My journey started by reading Tim Folger’s article Shadow Play, published in the September 2001 issue of Discover Magazine, which I still have. I picked up this magazine article at O’Hare airport during a layover on a redeye flight from Portland to Philadelphia on the morning of September 11th, 2001. By the time I landed in Philadelphia, which was after the first plane hit the twin towers but before the second, the article got me thinking about the strange behavior of particles, and the even stranger explanations given for that behavior by quantum physicists. This is where my earliest ideas about Persistence began. In short, it changed my life on the same morning, pretty much at the same exact time that our nation and our world was transformed by the terrorist attacks.
In 2010 I read Ted Chiang’s short story, Story of Your Life, which would become the basis for the movie Arrival. It taught me about something I’d never heard before: Fermat’s Principle. This changed my life again. I had the great fortune of meeting Ted Chiang at the Futurescapes writing workshop in 2019.
Learning of Fermat’s Principle helped solidify my confidence that Persistence was on the right track. I recently wrote about the Principle in a short story:
“It always fascinated me,” I said. “Each photon has to know the precise angle to leave the sun so it hits the water just right to minimize its total time, because light travels more slowly in water. And the only way for it to know is to know its entire path—”
“In advance!” he said enthusiastically. “Isn’t that the most remarkable thing? Particles like photons can’t just make it up as they go. They have to know their entire journey from their very beginning to their very end.”
“Like threads,” I said.
“Like threads,” he said, “in a timeless Fabric.”
In about 2008, I decided to contact a friend-of-a-friend, a particle physicist at CERN to discuss Persistence. He didn’t see anything patently wrong with the idea but felt I should speak with a quantum physicist. I was a bit surprised that particle physics and quantum physics were different fields of study, but I reached out to a local professor whose background was in quantum mechanics to discuss the idea. He didn’t see anything patently wrong with Persistence either but felt I should speak with a particle physicist. Well, of course.
It was at that moment that I realized without a lab, without an academic or research position, without grant money, and without formal training in physics, my best route forward was to create a great story to surround Persistence and make it interesting to a broader audience. Over the past few years I have become more serious about writing, making a number of new friends and learning about the perplexing world of publishing along the way. Publish a short story first, I said. That will be easy, and a novel will be a fast follow, I said. Ha!
Sagan Franklin and Brian Medlock, characters in my short story One Man’s Persistence, put it like this:
I regained my composure. “You had this unified theory brewing in your head, but you did nothing about it. No experimentation? No scientific publications?”
“How would I have?” The defensive tone in his voice was unmistakable. “I had a theory but I wasn’t in the field of physics. I had never even taken trigonometry or calculus.”
He caught my look of surprise. “Math helps us describe how things behave,” he continued. “It does nothing to help us understand why things behave the way they do. Why is the question. Why do these things behave the way they do?” He relaxed back into his seat. “So I decided to wrap science fiction around it and make it interesting for everyone.”
And so that is where my journey on Persistence has led me. My hope is that readers will ask themselves not only if the story is interesting, but if it might actually be true.
I look forward to staying in touch!