Friday, October 15, 2010

Quantum Tunneling and The Matrix

As I'm sure you know, quantum tunneling involves a particle not impacting a barrier. One would expect that a particle hitting a barrier would bounce off, just like a baseball off a wall [I wanted to link that to a clip of The Great Escape with Hilts in his cell, but due to copyright enforcement the closest I can get is the final scene - SPOILER ALERT]. A curious thing can happen with individual particles in quantum mechanics, though. There's a probability, dependent upon the speed and mass of the particle and the thickness and other properties of the barrier, that the particle will tunnel through and appear on the other side. This has a number of absolutely cool applications: pressure sensors, a bunch of physics and semiconductor stuff, and of course the scanning tunneling microscope.

All this strikes me as similar to something else, though, and that is the errors in collision detection that some games have. I had a friend in high school that made an awesome QBasic platformer called Bouncy, which was just a bouncy ball that had to bounce around a screen to get to the exit. In some of the early versions, it was quite possible to get bouncing so fast that you'd run straight through the platform you were on and die. The probability of going through the platform was dependent upon your speed, the thickness of the platform, and the length of time between calculations. Sounds quite a lot like quantum tunneling! Which is why I think we're in The Matrix, and that our simulation needs to calculate things at a finer time resolution. Quantum mechanics is very probably just a programming error. Q.E.D.

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