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Richard O’Leary questions quantum mechanics theory as he finds himself unsure of which state or territory he’s living in.


Lost in space

Richard O’Leary questions quantum mechanics theory as he finds himself unsure of which state or territory he’s living in.

Have you ever noticed there is never a physicist around when you need one? The thought came to me as I wandered through a supermarket trying to remember where I could find the fresh food section.

You see, for a few months I was living two lives, working in Darwin and flying back every weekend to be with my family on the Sunshine Coast.

Increasingly, I was finding myself disorientated, driving along a road and realising I didn’t know which state or territory I was in, or looking for tomatoes and not being able to work out whether this was the supermarket with the fruit and veggies on the left or right.

Which was why I was suddenly desirous of bumping into some experts on quantum mechanics – in particular Drs Serge Haroche and David J. Wineland, who were awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics in 2012 for proving that atoms and single photons could be in two places at once.

The idea was not new. For more than 80 years, scientists had theorised particles that small exist in a state of flux, allowing them to occupy not just two locations but an infinite number of them, simultaneously.

But no one had been able to devise an experiment which proved the theory – that was until the abovementioned Frenchman and American.

Dr. Haroche put a photon in a box, and hit it with an atom. Dr. Wineland did the opposite. He put an atom in a box, and hit it with a photon. The results proved the quantum mechanics theory – something even Einstein thought was impossible.

Now, if only the good doctors could have taken their experiment one step further and allowed me to be in two places at once – in the Territory enjoying a job I loved, while simultaneously waking up in the same house as my boys, who I loved even more.

Unfortunately, even quantum mechanics couldn’t deliver on that one. Apparently, it all comes down to gravity. The force that keeps us pinned to the ground also keeps us locked in one place.

Well, that sucks.

So, while science failed me, I did manage to come up with my own solution – find a new job, and that’s exactly what I have done.

It means I am back on the Coast, and looking a lot less lost.

Which is just as well, because I was starting to feel a lot like Schrödinger’s cat, the subject of another quantum mechanics theory I have no interest in proving one way or the other.



Richard O’Leary is a journalist, a political advisor and a father who knows there’s a deeper meaning to life but struggles to find it.

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