A priest, a rabbi, a physicist, and a student walked into a bar, and...
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Prompt #1: Pro's and con's of 'Absolute Truth' in science and religion
A priest, a rabbi, a physicist, and the physicist’s undergrad student walked into a bar.
They sat down simultaneously at four open stools, all in a row. The pretty bartender came up to each in turn for an order. The physicist ordered a scotch whisky, the rabbi a beer, the student a margarita, and the priest a glass of red wine. Each order was punctuated by the wink of her long-lashed eye.
As the physicist took the first sip of his drink, his student turned to him, continuing their conversation from outside the bar.
“What I don’t understand is how a quantum computer can calculate anything when you don’t even know whether you’re dealing with a one or a zero in each qubit…” she licked the salt from the rim of her glass.
“It’s really not all that complicated. Qubits are like normal computer bits, but instead of being a one or a zero, they are in a superposition, like an electron. An unknown state,” he explained.
The physicist could tell by his student’s baffled expression that she wasn’t getting it. She took a gulp of her drink.
“Think of it like flipping a coin. While the coin is in the air, you don’t know whether its heads or tails—but you know it’s one of the two,” he continued.
“Okay, I can understand that, I guess. But how exactly does waiting to see whether it’s heads or tails make it faster than a normal computer? If anything, it seems like that would make it slower because you have to wait until it lands!” the student asked, setting her glass back on the bar.
“You might be right… except for the fact that a quantum computer can take advantage of entanglement!” the professor said, an excited gleam in his eye.
“Entanglement? I don’t see what a game of twister has to do with…” she said with a mischievous grin.
“Har, har, har,” interrupted her professor. “Entanglement is the relationship between two intrinsically connected quantum particles at any distance to move in perfect unison together.”
“English, please? Some of us don’t speak crazy-physics-geekazoid just yet, teach!” she said, taking another sip from her glass.
“Imagine a team of cheerleaders in China, another one in the U.S., and another one in Germany. All of them are taken over by alien body-snatchers who are part of a collective hive mind so that they all do exactly the same thing at exactly the same time. They carry out their dance moves in perfectly synchronized choreography all the time no matter where they are.”
“Sounds like a lousy science fiction movie,” she said, her head beginning to spin—whether from the alcohol or the quantum physics, she didn’t know. “So I’m still missing the how-the-heck-is-this faster-than-a-normal-computer piece here…”
“When you find out whether that cheerleader is in the air or on the ground on this exact instant, you know that all of these other cheerleaders are in the same exact place at that instant. It magnifies the calculation power of your computer by as many entangled qubits as you can string together.”
“But that guy with the cat said you can’t actually find all of that out, right?” she asked.
“The Schrödinger's cat thought experiment, yes. Schrödinger was trying to understand exactly how and when a quantum system ceased to be a superposition of states—a coin in the air—and actually become one or the other—heads or tails in the hand. The cat could be either alive or dead inside the box. Both are the truth until the box is opened by an observer to check.”
“You’re mixing metaphors, teach!” she said, mind definitely spinning now. She took another drink.
“It’s okay. I’m not an English professor,” he said, as a swallow of scotch burned its way down his throat.
“Excuse me,” said the rabbi, having overheard their conversation. “Why would God make it so that you couldn’t know something? When He gave the commandments to Moses, He wanted to make sure that people knew His truth! Besides, isn’t that the purpose of science… to find the truth? Why would science’s truth be that truth is unknowable sometimes?”
“If the inability to know the truth is the absolute truth, then why would it not be science’s truth? After all, you’re quite right about the mission of science to uncover the truth…” said the professor.
“Maybe it is God’s way of telling us something,” the priest, quiet until now, said. The expression of wonder on his face proof that he was absolutely spellbound by the two scholars’ conversation.
“What exactly would God be telling us?” the physicist asked him.
“Perhaps this is His way of showing humanity, clever as we think we are, that we are not God. Maybe this is his way of showing us the limits of our wisdom, lest we have the hubris to think that we are an adequate replacement for our creator,” said the priest.
The physicist paused, never having turned his thoughts in quite that direction before. Maybe he needed to speak with priests more often! This man had him thinking of fundamental, philosophical questions for the first time in years.
“Or maybe He will make the unknowable knowable only when humanity has achieved the wisdom to use the knowledge wisely. Perhaps that is God’s absolute truth,” said the rabbi.
The group went silent as they considered these words.
“The only absolute truth I know of is that alcohol is great for facilitating wonderful conversation,” chimed the student, breaking the silence with slightly slurred speech.
“Hear, hear,” they all said, and they ordered another round.