Society and communities
Going viral: quantum perceptions in a post-Covid world
Are we there yet? For some time now we’ve been seeing references to a ‘post-Covid world’ even as new variants have emerged, with case numbers and deaths, not to mention restrictions, all fluctuating accordingly. As we return to the workplace (or not) and recover from anxiety (or not) the only thing certain is uncertainty. Meanwhile digital media has become more pervasive than ever, instrumental in both work and pleasure—or the montage of screen activity in which we try to distinguish one from the other.
This is the context in which I wrote Spring Fever, a quantum romantic techno-thriller with a literary sensibility. Set in London and Nottingham, it involves a young woman working for a digital media company, an ice hockey player who talks like a Continental philosopher, and a global virus affecting computers and humans in disturbing ways. Think of it as a diagonal step into a post-Covid future, with health sensors and other technological innovations ensuring our safety. Which means public health is all sorted, right? Or maybe not quite.
Believe it or not, this all started as a joke. One evening I was watching a post-game interview with an ice hockey player in which the presenter asked the player what he was thinking when he scored a goal with just a few seconds remaining on the clock. The player uttered a few platitudes, trying to be nice about it, when of course the real answer is that he wasn’t thinking anything at all. I wondered what would happen if the player started speaking in grandiose philosophical terms, particularly with reference to phenomenology – that is, the study of the structures of experience and consciousness, or how we as embodied subjects perceive things. (In fact, the ice hockey player Craig Merleau in the novel is named after Maurice Merleau-Ponty, a phenomenologist whose theories inform much of what Craig says.)
This whole scenario would be especially intriguing in Britain, I thought, where ice hockey receives comparably little attention, and therefore has the potential to suddenly gain notice. As someone born and raised in Maine, I played hockey when I was young, and I still watch it, so the game has always been familiar to me. Simultaneously I was (and still am) uneasy about technology and social media, even though I depend on it for countless things. Covid anxiety also played an obvious role, especially as it was amplified on a collective level during the pandemic, most notably during lockdowns. And more fundamentally, I was becoming increasingly vexed by the rift or gap between our everyday experience and the imperceptible world described by quantum physics, which in some ways corresponds to the gap between appearance and reality that underlies so much of social media.
Mind the gap, indeed. Despite our everyday experience in a Newtonian universe with observable laws of motion and phenomena, the advent of quantum physics has brought superposition, uncertainty, indeterminacy, nonlocality and entanglement (which Einstein famously dubbed ‘spooky action at a distance’), dark energy, worm holes, multiverses and superstrings, to name only a handful of vexations under the remit of, in effect, two physics—a classical or Einsteinian one for large bodies in the macroworld and a quantum one for fuzzy probabilities and discontinuities in the microworld—each with its own sets of laws and equations. Stranger still, no one can pinpoint exactly where this gap between the two physics is located—that is, the threshold at which the quantum become the classical.
But what if we were able to perceive subatomic phenomena such gravity quakes and dark energy? And what if an ice hockey player’s philosophical pronouncements began to have an effect on his team’s performance, putting them on a winning streak? And what if these two issues were somehow related through digital technology? These questions all simmered away until I started writing about Amanda (the young woman mentioned above) who finds herself in the eye of the storm, surrounded by a strange new virus called Spring Fever and yet separate from it at the same time.
Drawing from this narrative, I worked with the Nottingham Institute for Policy and Engagement and Lakeside Arts to film some dramatised readings, which I hope will give an impression of a world which, despite its altered perceptions and technology, isn’t very different from our own. As we carry on with our lives in the long tail of Covid, the virus itself may recede, but its imprint will remain, not only as a memory of troubled times but also a step toward a rebooted future. Spring Fever may not be the ‘next’ virus, but it addresses what’s at stake for all of us, come what may.
Spring Fever will be published by Valley Press in March 2023. For details and updates, visit thomaslegendre.com/spring-fever
You can also find Thomas Legendre on Twitter @legendreality
Dr Thomas Legendre
Dr Thomas Legendre is an Assistant Professor in Creative Writing at the School of English