Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

I want to include something semi-accurate for a part of my science fiction story?

  1. Aug 10, 2012 #1
    First off, apologies. I'm not as advanced as most on this forum and hope that my (less than ideal) pairing of physics with science-fiction will not sound completely stupid.

    Nevertheless, I came here to find a community who actually knows about the physical sciences so I can correct any information in an effort to perhaps make it somewhat believable within its actual concepts/theories.
    (I'm trying to go for 'realistic fiction,' but practically all my knowledge of physics is gathered from Nova's 'Elegant Universe', so please correct anything that is wrong...however, I tried my best to understand it.) (:

    My story's twist/concept:
    Do you think that there could be enough electrical activity within an atom, proton, neutron, electron, quark, string, etc. to support some form of consciousness?

    What 'I hope is somewhat correct' within the confines of realistic fiction pertaining to physics:
    Delving into the quantum level, things become extremely chaotic...so is it plausible that the medley of blindingly jumbled 'this versus that' charges on the quantum level could be the makings of something conscious (which would account for it's patterns being so unpredictable at a smaller scale (yet able to form stable matter at a larger level)?

    If you want to get a bigger picture for the story I'm trying to tell:
    Basically, my character dies and as her brain shuts down, outer parts lose oxygen first (because they are farther away from the carotid artery which provides oxygen). Furthermore, memories located within these outer neurons are somehow transferred (by electrical signal? Although I don't think dendrites/axons can't really do this) to neighboring neurons located inwards (which causes her to 'see her life flash before her eyes'). Until her consciousness regresses into a single atom in the center of her brain, then the electrical signals which compose her consciousness fall intro the smaller, yet still equally complex, electrical activity of protons/neutrons, quarks, quantum particles, strings, etc.

    **Nothing to do with the question above, but I thought I would share to ask if I might be accurate on this as well**

    'Fun fact' (more likely estimate...) taken from Nova's 'Elegant Universe':
    "If an atom were the size of our solar system, a string would be the size of a tree."

    However, from what I learned...are these two problems I found with this statement valid?
    - Strings are thought to make up quarks, electrons, photons, etc. but exactly 'what percentage' of their internal space is composed of strings is not known.
    - Using only the generalized term of 'tree' is a faulty estimate as trees can come in many different sizes (depending on their species/age,) so not knowing 'what size' of tree counts as a string or not is another inaccuracy.

    Nevertheless, here are some figures I came up with to get a visual idea (accurate or not):
    - There are several hundred billion to a few trillion trees on earth (Most conservative estimate at ~400 billion; whereas the highest estimate was at ~5 trillion.)
    - They cover ~30% of earth's surface area covered by land.
    - Earth's total surface area is covered by ~30% land ~70% water.
    - The sun's surface area is ~11,990 times that of earth's.
    - The actual size of the solar system is currently under an acrimonious debate, so I couldn't find any stable figures...Nevertheless, (even though we don't know what percentage of space strings occupy in a quark/electron/photon/etc.) You can clearly fit A LOT of trees/strings into the solar system/an atom.

    *Also, am I right when I'm hesitant to mix strings up with the nature of the highly active quantum particles mentioned in the main question?
    Even though strings are on the quantum level (and are treated as quantum particles), they operate with relatively more stability than the other quantum particles. So they are not as chaotic, but each exude 'vibrational modes' which are somewhat uniform within the particle they are encompassed by and thus make up. Also string 'theory' is just that, 'a theory', albeit a very convincing and popular one.

    If you read, I hope you can please excuse me again for not posting something fully legitimate for these forums, and I'm looking forward to correcting/understanding things further. (:
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 10, 2012 #2

    Simon Bridge

    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper

    Your angle would have to be the unknown nature of "consciousness".

    Nope - the "patterns" are actually too highly predictable to allow for conscious volition.
    Well you could posit some subatomic conduit into a superconsciousness inside the brain ... perhaps being the source for cartesian-theatre style consciousness?

    The quote is more poetic imagery than anything. Yep.

    Depending on how tightly you pack them - you can figure how many strings actually fit in the solar system by researching the relationship between fundamental particles and strings and estimating how many of these are in the solar system.

    You certainly need to do more research there. Fundamental particles are not usually thought of as being "made out of" strings for eg.

    I'll leave it to one of the others to lecture you on how the various string theories give rise to particles.
  4. Aug 10, 2012 #3
    I recommend Roger Penrose's "The Emperor's New Mind". In addition to explaining a lot of physics, it also tries to find a connection between consciousness and quantum mechanics. A most fascinating read.
  5. Aug 10, 2012 #4

    Simon Bridge

    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper

    I'll second that actually - I was wondering if Dennet's "Consciousness Explained" would be good too but there's no physics in it.
  6. Aug 10, 2012 #5


    User Avatar
    2017 Award

    Staff: Mentor

    Where do you plan to work with consciousness? Is the story told by a conscious atom? That does not work - there are experiments confirming that atoms of the same isotope and with the same electron configuration are exactly the same. There is simply no room for anything which you could call "conscious".

    Do the characters believe in conscious atoms? Feel free to use this, humans believe in many silly things all the time (and some are even proud of this).

    You can replace "atom" by "proton", "string" or whatever here, it does not change anything.
  7. Aug 10, 2012 #6
    The physics presented in the media are more magic than science.
    A common issue arises when you apply a theory to a phenomenon not intended for the theory.
    For example, a lot of people talk about a "human wave function". Quantum mechanics is incompatible with macroscopic dealings.
    It is not known how macroscopic and microscopic phenomenon can be explained by a single theory, that is the subject of modern theoretical physics.
    Talking about Consciousness in the context of QM is like trying to explain light using newtons laws.
  8. Aug 10, 2012 #7


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor

    To some extent, in science fiction, the science dictates what the story is allowed to do, rather than the story defining the science. It seems pretty far-fetched to allow an atom to contain a consciousness. There just aren't enough degrees of freedom in an atom to contain all that information. Two atoms with the same quantum numbers are essentially identical. A consciousness consists of a lot of information. The only way to store that information is perhaps in some superposition of very high energy levels of an atom.
  9. Aug 10, 2012 #8


    User Avatar
    2017 Award

    Staff: Mentor

    There are interpretations which are compatible with the macroscopic world. In many-worlds, even "the wave function of a human" has a meaning to some extent - but you have to be careful, as this wave function is not something you can use for double-slit experiments.
  10. Aug 11, 2012 #9
    There are 2 problems with this.
    The first is that even if we interperet QM this way, we still cannot compute quantitative propeties of macroscopic systems
    The second problem is that this is Untestable
  11. Aug 11, 2012 #10


    User Avatar
    2017 Award

    Staff: Mentor

    Solid-state physics uses quantum mechanics all the time, and computes macroscopic properties of materials based on that.

    Maybe. Maybe there are tests. 1 2
Know someone interested in this topic? Share this thread via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook

Similar Discussions: I want to include something semi-accurate for a part of my science fiction story?
  1. Science fiction story (Replies: 18)