Quantum physics in early science fiction

SRDFrench

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Hi all,
I've become interested in how quantum physics seeped into popular culture from the late 1920s through to the 1950s and in particular its impact ion 'early' SF. If anyone can point me to any examples or, indeed, studies that have already been published on this, I'd be hugely grateful.
Thanks in advance!
cheers,
Steven
 

SRDFrench

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Yeah, thats not helpful! Whatever you mean by 'real' QM, I'm interested in the extent, if any, in which the claims, ideas, interpretations ... whatever, associated with quantum physics in the 1920s and '30s seeped into the science-fiction literature at that time, or shortly thereafter. The issue, if there is one, of whether any of that is the same or similar to what is taught/researched at universities 'these days' is irrelevant.
 

farntfar

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Do we need to know the difference between real QM and popular QM? Surely, it's the QM ideas as understood by the authors that's important here, even if those ideas are now believed to be wrong.

So, I would have thought that one of the major elements of QM ideas in SF has to be the idea of multiple realities and parallel universes.
I'm sure there are other and earlier examples, but the first I can think of would be the short stories of John Wyndham in the early 1950s
 

SRDFrench

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Thanks but Everett didn’t propose his interpretation until 1957 and it didn’t become known as the ‘Many Worlds Interpretation’ until Dewitt renamed it in the 1970s. Before then, it simply wasn’t ‘out there’ and all the ‘parallel reality’ stories of Wyndham or whoever were not influenced by quantum mechanics (or at least there is no evidence that they were). There is now a fairly decent academic literature on how Everett’s ideas fed into the work of Gibson and others but that’s all later than the time I’m interested in.

The thing is, it’s not as if modern fiction wasn’t influenced by the ideas of de Broglie, Schrodinger and others. Again, there’s now some solid academic literature on how Virginia Woolf’s modernist novel The Waves was strongly influenced by the ‘wave mechanics’ form of quantum physics (she owned popular books on this form, knew Bertrand Russell who wrote about it etc.). But surprisingly, it doesn’t seem to have featured in the science fiction of the day - maybe because that was more interested in tech than ‘pure’ science (although Heinlein incorporated 4D geometry in ‘And he built a crooked house’ which is a neat story!)
 

SRDFrench

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Thanks but I should’ve been clearer - I’m specifically interested in what we now call ‘quantum mechanics’ which took the form (more or less) that we now know & love in the period 1925-27, through the work of Schrodinger and Heisenberg, as well as Born, Jordan, Dirac and others. It was in that form that it then began to be applied to all kinds of phenomena, from molecular bonding to superconductivity, and started to achieve the results that led to its being regarded by many physicists as the most successful theory ever!

I have detected some influence in early science fiction stories of what is sometimes called the ‘older’ quantum theory of Bohr and others, in particular the idea of atoms having energy levels between which electrons can ‘hop’, but even then the specifically quantum elements (energy levels and hence emissions/absorptions being quantised) are typically absent.

The search continues …
 

Pyan

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James Blish 'invented' the instantaneous Dirac communicator in his story Beep , but that was published in Galaxy in 1954, so may be a bit later than you were looking for.
 

SRDFrench

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Yes, thanks! I’m a big fan of Blish and his ‘Nor Iron Bars’ is another story of his that explicitly incorporates elements from quantum mechanics, including anti-matter (it seems Blish was fascinated by Dirac). Bleep! also mentions de Broglie & one of my personal scientific heroes, Weyl (a brilliant mathematician) so Blish clearly knew the who the Big Names were (he had a scientific background himself, albeit in microbiology as you probably know).

But yes, this is all a bit later than the period I’m interested in although it sets an early marker & supports the idea that there’s a lag between scientific developments and their appearance in fiction (& in his case that time lag may have been extended by the impact of WWII).
 

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