Quantum mechanics has replaced Newtonian physics as the most accurate scientific representation of the world that we’ve ever had. It’s also the flat-out weirdest representation of the world we’ve ever had. One of the more controversial interpretations of the theory suggests that the entire universe is constantly splitting into parallel but different versions of itself, every time a particle interacts with another particle. Designer Patrick Stevenson-Keating has created an art installation, called the Quantum Parallelograph, that surreally illustrates this idea by printing out receipt-like descriptions of what your other selves are have been up to.
“Quantum mechanics transforms the mundane into something fantastic.”
Stevenson-Keating’s device actually contains a tiny, working version of the famous experiment that exposed all this quantum looniness: the “double slit experiment.” If you shine a beam of light (or even a single photon) at a detector through a barrier with one opening in it, the light passes through in a pretty much normal way. But if you simply add one more opening — making two slits — the photon somehow passes through both at the same time, creating an “interference pattern” with itself on the other side. Say wha…? (The custom version of the experiment running inside Quantum Parallelograph was designed by Dr Garry Callon of the University of Dundee Physics Department.)
Interpreting this fundamentally unintuitive result in “real world terms” has dogged physicists for a century. The “many worlds interpretation” is one way to go about it. The Quantum Parallelograph doesn’t actually access these parallel universes and report back, but rather (much like Revital Cohen’s conceptual art) tries to provoke interesting questions by taking the weirdest science at its word.
Depending on the “Search Intensity Level” you set on the Quantum Parallelograph, it will generate “a short paragraph of text showing a glimpse of the user’s alternative reality” by mixing Yahoo search results on the user’s name with a database of pre-written text. “Whether you accept the theories of the multiverse addressed by the Quantum Parallelograph or not, the project aims not only to communicate some of the modern ideas in physics, but also to provoke questions about our own lives and uniqueness,” says Stevenson-Keating.
But why attach an art/design project to such an abstruse scientific concept in the first place? “I have always loved science, and physics in particular, for the same reasons I love design,” Stevenson-Keating tells Co.Design. “Both disciplines have the ability to completely transform the way in which we look at our surroundings and our lives. I feel that quantum mechanics in particular has the capacity to transform the mundane and banal into something fantastic.” Whatever multiverse version of you encounters these ideas, you can be sure his/her mind is being blown.