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I recently read through John Ringo's first set of books on the Legacy of Aldenata series. In the second of these books at the beginning of Chapter 29, he describes two science-fiction forms of faster-than-light (FTL) travel: "Ley-Line" and "Quantum Tunneling."

He specifically states that "Ley-Line" was "a quirk of Quantum Theory first proposed in the 1950s turned out to be true."

Now that's a very specific reference and I assumed he was referring to some bit of quantum quackery that was proposed in the 1950s. However, I'm not aware of any such proposal and my Google-Fu is insufficient to turn anything up.

Are any of you familiar with any aspect of Quantum Mechanics that might fit the bill?

On a side note, the other FTL technique he describes is "Quantum Tunneling." I understand how he proposes that this second science-fiction FTL drive works.

  • What distinguishes Ley Line travel from Quantum tunnelling? – Jason Baker Oct 27 '15 at 3:44
  • He described the ley-line as a "valley" or line that permitted "easy entry into alternative dimensions or hyperspace". Ultimately, this is like a jump point type ftl. The quantum tunneling can be done from anywhere but takes more energy. In his books, he states that quantum tunneling takes more travel time. Ley lines are faster or nearly instantaneous but it takes a long time to get to the jump points. – Jim2B Oct 27 '15 at 3:48
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    I think his descriptions of the techniques are bogus. I just wanted to see if he really was referring to some comment by quantum physicists from the 1950s. – Jim2B Oct 27 '15 at 3:48
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    I found the excerpt where he explains them on google books here, pretty sure it's just something he invented, I studied some quantum physics in college and I don't think physicists ever really speculated about special lines that lie "along the path from star to star" (not true of wormholes, which could connect any arbitrary points) and which allow faster-than-light travel. – Hypnosifl Oct 27 '15 at 4:42
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    It seems a bit suspicious that physicists are supposed to have named a scientific (if hypothetical) concept after an esoteric one. – O. R. Mapper Aug 25 at 13:57
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I am a theoretical physicist by profession, and I work on topics (like the possibility of Lorentz symmetry violation) that are closely related to the possibility of faster-than-light (FTL) communication and travel. (My lifelong interest in science fiction has had an influence on the kinds of physics problems that I study.)

With the respect to the quantum tunneling, there are two possibilities for what Ringo was referring to. Many science fiction authors have referenced to "quantum tunneling" as a possible method for traveling FTL. In most cases, this seems to be just based on a vague awareness that tunneling involves something moving between two points, even though it would not be possible (classically, at least) for it to exist in the region in between. Thus, it is often misperceived as something like teleportation.

In reality, what quantum tunneling really indicates is that it is impossible to create a in impenetrable barrier; any particle striking a barrier has a finite probability of "tunneling" through, even if it would just be reflected under classical physics. However, there is another specific tunneling phenomenon that does have a close relationship to FTL travel: the Hartman Effect, first noted by Thomas E. Hartman in 1962. Hartman realized that when a quantum-mechanical particle tunnels through a barrier region (where, classically, the particle does not have enough energy to exist), it appears to transit the forbidden region almost instantaneously. In particular, the time the particle appears to spend "inside" the barrier is largely independent of how wide the barrier is. This led to some speculation that tunneling could be used for FTL travel or signaling. However, that actually turns out not to work, for several reasons. One fairly simple problem is that the probability of tunneling through a barrier decreases exponentially as the barrier width increases; that means, in order to tunnel an extended distance through a barrier of, you need to crash into the barrier an exponentially large number of times. Moreover, there are also other, more subtle, reasons why tunneling does not work for FTL.

For the "ley lines," I am not familiar with any physics proposals from the 1950s (or any other period) that used that (paranormal-inspired) terminology. However, I will keep my eyes open; there were a lot of nonstandard ideas about how quantum mechanics might interact with relativity in the 1930s, 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s.

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This isn't really an answer since only John Ringo knows the answer and he's not telling - at least I haven't found any interviews where he discusses the subject.

However, for what it's worth the big new ideas developed in the 1950s where the Bohmian and Everettian interpretations of quantum mechanics and the first steps in quantum gravity. While I can't see how the interpretations could be related to ley-line transport, it's at least conceivable that an idea related to quantum gravity could be what Ringo is referring to. The subject certainly contains ideas that seem strange to the bystander, for example that the universe exists in a superposition of geometries.

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  • The wikipedia article doesn't really go into the history of quantum gravity much, but the references section shows three papers (references 13-15) from the 50s which according to the article deal with showing how aspects of general relativity can be derived from the assumption of spin-2 massless particles which are interpreted as gravitons, is that the only aspect of quantum gravity that was developed in the 50s or are there any others you know of? – Hypnosifl Oct 27 '15 at 16:53
  • @Hypnosifl: I think starting a discussion of the history of quantum gravity here is a good way to get us both in trouble with the mods :-) – John Rennie Oct 27 '15 at 16:56
  • Well, as long as it's limited to a very quick summary of the ideas that were developed in the 50s, I think it's relevant to judging whether any of them might have specifically inspired Ringo's "ley lines" or whether the reference to something discovered in the 50s was either completely invented or just a broad reference to quantum gravity. – Hypnosifl Oct 27 '15 at 16:58
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I believe he is referring here to several developments, all of which took place in mid- to late 1950, when Gravity theory really took off.

At that time John Archibald Wheeler proposed that gravity to be investigated in two, concurrent directions of unquantized general relativity and quantized general relativity, which sparked a very interesting debate, where

a wormhole in space-time threaded by electric flux

is said to be possible, for example.

Further pursuits by Robert Henry Dicke and others in gravitational theories and experiments gave rise to scalar-tensor gravity theory, tied in turn into String Theory (please note extreme oversimplification; I'm just highlighting the flow)

However, we're not there yet. Enter 1986 and Abhay Ashtekar with his reformulation of Einstein's General Relativity theory and thus, after a short while, loop quantum gravity, an alternative to String Theory "explanation" of gravity emerges.

It is quite important because it basically postulates that celestial bodies are all interconnected on a quantum level, with gravity being another dimension. So the effect of that would be a possibility of a quantum tunnel along the "gravitational ley-lines". Of course, again a caveat: oversimplification of the theory and it's concepts, as well as pointing out the fact that use of "ley-lines" is mine, inspired by Ringo.

So, 1986 is not quite 1950s, but then again, had it not been for Wheeler's split, LQG may not grace us with it's existence at all.

A side note. Ringo is quite good with all kinds of science stuff, mainly because he has friends he can ask about his ideas, and he can ask questions very nicely. But since it's second book in the series, I'd assume that he was not in the habit of asking questions yet, just using bits of knowledge picked up here and there... My thinking is based on the peculiar construction: "quirk of quantum theory". There are many "quirk of quantum theory" that have been recently (or not) discovered, and every time it's used it's not a scientific, but literary construction, as the description happens to describe for example behaviour of subatomic particles in vacuum, Hawking radiation not related to black holes, magnetic field measurements etc. All of them are linked to quantum theory, but aside that have little in common.

But that's just my opinion and may not be correct, since I stumbled onto his Looking Glass series, where... let's just say I appreciate his quantum physics jokes there quite a bit. Talking about mad science turned not only popular, but funny.

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