Lecture 5 – Shaping the future

From the 1999 lecture programme:

Quantum mechanics seems very weird indeed, nevertheless it underlies everything in our Universe. Not only should we therefore understand it, but maybe we can also exploit it.

Scientists are currently pushing into uncharted territory in the quantum world where effects such as teleportation can become reality. In a world based on quantum technology, incredible applications from quantum computers and quantum communication through to unbreakable secret codes are possible.

So can quantum mechanics help us "beat the clock" and travel through time, thereby turning science fiction into science fact? How can we harness the peculiar properties of time, space and quantum phenomena and use them for our own benefit in the everyday world?

The answers to these questions can only come from a fuller understanding of how gravity, relativity and quantum mechanics are related. Although this is still beyond our grasp, there have been many fascinating recent proposals. There is even a suggestion that Nature has already beaten us to it by means of consciousness in the brain!

We are currently living in a rapidly changing world, the revolution of the information age. Amazingly this idea may have an even deeper significance than we had previously imagined. It turns out that we are just beginning to explore the idea of information as a unifying concept in science, in particular its role in the quantum world.

Is there a "physics of information" from which all the known, and more importantly the unknown, laws governing our Universe naturally follow? Many different timescales coexist in our daily lives, just as all forms of life coexist on our planet. Our world depends on them, and so do we. From the astronomical time-scales to the near instantaneous, much remains to be discovered and understood.

We now know how to measure time very accurately, but how soon will we be able to answer the basic question "What is time?".


BBC / Royal Institution




Neil Johnson



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