Ansible After All?

According to this article on the New Scientist Space Blog, faster-than-light communication might be theoretically possible if the so-called “braneworld” model of reality proves true (that our 3D universe acts as a membrane floating in higher-dimensional space. Most particles and fields–except gravity–are firmly fixed to the ‘brane’, which is why we can’t see the extra dimensions or step sideways into them).

We might now be able, however, to send particles, via the magic of quantum physics, tunneling through these membranes, using the inter-dimension space as a short cut, and have the particles (containing some kind of useful information) reappear in some far-distant part of the universe almost instantaneously without having traversed the intervening space. (This is roughly the explanation of ‘sub-space’ used to rationalize Star Trek‘s FTL communication).

I guess this means we should hope that aliens have a two-tier SETI program–radio telescopes to make contact with us lesser civilizations and beam us the plans for an FTL radio, and then the FTL channel where we can talk in realtime.

Kind of like having dial-up and broadband, I guess 🙂

I have to confess that, while I’m not nearly smart enough to understand the math behind quantum physics, much of it seems like voodoo to me. I did a degree in the history of science and, remember, the history of science is the history of people being wrong.

I’m a bit more skeptical than some science fiction writers when scientists start making claims that involve ‘dark’ matter or energy, ‘strings’, ‘vibrations’, or (in this case) ‘membranes’. Seems like they’re reaching for explanations because the numbers don’t quite add up and they need something to fudge them with.

Admittedly this kind of grasping at (cosmic) straws is a good thing–it’s how science learns. And don’t misunderstand–these ideas can make for some fun science fiction and I hope I’m wrong and that we can communicate superluminally.

But membranes? Vibrations? Sounds a bit like aether or the plum-pudding model to me. And remember: those theories had plenty of believers and were ‘true’ for a time, too.

– S.

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