Author: Noah Milligan
Date to be Published: Nov. 1, 2016
Publisher: Central Avenue Publishing
Buy Link: Amazon
Coulter Zahn sees reality differently than others. Much like light can theoretically be in all places at once, Coulter sees multiple versions of his life. A promising PhD candidate at MIT, he and his young wife are nervously expecting their first child. When his dissertation comes under intense criticism, his estranged mother returns, and Sara tells him she's leaving him, Coulter’s already delicate mental state becomes further fragmented.
One evening, with his life and mental health unraveling, Coulter loses control, irreparably changing the course of the lives around him. But the very next morning, he catches a break in his research, discovering the true shape of the universe. Influenced by those around him and his own untrustworthy psyche, Coulter must decide whether to face the consequences of his actions or finish his research, perhaps making the greatest contribution to science since Einstein’s theory of relativity.
An existential psychological thriller, An Elegant Theory explores how the construction of memory and consciousness can shape motive, guilt, and identity through the lens of a modern-day mad-scientist motif.
“What does this tell us about the nature of light?” I again asked.
Again, no answer.
“Have you seen anything like this before?”
“In the ocean maybe?”
They did not understand. But I couldn’t blame them for this. When I’d first witnessed this phenomenon, I’d been amazed, but I had not understood. It took many years for me to grasp the possibilities. What we observe in the double-slit light experiment is called a probability wave. In essence, we are not viewing the actual light from the light bulb passing through the slits to the reflector plate, only the probability that we will find light there. The brighter the reflection, the more probable we will find an individual photon. Darker, the less probable.
At first I had accepted this as a plain fact, a probability wave. It made sense. I could do the math associated with it. I could regurgitate it on a test. I could impress my father with it at home. But I always knew I was missing something. And then, at my first year of graduate school, it hit me: the nature of probability in quantum realms does not bend to certainties. There will never be a one hundred percent chance that an event will happen.
Nor, for any given location is there a zero percent chance that light can be found there. It may be miniscule, approaching a billionth of one percent, but it will never reach zero. Thus, an individual photon must literally travel through every conceivable path from the light source to end up on the reflector plate. It travelled from the rear of the auditorium and back to land on our reflector plate. It zigzagged up Blonde #2’s nostrils, out her ear, and then landed on the reflector plate. It zoomed from the light source to Alpha Centauri and landed back here, on Earth, on our reflector plate. In quantum mechanics, we cannot pinpoint exactly where a particular photon will be in one given instance, only the probability of it being in that spot. The strange reality is that all these possibilities actually occur.
I oftentimes daydream I can see all these possibilities playing out, the smallest changes causing ripple effects that alter the future, what’s called the Butterfly Effect. Yet, they don’t feel like daydreams. They feel so real, the scene unfolding before me so vividly, my consciousness so lucid. It is as if I am an astral projection, an invisible voyeur able to witness all of our alternate universes. Sometimes I’m not even there. I’ll see my mother after she’d left home and moved to California. I’ll see myself as a child with my father and his girlfriend right after Mom left. I’ll see myself in the future with my dead wife and son, us middle-aged, he a teenager. It’s a strange feeling these sightings. When they happen I lose all sensation of the present, and when I come back to, I have no memory of the lost time.
Noah Milligan splits his time between words and numbers and is a longtime student of physics, prompting him to write his debut novel, An Elegant Theory, which was shortlisted for the 2015 Horatio Nelson Fiction Prize. His short fiction has appeared in numerous literary magazines, including MAKE, Storyscape Literary Journal, Empty Sink Publishing, and Santa Clara Review. He is a graduate of the MFA program at the University of Central Oklahoma, and he lives in Edmond, OK, with his wife and two children.