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Explaining Quantum Physics Through Poetry

[Estimated read time: 3 minutes]
  • A poet tries to represent the laws of a topological quantum computer through poetry. 
  • The poem translates the quantum physics in both its visual structure and word choices.

Poetry is a nuanced form in which language is used for its aesthetic qualities instead of semantic and notional content. The language is used in a way that is felt by its listener and audience to differ from common prose.

To explore complex phenomena and depict the otherwise inconceivable, poems use rhythm, word order, line breaks, and visual structure. Where most of the poets dabble in heady descriptions of soaring eagles or roiling oceans, Amy Catanzano coaxes the beauty out of quantum theory.

She believes that quantum theory can be well explained by poetry, which offers a richness of language to express ideas. To explain sentiments in an effective manner, she took help of an Italian physicist, Giuseppe Mussardo.

Quantum Supercomputer Poem

Usually, the quantum theory defies logic you see in the world. For instance, if a quantum material is moving on a road and arrives at a fork, it doesn’t necessarily have to select between veering right or left. Instead, it can take both routes at the same time, which is impossible for any other conventional objects. To characterize quantum behavior, physicists use strict mathematical representations which are quite tricky for all of us to understand.

Amy Catanzano has a solution to this problem: develop a new language or tool that could precisely describe the inexpressible quantum world. She tried to put this notion into practice by writing a new poem titled “World Lines: A Quantum Supercomputer Poem”. It represents the laws of a topological quantum computer.

According to her, poetic language can challenge and shape people’s perceptions. It can challenge our basic concepts of the physical world.

Design of a topological quantum computer with 4 qubits | Credit: APS / Alan Stonebraker

The poem she has written represents a feasible architecture for a topological quantum machine. It has 4 qubits (quantum bits), each containing 2 quasiparticles called anyons. To perform computations, adjacent anyons are swapped in a specific sequence. The output lies in the so-called knots and braids, which are produced by the overlapping paths of anyons.

In Catanzano’s poem, these weaving anyons are replaced with 4 poetic couplets that bisect one another. The intersection of 2 lines shares a word that evokes an anyon knot.

Source: APS Physics 

Readers can see these knots (word shown in white) as forks in their path: they can either read the text sequentially or jump to another line from here (knot word). Different paths produce special world braids, leading to different outcomes, which is very much similar to what quantum computers do.

Quantum Supercomputer Poem |  Credit: APS / Alan Stonebraker

The poem translates the quantum physics in both its visual structure and word choices. Catanzano calls this practice quantum poetics.

This is not the first time someone has tried to describe physics concepts using literary devices. Physicists have been using metaphors to simplify complicated concepts since long ago. One such example is the word “entanglement”, which they used to describe the concept of 2 quantum particles connected with each other. However, this metaphor creates a lot of misunderstandings.

Read: 18 Most Interesting Facts About Quantum Computers

So far we haven’t found any effective language that can accurately capture the laws of quantum physics. Currently, this is the best we have come to.

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