A first! We have today a contribution from the Doc (though I’m sure he won’t mind me letting you know that I helped him with the first part)
Work very recently reported in the public media is said to strongly support the claims that particles can be so ‘entangled’ by ruthless physicists, not excluding those based in Delft, that in some sense they cannot break free from the embrace. What you do to one of them will be experienced by the other, as a physical event parallel on a nanoscale to what is occasionally claimed to happen with emotional events affecting human twins, although in a very indistinct way, and almost never under scientifically validated conditions. (I regret to say I am rather less sceptical about such claims than I should be, scientifically, having had a dozen or so experiences of a very peculiar type of telepathy between the ages of 11 and 38.)
If the implications of the report are validated by repetition and confirmed by experiments of a different type, this will make some people happy, those for instance who are in the running to receive fat research grants for work on quantum computers. Others will find the result distasteful, inconvenient, and scientifically abominable or at least ‘spooky’. ‘Spooky’ was in fact Einstein’s own verdict on the possibility of entanglement, a.k.a. ‘action at a distance’.
Actually, there is one way in which such a result can be regarded as unamazing. All that is necessary is to assume an extra dimension. We can give a rough and ready indication of the sort of simplifying complication this produces in the following way. Take two maps of exactly the same region. Take an empty fish tank and turn it on its side. Place one map on the top, and the other underneath, aligned with the greatest possible care with respect to the surrounding frame of reference (the room), to ensure that Botten’s Pike, a hill top, on the upper map is exactly above Botten’s Pike on the map below; similarly for Codger’s Ford close to Botten’s Pike to the west and Skinny Beck close on the east; just by co-incidence they form an equilateral triangle. You have now changed the two-dimensional map into one of three dimensions. If you take a laser pointer and aim it perfectly vertically down on to Botten’s Pike on the top map its beam will also strike Botten’s Pike on the lower one. Likewise for Codger’s Ford and Skinny Beck. These are unusual laser beams remaining attached to their origins and points of impingement indefinitely. It will also turn out that they are flexible.
Sixty or seventy years later a government committee will give itself the task of rearranging the landscape of this region in the interests of greater economic efficiency. They will not bother about the map on top because it is easier to rest their papers on the table on which the former fish tank rests. They also will not bother about the laser beams considering them ‘insubstantial’ and ‘preferring to keep our feet on the ground’. They will cut up the lower map into hundreds of pieces and rearrange them to make a more rational and cost-efficient landscape. For instance Codger’s Ford is now actually at the same point as Botten’s Pike ‘because the water flow will be less up there and so it will be easier for the cattle to ford the river.’ Skinny Beck will have been moved far away, out of the region entirely. The committee will have this new form of the landscape recorded and registered as the official landscape of the region. Only one or two oldest inhabitants will annoy the younger generation by remarks like ‘Sitting up here on t’Pike always makes me think of watching cattle crossing the ford or dipping in Skinny Beck.’
Avoiding inconvenient precision, in the interests of an uncertain parallelism, let us merely observe the patterns of changes which have accumulated in recent years in many activities that need to run properly to keep a community in good order. In each field they have quite rapidly built up into complex surface layers suggesting a vast array of meta-activities to be organised (and paid for) in hitherto unsuspected ways, whereas hidden behind them in each case there are relatively simple basic needs – for learning, for travelling, for giving and receiving, for communicating – that are not really vastly different from the form they had half a century and more ago. The prolificity of the superficial business that is supposed to deal with these needs is in fact now in each case a major obstacle to these needs being dealt with satisfactorily. (Nothing of this, however, stops certain members of the community from doing very well out of the surface business.)
It is astonishing how quickly how many institutions and organisations have changed from doing things in a well-established traditional way, because experience showed that it worked, to a situation which looks dangerously close to administration for the sake of administration (and from a different viewpoint, for the sake of a profligate salary). Somewhere buried in the bowels of whichever institution it is there may have been a genuine if mistaken belief that breaking up practices which had evolved naturally to meet the situations encountered would save money. But much of it is down to a tidal wave of inexplicable trust in `planning’ and a spurious ‘professionalism’ as against experience and eyeball contact with the job which has washed over the whole country in the last few years. Without for a moment saying that they ran perfectly one suspects things went rather better (making due allowance for resources available at the time) when doctors ran the health service, broadcasters ran broadcasting, teachers ran education, librarians ran libraries, phone calls reached assistants not call centres, and, even, rock bands wrote the music they wanted to play. But bring in the administrators and ‘professionals’ who know how the business should be run (because they have a Master’s in Administration of Education, or Broadcasting, or… from Northwest Bullshire Business University). They know how to keep their own job, and other people off balance with questionnaires, graphs, mission statements, surveys, restructuring, rationalisations, resource allocation priorities, project planning groups, quotas, quota table reports, performance assessments, not to mention their managers’ car park where the children’s library/music room/wooden leg store used to be. The result? Imagination vanishes, achievement nosedives (though of course graphs show recorded success soaring), staff morale ceases to exist, and whoever is supposed to be on the receiving end gets a rotten service (and the rock ‘n roll sounds like muzak). We also find 120,000 civil servants in the Ministry of Defence, with the number of actual soldiers down to 82,000 (and falling). As for the transport system – just try using it.
Add in the cronyism and computers, and one begins to see an alternative to the usual scripts for the end of civilisation sketching itself lightly in, with the world noticing, too late, that the jungle of interconnecting (but not necessarily intercommunicating) bureaucracies that has spread across the world demands most of the world’s resources for its support. Yet unravelling them would itself require an extra layer of bureaucracy; the last stone on top of the tower that makes the whole thing collapse.