The Day Maths Went Mad

By Brian Robinson.

“Look, I need to know what’s going on. My husband’s been missing for three weeks. He was last seen going into his laboratory in your university. I don’t know if he’s dead or alive. All I’ve been told is he’s missing. This is your university. You’re responsible. And you need to tell me right now.”

“It’s complicated Mrs Adams. We are not entirely sure what’s happened and that’s the truth.”

“He went into his laboratory. And he didn’t come out. In my world, that means he must still be in there. So tell me. Is he hurt? Was there an accident? Did something happen? I need to find out.”

“How much do you know about your husband’s work?”

“I know he is involved with space exploration. That’s what you do here isn’t it? But he’s not a rocket scientist. He shouldn’t be involved with dangerous experiments. He’s a mathematician; a theoretical physicist.”

“Well…yes…but he was conducting an experiment. We know for sure that he was in a Faraday Cage.”

“What’s a Faraday Cage when it’s at home?”

“A Faraday Cage is a piece of equipment that is used to protect people or instruments which are subject to high voltages or strong electromagnetic forces.”

“And was that the case with John? Was he being subjected to high voltages?”

“I’m not sure. I can only guess.”

“Did he die in the cage? Are you telling me he was vaporised or something?”

“No no Mrs Adams, certainly not. You cannot possibly come to any harm while in a Faraday Cage. They’re perfectly safe.”

“Then what?”

A Tesla coil in a Faraday Cage

“Look. This is very difficult to explain. You don’t quite understand what we’re trying to do here. You don’t really understand what John was trying to accomplish. After all, you’re not a scientist.”

“Don’t patronise me. That bullshit won’t wash. Explain things to me in layman’s terms. You can do that can’t you?”

“Right. Well I’ll do my best. Please stop me if drift too far into the science. We know for sure that man will never venture far out into the universe. At the moment, we can barely get a machine beyond our own solar system. It’s not that we don’t have the power or the technology. But two things will always stand in our way.

Firstly, our bodies are not designed for extended travel through outer space. Once free from gravity, we immediately begin to deteriorate. We can tolerate being free from it for a good while, and we will get better at that, but it will never be good enough.

And secondly, we live under the constraint of time. Getting beyond even our own galaxy would take so long that any space traveller would be dead long before that ever happened.

Your husband’s brief, was to come up with mathematical solutions which might solve these two problems.”

“Now you’re losing me, you can’t figure your way through space. You can’t sit on the back of a giant calculator and whisk yourself off to another galaxy.”

“Well, that’s what our intuition tells us. But our intuitions are not always the best guides. Suppose this is a mathematical universe? Suppose it is constructed of nothing other than maths? And suppose everything we see in it are simply mathematical constructs? That would throw the universe into an entirely different light would it not?”

“Is that possible?”

“I think you’ll find that a growing number of scientists are beginning to think that it is entirely possible. It’s a conclusion we are being forced towards. And we are now beginning to realise, that the old belief that we live in a purely physical dimension, has been giving us an entirely false picture of reality.”

“Okay, I get that, but what has this got to do with John?”

“Right! Well I’m not sure how much you know of John’s particular research?”

“I’m not saying I’m disinterested in what John does. But basically, he does his thing and I do mine. He never likes being bombarded with questions so I’ve never done that. It seems to work for both of us.”

“I understand. So, here’s the thing. If you want to travel through the universe in a novel way, you need several things to be in place. Firstly, you have to know some essential things about the nature of the cosmos. And John has put forward some astounding theories about that.

Have you ever heard of a Mobius Strip or a Klein Bottle?”

Klein Bottle

“In a word, no.”

“Well, you probably know that John was a Many Worlds Theorist. He believed there are many different universes enclosed in a single Multiverse. If that’s the case, then you have to find a way to enclose these universes otherwise they will intermingle and could compromise one another. Each universe has to be contained somehow. As it happens, a Klein Bottle can do that.

Imagine you are in an enclosed plastic bottle and you want to break free. You cut a hole in the side of the bottle and attempt your escape. However, if you do that in a Klein Bottle, you will find you are still inside the bottle. There is no escape from this geometric shape. John theorised that all universes are shaped like that and have the same properties as Klein Bottles. Now that represents an original and groundbreaking understanding of our cosmos.”

“I don’t understand, but go on.”

“Google it and you’ll see what I mean. The concept is difficult to explain using simple language. Now where were we? Oh yes, once you know about the shape of the universe, and let’s not forget a Klein bottle is a geometric/mathematical shape, you can then work out how to move about within that shape. You can do that mathematically.

However, to move around you need coordinates. For example, if you want to navigate somewhere in our world you put the correct coordinates into your satellite navigation system. Pilots do the same, this is how ships navigate and so on. John believed he has discovered the exact coordinates which will allow us to move freely around the universe. But that’s not all, he believes he has found the coordinates which will allow us to break free from the Klein Bottle: to break free from this universe.

Now the third thing you need, is to harness some natural energy source which will propel you to your coordinates. For example, a satellite navigation system is useless unless you have a car and unless there is petrol in it. John chose electromagnetism.”

“You’re worrying me now. Is that what he was experimenting with in the lab?”

“Sort of.”

“Jesus!”

“But remember this is all theory. None of this is proven.”

“So that’s why he was in the Faraday cage. He was trying to move out into the universe?”

“No no no. I don’t believe so. You would be mad to try something like that. No. The first thing you would do would be try to move an inanimate object, not flesh and blood. You would be crazy to try that. Besides, John was only authorised to attempt to transport objects. But I believe his experiment went tragically wrong. Somehow he must have transported himself.”

“So you’re telling me that my husband is lost somewhere out in the universe and you don’t know where he is or how to get him back?”

“No. I’m telling you he could be lost in another universe: and beyond that, I am lost for words.”

5 thoughts on “The Day Maths Went Mad

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