little time as it takes to read this sentence, where n is practically limitless.  Imagine being able to accurately estimate the probabilities of a given set of actions based on an individual’s known psychological profile, and then predict all their behaviour with 99% accuracy for as much as 6 months in advance.  These are just a few examples.  Quantum computers can do all these things, if they have an optical-based interface.  But if you restrict a quantum computer with an electronic interface no better than our current mobile technology, then the quantum computer will be limited to handling data on the same scale.

Of course, there is a work-around.  You can set up a program similar in concept to WolframAlpha.  A quantum core server does all the actual calculations, all the web searches, all the correlation of data.  All you put in is one simple equation, and all you get back is the result.  You could then do everything I listed in the previous paragraph, with an electronic-based quantum interface, with just one downside.  You’d only ever have access to the front-end interface, you’d never get to examine the raw data, and you’d have to rely on the accuracy of the back-end without ever being able to directly examine its work or process.  For most people, that’s just fine.  I use WolframAlpha for just about everything now, instead of Mathematica, because it replaced 90% of what I used Mathematica for.  But sometimes, you just need more.  And I’m just a hobby physicist at best, a writer of sci-fi; real scientists, universities, space agencies, law enforcement, militaries and intelligence agencies need something a little more robust than WolframAlpha can offer (although a streamlined tool that just scans someone’s DNA and returns a positive ID would be more than a little useful for law enforcement; add a back-end that reconstructs a 3d model of unknowns and is integrated with facial recognition software and you have the perfect system for catching criminals from just basic forensic evidence).

Well, that’s a little more background than I at-first intended.  Suffice it to say that quantum computers will make excellent tools, and we have yet to even fully grasp what they are capable of.  But since they require interfaces to use, we should make it our goal to perfect a computing platform that can handle quantum data.  Currently, the most feasible computing platform that can do that is optical-based.  And yeah, most of us will never need to use a quantum computer once we have optronic devices, but that may change.  Like I said, we have yet to fully grasp what a quantum computer can do, so who knows what use we might find for them?  In Placeholder, I really only scratch the surface—but I think it gives a pretty good idea of where humanity can go with them.

 

(Spoiler Alert!  The rest of this post discusses technical details of Placeholder’s plot and primary characters.)

The Basics of Optronics:

Optronics can and will entirely replace electronics; and just how not everything electronic is strictly a computer, not every optronic system will be an optical computer either.  In the SPQS Universe, electronic devices are considered ‘pre-war antiques’; as an average citizen of the SPQS, for example, if you were to pop open your ipod or radio equivalent, you wouldn’t see a circuit board and wires, you’d see an optical wafer and fibre-optic cables.  A particularly sophisticated (by our current standards) optronic system would be designed with metamaterials and quantum optics in mind, so that the fibre-optic cables and optical wafer wouldn’t have to be coated (because metamaterials can allow certain lightwaves to escape while trapping others, thus the data light remains unseen in the optical paths and cables, while additional indicator light escapes specifically to be seen), and an experienced optronics technician would know by the patterns of light whether something was wrong with the device.  You wouldn’t need to add sensors or indicator lights to the wafer, because the optical paths on the wafer would show you directly whether light pulses were passing through the correct channels and being processed correctly.  That may require slightly more background training, but ultimately, it makes the job of troubleshooting an optronic system much easier than an electronic.

But all that really isn’t enough to justify moving everything to optronic systems when it works perfectly well as an electronic device.  Sure, some manufacturers might say, “well, it’s too expensive to keep producing electronic equipment when most of our assembly line has moved to optronic systems.”  But certain manufacturers might never see the benefit of optronics over electronics unless they’re given something more compelling.  After all, it’s the big corporations who don’t see a need to change a product that keeps selling that hold back technological progress—just like the electric car, which could have gone commercial in the 70s, but still is barely commercially viable even now, thanks to the combined effort of petroleum giants and car companies that put more money into paying off lawsuits than into manufacturing.

One of the most compelling reasons to switch to optronic systems is their energy efficiency.  When self-contained, an optronic wafer that does the same job as an electronic circuit board uses less energy than the equivalent electronic system.  For commercial end-user mobile products, this is a big boon.  The same batteries we’re using now can be made to last twice as long between charges, so your ten-hour battery in your latest iphone or macbook suddenly becomes a twenty to twenty-four hour battery.  This, along with the potential for a boost to processing power for gaming and a variety of other mobile tasks which could always be improved, serves to increase the perceived product value over the competition, and thus encourages consumers to choose optronic systems over electronic.  The companies that switch to optronic systems first will definitely gain control over the markets.

Also, optronic home computers will use much less energy than electronic computers do, so consumers will notice a reduction in their domestic energy bills over the course of the year.  And offices with 50 computers or more basically always on… the drop in their energy uses will be so drastic that they’ll be able to move large amounts of capital around to other purposes, after only the first year.  For one thing, in lean years they won’t have to lay off as many employees, because their basic overhead is far less restrictive.

Optronic systems also offer some interesting possibilities for supercomputers and server rooms.  You already have improved processing power at reduced energy costs, and with the careful choice of the right metamaterials, you can reduce excess heat to negligible levels, and save even more energy normally spent on keeping supercomputers and server-rooms cool.  With less excess heat you can also pack more processing cores in the same space, so the same supercomputer tower can have two or three times as many cores.

The possibilities are endless.  The optronics revolution will be the next computing revolution, and it is entirely attainable within the next twenty years (which is something you can’t safely say for end-user quantum and nano-computers).  The only catch is whether or not the computer giants can be convinced to make the move, because optronic technology requires nano-scale engineering and robotic assembly lines.  You won’t see many garage-based optronic computer companies coming out of the woodworks until domestic robots are the norm, and sophisticated enough to replace a robotic nanoscale assembly line like Intel’s.  But in the end, that’s another compelling reason for the computing giants to jump on optronics now: they won’t have any competition for at least ten years, and thus they can control the optronics market.

And yeah, okay, metamaterials are a bit on the expensive side right now.  But the most research has gone into electromagnetic metamaterials for direct photonic manipulation, so their use in optical computers is ultimately their most natural purpose.  If metamaterials are going to be used for anything in the near future, the first choice would obviously be something that has mass-market appeal.  And other technology that relied on the same basic principles could piggyback on the success that is inherent in optical computing, creating a general environment suitable for widespread improvement of technology along optronic means.  The easiest way to get the cost of metamaterials down is therefore in their immediate use in optronics—the same assembly lines that produce optronic components could easily be converted to producing other metamaterials, since they are all made by the same process of nanoscale laser-etching and layering; because of the mass appeal inherent in optronics, thanks to its increased processing power and reduced energy requirements, we can create a metamaterial economy almost overnight; and that metamaterial economy can go on to give us the raw elements we need to start producing some seriously impressive gadgets at no more upfront expense than our current tech industry.  And most importantly, we can prepare our tech industry for adaptable (and most probably bi-pedal humanoid) multi-purpose robotics and quantum computers.

It may be slightly expensive at first, but those who do take the risk will profit more than they can even imagine.  Because optical computers and the metamaterials required to produce efficient models of them are the keys to all our future technology currently in the works.

 

The Basics of Quantum Computers:

Granted, quantum computers are more speculative than optical, but over the past few years great strides have been made, and the models have been demonstrated to be functional.  What we don’t have yet is a full quantum core, but thanks to the non-stop efforts of a few quantum computer scientists and engineers, we at least know that the effort isn’t wasted (which is a lot more than can be said for nanocomputers).  Actually, in a way you could almost say that quantum and nano-computers are related fields, only quantum computers have been demonstrated to work and nano-computers have not.  But that’s because a nano-scale molecular computer model ignores quantum phenomena, where a quantum-scale subatomic computer does not.  If nanocomputer aficionados decided to incorporate quantum chemistry into their molecular physics models, they might make a little more progress.  If nothing else, it’s an angle worth exploring.

In the meantime, while nanocomputer scientists continue to fail, quantum computer science has made some amazing strides.  One of the main problems with the field in the 90s was quantum error correction.  As many of you are surely aware, quantum states change when observed, and if you know one quantum state of a particle, you can’t know its others; or more precisely, the precision of measurement of one quantum state reduces the precision of measurement available for other quantum states at one given moment of (planck) time, and that measurement introduces a change to the whole quantum system so that you can’t just go back and measure the same particle again and get the same result for the same quantum state, or know the precise value of the other quantum states at the time of the original measurement.  A looped logic gate would demonstrate that quite aptly; it would be as if a whole new particle was passing through it each time.  Quantum error correction introduced a model that allows us to overcome that problem, though.  In measuring, the logic gate knows it is introducing a change, so the logic gate is designed with a second error correcting gate that resets the measured particle to the state it was measured at.  This is difficult and complicated even for a binary data system, where the logic gate only tests to see if the particle is charged or neutral.  Imagine testing for the flavour or colour of a quark in a senary data system.  The math gets pretty wild, let me tell you.  But at least we know that with binary qubits, quantum error correction works, and they’ve now layered the error correction processing in such a way that measurements are accurate effectively all the time.  This is a huge step forward in quantum information theory, by the way.  It’s almost unprecedented.

One of the other main problems was the very definition of quantum information.  But the model of the qubit has resolved that quite successfully.  A qubit is one unit of quantum information, just how a bit is the smallest unit of information on a traditional, classic computer.  The qubit model is “equivalent to a two-dimensional vector space over the complex numbers,” (Wikipedia.org, Qubit) which is probably a meaningless statement to most people, but to mathematicians is quite evocative.  Actually, since the preface to the Wikipedia article is so good, I feel compelled to quote it here:

Qubit

In quantum computing, a qubit (pronounced /ˈkjuːbɪt/) or quantum bit is a unit of quantum information—the quantum analogue of the classical bit—with additional dimensions associated to the quantum properties of a physical atom. The physical construction of a quantum computer is itself an arrangement of entangled[clarification needed] atoms, and the qubit represents[clarification needed] both the state memory and the state of entanglement in a system. A quantum computation is performed by initializing a system of qubits with a quantum algorithm —”initialization” here referring to some advanced physical process that puts the system into an entangled state.[citation needed]

The qubit is described by a quantum state in a two-state quantum-mechanical system, which is formally equivalent to a two-dimensional vector space over the complex numbers. One example of a two-state quantum system is the polarization of a single photon: here the two states are vertical polarisation and horizontal polarisation. In a classical system, a bit would have to be in one state or the other, but quantum mechanics allows the qubit to be in a superposition of both states at the same time, a property which is fundamental to quantum computing.

— from Wikipedia.org, Qubit

Fascinating stuff.  I urge you to at least read the complete article on Qubits.

And then of course there was the breakthrough with the quantum logic gates.  They are a system so beautifully entangled, it is as if the quantum world has been turned into art.  Seriously, I lack the words to describe how I feel when I see a quantum system like that… awe is in there, but it’s more than that.  So much more…

Anyway, back to the point.  Quantum computers have come a long way.  But there are theoretical aspects to quantum computers that have not yet been demonstrated.  One thing a lot of sci-fi authors talk about is quantum information sharing.  Since the entire universe originated with the Big Bang, and all matter and energy that makes up the universe was contained within one single indefinably small point particle, you could reasonably argue that all particles in the universe are somehow entangled.  The truth is, some particles are more entangled than others, and the readiness at which you can exploit that entanglement is limited.  Also, certain recent experiments with quantum information sharing suggest that quantum information is also limited to propagating at the speed of light in a vacuum, which creates a problem for sci-fi authors who have been relying on instantaneous quantum information sharing for their stories.  Well, I too am guilty of that potential fallacy.  The quantum cores in the SPQS Universe contain modules which specifically harness instantaneous quantum information sharing, or ‘spooky action at a distance’ as Einstein called it.  In short, the SPQS has an original quantum communication module, devised and built shortly before the mythical last war.  All new quantum communication modules are made from entangled particles passed through the original, and thus remain in constant communication with each other and the original.  This may or may not be feasible and/or realistic.  But until it’s been conclusively proven that entangled particles don’t share information instantaneously, I’m going to keep using it.  Here’s hoping I don’t get made to be a complete fool (fingers-crossed).

 

Quantum and Optical Computers in the SPQS Universe:

As I’ve already said, both Quantum and Optical computers are used side-by-side in the SPQS Universe.  To be more precise, Optical computers are the norm, but integrate well with quantum computer systems when they are needed.  Quantum computers are considered more dangerous than nuclear weapons by SOLCOM, of course, so the technology is strictly regulated, and only a handful of Quantum Computer Programmers exist.  Konrad Schreiber is one of them, and while the SFAF was willing to put up with a lot from him, they were ultimately sending him and the rest of the crew of the SFS Fulgora to their deaths.

The apparent reason for such strict regulation of quantum computers is mentioned pretty early on in Placeholder.  As a central theme to the story, it had to be addressed in the earliest convenient passage.  In summary, quantum computers were blamed for the devastating “Last War of Earth.”  Supposedly, according to the running myth that keeps the SPQS together, when Sol Invictus (the Imperial Roman version of the Sun god) returned to Earth enshrouded in the flesh of a man, humanity had just finished nuking itself half-way to oblivion.  But it all started when a certain notorious group of terrorists that we’re all-too-familiar with got their hands on a quantum interface, and used it to hack into certain superpowers’ defence mainframes, using the power of quantum computation and decryption to clone the nuclear codes and keys and launch nuclear strikes against each other to trigger World War III and ensure mutual annihilation of all the superpowers.  Pretty scary idea, but I’m sure that certain steps are already being taken to prevent that eventuality.  Obviously, the military will have functional quantum computers a long time before we do, and any sensible government with nuclear weaponry will only be too eager to start using quantum cryptography techniques to start building unbreakable lattice-based keys (and when I say unbreakable, I mean unbreakable even to other better quantum decryption programs).  So when you really look into the matter, you realize that such a story cannot possibly be true.  What then actually happened?

I don’t reveal it until the very end of the book, and it would be a shame to spoil it here, even surrounded by so many other spoilers.  The myth is interesting, and sufficiently scary to keep quantum computers under lock and key, but the truth is much worse for the characters in Placeholder.  Plus, the real situation that led to the postwar power-grab by the SPQS is the premise of at least one of the planned sequels to Placeholder, but is important enough to my future history that it rightly should be considered as a series of its own, with one of the sequels in the Placeholder series merely leading into it.

So, Optical computers are the norm in the SPQS.  The SFAF uses them for pretty much everything, and appliance-like optical computers are provided to the average citizen, although they are designed in such a way to serve an obvious purpose, and it would be near impossible for any normal end-user to access or decompile the source code, or reverse-engineer the actual device.  Imagine Apple TVs, ipods, ipads and iphones being the only computing devices, with no access to Xcode or the other Apple Developer tools.  Or, imagine OS X with no terminal access and no utilities for revealing hidden files or the like.  You’d no longer be able to benefit from the UNIX experience of real computing.  Everything would be clean-cut, user friendly, for specific approved tasks—watching or listening to media, playing games, using various simple utilities.  Sure, it would probably make for a great user experience, but at the cost of any control over your computer.  That’s something we can’t allow to happen (and the reason why I created such a situation in my future history).  But in the SPQS Universe, not just anyone can learn to be a programmer.  You have to pass the SFAF’s criteria for recruitment, and make the cut to become a programmer, before you’re even given access to source code and information on programming languages and compilers.  Of course, all Officers in the SFAF are expected to use the Unix-based terminals, but you can’t have any real fun unless you get chosen to be a programmer.

I already talked a lot about the Officer computer terminals in previous posts, so the premise should be clear enough.  The terminals are handheld portable screens that you interact with through a simple input-only neural interface.  The neural interface is itself an optronic device inserted into your frontal lobe through the temple, with the transmitter external to your skull (which is the best place for it).  It is attached to your dominant hemisphere, which for right-handed individuals is the left hemisphere of the cerebral cortex.  Konrad is left-handed though, so his is attached through his right temple.  The neural interfaces are powered by excess bioelectric energy produced naturally by the brain (although historically I expect they would have been powered by atomic batteries inserted into the external casing of the neural interface to be easily replaceable), so you’d need something as energy efficient as an optronic chip, because the brain doesn’t have much energy to spare.  The terminals themselves are linked to pretty standard wireless access points, which are in turn linked to optical cores.  The optical cores are all networked, of course, through various stages of security.  In the case of the SFS Fulgora, the central core is the Identity core, and all terminals have to go through a security check first through the ID core before they can release access to their systems, data, and local network.  Except of course for the MRD terminal, which is on a network of its own with direct access to the MRD and Quantum core.  Quantum computers can have more rigorous security than optical computers anyway, so there’s no need to feed security through the ID core first (and actually, that set-up could compromise the security of the quantum core).  The one catch is that the MRD terminal has to be released by the Captain’s terminal before it can access the Quantum core for its security check, and within the story, that extra level of protection is a serious source of frustration for Konrad (until he manages to hack and reprogram the ID core).

So yeah, the set-up can get quite complex, but for military purposes security is more important than simplicity.  And while optronic systems are more than good enough for most military personnel, a quantum core is needed to control the MRD.  And when you realize the extra fact, that quantum computers interface best with optical computers, even if the SFAF didn’t normally use optical computers, they would have had to for Operation Storm Cloud.

 

That about covers it.  I was going to get into Konrad Schreiber’s particular misuse of quantum and optical computing, but that’s best left for the next post, where I will cover Quantum Computer Programming.  It’s even more exciting than metamaterials, and there are so many different approaches being undertaken at present, that it will be worthwhile to specify just which approach I standardized as QCL for the purposes of Placeholder.

Enjoy,

— the Phoeron

Placeholder, SPQS Universe

The Science of Placeholder, Pt.6

Field-induced Molecular Reconstruction and Rearrangement.  A technology seemingly so fanciful that some might question its place in Hard Sci-Fi.  But as strange as it might be to say or conceptualize, it is a technology we can legitimately expect this century.  First, to dispel some obvious criticisms: no, I’m not talking about Star-Trek-like replicators.  The technology, if energetically feasible, will have certain inescapable limitations—and in regards to its applications for food preparation, those limitations will be in the area of preparing a very limited range of dishes, from mush to brick, with certain specific key ingredients.

More interesting is how the same basic set of principles behind field-induced molecular reconstruction and rearrangement for food production can be so readily transferred to any number of domestic tasks, all of which on Earth would normally require water.  But I’ll get into that later.

Granted, this field of research doesn’t actually exist—at least not to my knowledge—but the core ideas are already out there in physics and chemistry (and to a limited extent, already applied within chemistry without the controlling medium of a field).  They just need to be combined with applied intent.

Before I get too deep into the discussion of the science, it may be useful in this context to specify the rather small part of Placeholder that this technology is limited to.  Because it’s not something common in the SPQS Universe.  It’s a technology invented out of necessity on Mars, by Martian colonists, and for the most part stays exactly there.

 

(Spoiler Alert!  The rest of this post discusses technical details of Placeholder’s plot and primary characters.)

Konrad Schreiber’s visit to Mars:

In Placeholder, I was purposely vague about many aspects of Martian life and technology; as an outsider, a mere visiting researcher from an Earth university, Konrad was purposely left out of all the important facets of a Martian Colonist’s life.  The little he did learn about a colonist’s life on Mars was only enough for him to get by while causing as little inconvenience to the locals as possible.  And Mars being what it is, that which would strike Konrad the deepest would have to be the global water shortage.  A local may very well have a more mature perspective on their homeworld, as a human being who no longer knows or recognizes Earth as their birthplace—but that is also a perspective that is impossible for a visiting researcher to acquire during a short six-month visit, in which they spend most of their time in the lab.

Konrad barely scratched the surface of Martian life.  So in his journal, as he recollects his brief visit to the planet, he only really has the ability to discuss a handful of obvious topics.  The water shortage.  Food preparation.  Hygiene.  Sanitation.  And the apparent obsession with recycling.  He barely mentions his research, because within a lab setting, you could be anywhere if it wasn’t for the extremely expensive lab equipment that can’t travel as freely.  All he really hints at is that the Oxford/Humboldt lab at Villa Ius has equipment actually capable of verifying predictions of String Theory (or M-Theory in his case), and an impressive quantum computer.  And you’re also given to understand that the same great minds that brought the human race field-induced molecular reconstruction and rearrangement (and then kept it for themselves) also brought the human race lab equipment that could return a fundamental particle to its unbound string or p-brane state and analyze those in sufficient detail to turn the various string theories into the realm of applied physics.  Specifically, Konrad did state as much that he was able to experimentally demonstrate that his own interpretation of quantized m-theory was superior to the dominant version of relativistic m-theory.  I didn’t bother with any further detail primarily because he would take such technological abilities for granted; now, if I were to write a story about the scientists and engineers working endless days and nights trying to build a device that could experimentally validate string theory, then obviously I wouldn’t have glossed over the detailed construction of a plausible device.  But that’s not this story.  And whether you like it or not, in retrospect, Konrad cared more about the strange domestic appliances on Mars more than the lab equipment that got him one of his PhD’s and a Nobel prize (which, by the way, aren’t quite as big a deal in the SPQS Universe—kind of like how these days, a Bachelor degree is the new high-school diploma).

 

The Basics of Field-induced Molecular Reconstruction and Rearrangement:

The premise of FIMRR is simple enough at the face of it.  Instead of relying solely upon chemical reactions to effect changes between molecular constructions, you introduce a mediating field which can encourage certain chemical reactions according to the pattern of the field.  Obviously, to make sense of the ideas behind this, first-year university physics and chemistry isn’t enough—the ideas I’m working with actually come from Quantum Chemistry, Quantum Field Theory, and Molecular Physics.

You also have to consider the scale you’re working with and the complexity of the calculations involved in analyzing the source materials.  It would be easier, for example, to simply strip all the individual atoms of their electrons and reintroduce the electrons to the cation soup manually, than say, to maintain the molecular structure of proteins and other important nutrients, filter out harmful elements such as bacteria or toxins, and rearrange them into a food-paste.  Despite the complexity, the latter is what I am suggesting, at least for food preparation.  Other applications of the same technology may be much simpler to process, with their usefulness being just as restricted.  But even with the simplest of tasks imaginable with FIMRR, you would need a quantum computer; mainly because, in all quantum chemistry problems, you can only accurately calculate two-body problems.  With even just three, you start dealing with uncertainty, and then the equation becomes a matter of quantum probability.  A regular computer will get bogged down beyond belief with the probabilities involved with a ten-body problem (or better said, the complexity of the equations are exponentially increased by each additional body in the problem), so anything more complex than a 3-body problem needs to be addressed within a system that actually understands the nature of the problem.  Quantum computers are designed to specifically harness the properties of matter being explored with these sorts of problems, so calculating quantum probabilities is an inherent task best left for a quantum computer.

Complexity then becomes a non-issue, supposing anyone can figure out an algorithm that can analyze matter at the molecular level in several large masses.  Compared to the programming required for such a task, engineering a type of molecular scanner that can accurately identify every chemical element 100% of the time, and understand how the atoms are linked into molecular compounds, is surprisingly easy in comparison.  In the end, it only has to be slightly better than an electron microscope, with a wider spread to take in the entirety of a mass up to 30cm cubed.

The next question is obvious.  What sort of field can capture pretty much all molecules within a given mass, and be manipulated to filter out harmful organic and chemical compounds, while rearranging the good stuff into a homogenized paste?  Electromagnetic fields are the easiest to manipulate, but that would require ionization of all the constituent particles.  That would destroy protein chains and most other nutrients in any given foodstuff, so that’s a no go.  If gravitational fields could be manipulated to the same extent, via graviton emitters (similar to the artificially-generated true gravity mentioned in The Science of Placeholder, Pt.3), that could be a viable candidate; molecular compounds could be identified by their minute gravitational impact, and the graviton-field could be manipulated to draw away certain molecules through so-called gravity bubbles (highly localized pockets of gravity, warped to move a mass through space without interacting with the rest of space).  But that may end up being far too inefficient.  In the end, you have to face the fact that any ‘natural’ field has inescapable limitations and cannot be adapted to this purpose.

But turn your attention to Quantum Field Theory.  At the surface, it doesn’t seem to have anything to do with what I’m talking about—but the premise is an exciting one: “particles are regarded as excited states of a field (field quanta).” – Wikipedia, Quantum field theory In principle, by treating particles as fields, including complex molecules, any group of those excited states is also a field already.  So to a point, you don’t even have to think about the ‘how’.  You just need to accept that there is already a field regulating the structure of the given masses, and your task then is to impose a similar field that will cause the desired modifications.  I think the best device for accomplishing this is a hybrid of a field detector and field manipulator.  You can design the detector according to the observer effect, and thus detect the mass in such a way that the desired field generates itself (although that won’t get you your desired outcome 100% of the time), or, you can design a detector that recognizes the quantum fields as a product of its own detection, and thus imposes a new quantum state on the detected fields (yeah, a little weird to think about, but it would produce the desired effect more often than a simple observer-effect change).

So those are the basic ideas I’ve been working with.  I’m sure there are others, and when I have a need to put some further thought into the matter, I may come up with something better.

 

The “Murray Ovens” and other FIMRR technology in the SPQS Universe:

The main FIMRR tech I refer to in Placeholder is the Murray Oven.  In final presentation, it looks little different than a microwave oven, only it doesn’t really cook anything.  As described above, it uses Quantum field theory and Quantum chemistry to rearrange compounds from pre-cooked food into a homogenized, highly nutritional food paste stripped of all harmful and/or toxic compounds.  Containers for the ingredients and final product are made of the same neutral coated polymer compound that Martian clothing is made from; likewise, the inside of the Murray oven is so coated too.  The programs that operate FIMRR based equipment are designed to ignore this polymer compound, so they never get mixed in with the food, and the components of the equipment don’t get affected by the field manipulations either.

The ‘ovens’ are nicknamed “Murray Ovens” not because of any particular inventor or company that produces them; it is simply the accepted pronunciation of the acronym for “molecular rearranger” (MoRA).  Murray sounds better before ‘oven’ than Mora.  You could imagine, it might have originally been “Mora oven,” but the reduplication of the vowel in the compound was reduced to an “ee” and the long o reduced to a short u.

I mentioned that Martian clothing in the SPQS Universe is made from the same specific polymer as the food containers used in the Murray ovens.  Hence how laundry is done: instead of recombining the materials on the clothing, it simply identifies everything that is not the clothing and strips it away.  The ‘showers’ are similar too; they are programmed to recognize living human tissue and the protein chains that make up hair and leave them alone.  Dead skin, dirt, sweat, and other filth that we tend to accumulate is captured in the artificial field and whisked away the same way as the laundry appliance does.  Konrad mentions that these FIMRR-based Martian ‘showers’ didn’t leave him feeling clean, but did stop him from stinking.  This was to draw attention to how different the psychology of a people living with next to no spare water would be from us right here, right now on Earth.  We associate the damp mushiness of a long hot shower and the residual soap scum on our skin with the feeling of being clean.  But technically, a FIMRR pseudo-shower would actually make us a lot cleaner.  It would strip off all our dead skin, remove any dirt or bacteria from our bodies, and leave nothing but our natural organism intact.  You could probably even find a way to manipulate such a technology for the purposes of controlled depilation (removing specific patches of hair); in other words, get the effect of a perfect shave without any razor burn, or a wax without any nasty ripping.  But back to the point.  We associate very specific sensations with cleanliness.  A Martian colonist who’s never had the luxury of wasting water on a shower or bath wouldn’t know the feeling of water-saturated skin or residual soap-scum.  Their sensation of cleanliness would be more subtle; a sudden destruction and removal of all actual filth and dead skin.

In Placeholder, Konrad also mentions the sanitation technicians that protect the secrets of their trade with all the force allowed them.  Since there is no water to waste, and no liquid-based household chemicals that are suitable to the task on their own without dilution in water, cleaning your apartment is a task that requires specialist equipment.  The economy on Mars thus evolved around the task of sanitation, and the only task expected of an average Martian resident is spraying down their toilets to keep the bacteria at bay in an entirely closed environment (also mentioned in Placeholder, there are two types of toilets on Mars, one for solids only, and one for liquids.  The liquid waste is filtered and recycled as drinking water, the solid waste is incinerated and recycled for use in construction).  Thus, whether you want them to or not, the Martian Sanitation Technicians visit your place once a week, and make you leave your apartment while they do their work.  The cost is automatically deducted from your pay when stationed on Mars, much as taxes or room and board.  You can assume that the technology they use is FIMRR based, but the tools are a little more specialized and designed to require special training to use.  So there you have it—Mars in the SPQS Universe has a culture and economy where Janitors and Cleaners are as specialized as nuclear engineers.

 

That’s about all there is to say for FIMRR Technology in Placeholder.  Like I said, it’s a very small part of the story; Konrad only ever gets to see it in action or use it during his brief stay on Mars which he briefly recollects through his journal entries, and they don’t have anything like it on the SFS Fulgora.  Their food is cooked normally, and like many other spaceships, all their water is recycled as much as it can be, and fresh water is chemically produced by waste gases filtered out through the life support system and ionized hydrogen from the interstellar medium (in other words, they only ration water in a very limited sense of the word).  They live much as sailers on Earth might, without the need for a desalinization plant onboard to have a ready supply of fresh drinking water.

In my next post, I’ll be back to a more relevant topic of particular interest: computing technology in the SPQS Universe.

— the Phoeron

Placeholder, SPQS Universe

The Science of Placeholder, Pt.5

Metamaterials are perhaps one of the most exciting areas of 21st century physics and engineering, and will allow us to accomplish effects not possible with naturally-structured materials.  But I should make something clear up-front.  Metamaterials aren’t necessarily new synthetic chemical substances exhibiting strange properties, they are new periodic structures of existing materials (though certainly, custom-designed polymers could be useful for certain applications), that allow for desirable macroscopic effects.

Research has progressed the most with electromagnetic metamaterials, but a great deal of headway has also been made with acoustic and seismic metamaterials.  Seismic metamaterials will be of especial-use here on Earth for the construction of greatly improved earthquake-proof structures, but could also be extended into general kinetic absorption for body armour and spaceship hull design.  The vast array of sensor design coming from research into electromagnetic and acoustic metamaterials is also quite fascinating.  Basic ‘cloaking’ has already been achieved in the microwave spectrum (ie., objects have been rendered nearly invisible through metamaterial cloaking to microwave radiation).  Superlenses can achieve resolution beyond the diffraction limit (!).  Ultrasonic sensors can be designed.  Sound and light can be custom-modified, ‘shaped’ if you will; ultrasonic waves can be shaped down to audible wavelengths, ultraviolet light, x-rays, and gamma radiation can be shaped into visible light.  And you can even hope to see materials which are entirely transparent to the visible light spectrum, but entirely reflective to ultraviolet light, x-rays, and hard radiation (although reflecting infrared, microwave, and radio waves is much easier to accomplish).  The trick to that is the negative refraction index that can be achieved with metamaterials.  And you can even design metamaterial absorbers to trap high-energy particles from alpha decay (among other things).

That’s right, we can actually start thinking about designing sheets of ‘metaglass’ that are fully transparent to visible light, but shield against all forms of hard radiation, even alpha and beta decay.  We could stand three feet away from a reactor core, behind a sheet of metaglass, and not even worry.  Fine, that’s more than a few years away, and will require some major improvements to nanoscale engineering to accomplish.  But at least we now know such things are possible.

(Spoiler Alert!  The rest of this post discusses technical details of Placeholder’s plot and primary characters.)

Metamaterials in the SPQS Universe:

In Placeholder, I make it clear enough that just about every material used for space engineering is some form of metamaterial.  And this isn’t just me hyping a field of limited potential, it’s me recognizing the potential of metamaterials for creating lightweight but stronger structures, with enhanced durability and impact resistance, all coated on the exterior hull in a conveniently thin layer entirely reflective to hard radiation.  As I mentioned in the previous post, Cosmic Radiation is a serious danger for astronauts on long-term missions.  Metamaterials are one solution, and in my opinion also the best, due to their highly-customizable nature.

I’ve even incorporated metamaterials into the design of computers.  I didn’t feel the need to specifically state it, because it seemed kind of obvious, but metamaterials play a vital role in the design of optical computers and general optronics.  Specifically, I did mention how the terminal screens are constructed.  At first glance they just seem like a portable sheet of metaglass with comfortable hand-holds along the side and a projection display unit (with built-in wireless transmitter/receiver) attached to the bottom.  The projection unit communicates with the terminal base, which is linked to the local hub, but receives instructions through each individual’s neural interface (a basic brain-to-computer interface that provides input to the terminal, but does not receive output from it to be fed directly into the brain).  All output is projected onto the back of the sheet of layered metaglass, and each layer of the metaglass sheet is customized for a very specific wavelength frequency (dark red to bright red light)—it could easily be made full-colour, but red light preserves night vision, which is integral for astronauts.  The effect it creates is a fully 3-dimensional display with a misty cloudiness appearing vaguely somewhere behind it, and for security, you can only make out any details on-screen if you’re directly in front of it.  Otherwise, it just looks like a sheet of glass.  Pretty neat, eh?  Such a screen isn’t actually all that far away (although certain durability aspects involving high-pressure tempering are a little unrealistic, simply due to cost).

The wide array of sensors accessible from the SFS Fulgora’s Flight deck and Research bay also, naturally, make use of metamaterials.  When analyzing stellar spectrographs, it is useful to have the widest range of finely-tuned sensors possible, and metamaterials can be of great use in improving our current catalogue of sensors and telescopes for use in space.  Imagine, for example, being able to take detailed images of Pluto’s surface from low-Earth orbit.  Imagine being able to enter a new star system, and have a complete system model generated from sensor data within minutes.  Metamaterial-based sensors will allow us to do that.  Who knows where this new technology will lead us?

There’s a lot more I could get into, but metamaterials are an emerging field.  If you want to keep up to date with it, it never hurts to keep the wikipedia article bookmarked:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metamaterials (most of the specific sections are only summaries that link to complete articles on each of the main topics, so there’s plenty to read from that one page alone).

There’s also some interesting texts on metamaterials: Search for Metamaterials on amazon.com

Specifically, Electromagnetic Metamaterials: Physics and Engineering Explorations (978-0471761020), and Metamaterials Handbook – Two Volume Slipcase Set (978-1420053623) look pretty good.  Though there are a lot of others to choose from on Amazon.

In my next post, I’ll finally be getting around to molecular reconstruction, which may not be as far off in the future as we think.

— the Phoeron