Quantum World

They were so small that they lived their lives in a permanent state of uncertainty, never quite knowing what their choices were until they made them, and never able to change their minds. Decisiveness was frowned upon as precipitate and irresponsible: maintain the plurality of possibilities as long as possible because there could be no going back; that was the almost-universal mantra.

That they were so small forced them to co-operate because none of them could do anything alone. Even thinking was virtually impossible without help, so there was a sense of collective ownership to their social existence that was ingrained from their earliest nanoseconds of existence. But because they were intrinsically co-operative and simultaneous and superposed, they were also immeasurably powerful, and as few as fifty of them could know and think things impossible to macroscopic beings. When hundreds co-operated, no problem they had ever encountered had proved too difficult.

Because of the power of the collective, they had long ago evolved rules to limit the sizes of families, and the punishment for exceeding the limits was severe and immediate: annihilation. The reason was that when families were even as large as 50 their knowledge came close to encompassing all things known to the Quant, 60 would exceed their collective knowledge, and 100 would know all things known.

Another reason why there were no individuals was that under the conditions that obtained in their world, no individual could know anything; knowledge and the power of thought were properties only of the collective. To ask an individual quant a question as a macro being might envisage it would be to receive back – were one to receive anything at all, which would be unlikely – only gibberish. And the approach to the one carried with it dangers to the family that were unimaginably destructive since whereas no individual quant could be understood to know anything, each played a crucial part in the totality of the knowledge of each family, and none of them could be copied or ever had a twin.

It was a peculiarity of life on Quant that each member of a family was aware of what the family knew in total, but each was unaware of what its own contribution to that knowledge was, or what any other member of the family contributed to the whole. This had the positive effect of encouraging a sense of the value of the other and discouraging an inflated view of the self; the disadvantage was that it distanced each member of the family from the achievements of the whole simply because nobody ever knew whether the contribution it had made was important or not. But individual quants enjoyed only a limited degree of self-consciousness, so this scarcely mattered.

Families, on the other hand, knew who they were and what they knew, but only when interacting with other families who asked them a question or posed a problem. Then answers sprang immediately to mind, popping as if out of nowhere into full expression. The family was no more aware that it knew the answer before it was asked than any individual member of the family would have been; it was only the interaction with the other and its problem that evoked the realisation.

And there was one more peculiarity, at least from the perspective of a macroscopic being observing these interactions from a distance: the families would answer faithfully and without dissembling, but would be completely incapable of answering a supplementary question about how they came to know what they knew, about the thinking that had gone into producing their answer, or about the very history of the whole idea. It was as if the answer had no antecedents, had arisen from no preparatory research or thought; it simply emerged. So quant life was as odd as anything in the known universe in that one or other family of the quant could seemingly be found that knew everything there was to be known, but none of them could give any explanation whatsoever of why or how they had come to know or think it. Quant existence insofar as it could be documented at all consisted entirely of a series of events and facts, with no semblance of thought or reason.

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