Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Tales of the Weird

For Christmas, we got one of those boxes that lets us stream movies to our TV. One of the things I like about it is that you can watch junk on demand. After all, a truly great movie is not always what you need. If you are just looking for something to absorb a little excess attention while you do chores for an hour or two, then you don't necessarily want to go with Lawrence of Arabia. That would be . . . wasteful.

So yesterday while I did laundry, I fired up the box and selected out one of those "History's Mysteries" programs from the History Channel, just the sort of weird junk I was looking for. Conspiracy theories, the Roswell crash, secret Nazi occultism, the Loch Ness Monster -- I find that all sort of thing endlessly interesting and amusing. The episode I picked was about the legendary "Philadelphia Experiment", the story that the US Navy did a test in 1943 (based on Einstein's unified field theory, of course) to make a warship invisible and teleport it from one place to another.

The program was actually pretty good. It traced the rather curious origin of the story in a strangely annotated paperback copy of Morris K. Jessup's The Case for the UFO, mailed to a couple of naval officers at the Pentagon by a mysterious man calling himself Carlos Allende. It traced the evolution of the story, debunked the details and explored its persistent appeal.

And then, suddenly, things got weird. Taking their cue from the teleportation part of the legend, the documentary took a few minutes to discuss quantum teleportation. And there was my friend Chris Fuchs, discussing Einstein and quantum entanglement. I stopped sorting the clothes and just stared at the screen in amazement.

And I thought: Here I am watching a show about the craziest of all the crazy tales in the paranormal literature, and the the one part I find really startling and eerie is seeing my old friend chat about quantum mechanics, the thing I have seen a thousand times before.


Blogger Ron Griggs said...

A pleasure of Neal Stephenson's The Baroque Cycle is in the juxtaposition of obviously untrue wacky beliefs and new advances in science and mathematics. Inside the story, the characters cannot easily see the difference--between alchemy and calculus, for example. Occasionally, this same dissonant pleasure is present in Aristotle.

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