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In the original Quantum Leap series, physicist Sam Beckett — deftly played by Scott Bakula — develops a machine for traveling through time, at least within a person’s own lifetime. Like many other scientists both real and fictional, Beckett is beholden to investors, and they threaten to pull funding if they don’t see some results, and fast. With the threat of his life’s work slipping away, Beckett tests the machine on himself and, wouldn’t you know it, it works. Beckett finds himself in the past. What’s more, he’s been transported into the body of another person. In each episode, Becket “quantum leaps” into another time and another person in his never-ending quest to get home.
Sadly, as evidenced by a title card at the end of the final episode, Sam Beckett never returned home. Apologies for the spoilers, but it’s been almost three decades. Now, almost 30 years later, the series is getting a revival on Peacock. The new show exists in the same universe and acknowledges the events of the original series. However, since Beckett never came home, viewers need a new protagonist and they’ve got one in the form of quantum physicist Dr. Ben Song, played by Raymond Lee.
WHAT IS A QUANTUM LEAP?
While the technology in the new series has been updated and most of the players have changed, it still hinges on the same scientific ideas. Namely, that spooky stuff happens at the quantum level, and we might somehow be able to leverage that weirdness to our benefit. And, of course, time travel hijinks.
The shows, both new and old, take their name from a real physical effect observed by scientists. When viewing an electron, scientists have observed that they exist at distinct energy levels. An electron can jump from one energy state to another, but it isn’t observed between those two states. To an outside observer, it appears as though the electron has leapt from one state of being to another.
These sorts of bizarre behaviors aren’t atypical at the quantum level. There, the ordinary rules which govern the behavior and motion of macro-objects like planets or people, don’t apply. Likewise, however, the ways in which things operate at the quantum level appear to settle down as objects become larger and more complex. In short, particles and people don’t act the same.
There’s a semi-famous idea that, given what we know about quantum motion, it might be possible for a granite statue to suddenly start waving, if all of its particles experience the right quantum effects all at the same time. The thinking goes that the same mechanics could allow you to walk through a wall or teleport to another place or time. While it might be mathematically possible for all of your particles to experience a quantum shift at the same time, “possible” is doing a lot of heavy lifting. The probability, which is what really matters, is vanishingly small.
Unless you’ve got some fanciful high-tech machinery hidden in a basement laboratory and a willingness to experiment on yourself without fully understanding what you’ve made, you’re probably safe from any unintentional jumping into alternate realities.
That is, unless you’re a believer in the practice of quantum jumping.
WHAT IS A QUANTUM JUMP?
To answer that, we need to specify some terms. In scientific circles, a quantum jump is just another name for a quantum leap. Two terms for describing the same weird behavior. In the public consciousness, however, the two terms have taken on separate lives of their own. In much the same way that “quantum leap” became synonymous with a dramatic improvement — as well as the name of the aforementioned television series — “quantum jump” has nestled into a comfortable little home within meditation.
The idea of quantum jumping as a form of meditation has been around for a while, but it recently took off on TikTok, with videos collectively racking up millions of views. As a result, the practice is seeing a surge in popularity and more than a little confusion. So, what is it?
Quantum jumping begins with a more recognizable variety of mindfulness: the practice of visualization. Visualizing a preferred outcome is a motivational and performance technique which has been widely employed. It rests on the logic that it is easier for you to achieve something if you’re first able to envision what that looks like. It makes a sort of intuitive sense and there’s some evidence that it works.
Quantum jumping takes this foundation and makes a significant leap by invoking quantum behavior. Practitioners start by envisioning an outcome or a state of being which is different than the one they’re currently experiencing. They might be asked to imagine another version of themselves, one with a better job, a nicer house, or a stronger relationship. Whatever it is that you want out of life, you first have to imagine it. So far, so good. But it doesn’t stop there.
Quantum jumpers believe we live in a multiverse, specifically the many worlds interpretation which suggests that there are an increasingly infinite number of universes, each with a version of your life which went down another path. It’s worth noting that the multiverse, in its various interpretations, isn’t an innately silly idea. It just hasn’t been sufficiently demonstrated. Back to quantum jumping.
Practitioners believe that through effectively visualizing another version of your life and applying the right kinds and amounts of energy — it’s unclear precisely what that means — you can push yourself from this reality and into another one. In truth, it’s closer to Sliders than Quantum Leap. Once there, both versions of you exist in the same space while you navigate an alternate reality, one in which life is better in some perceived way. You then have access to all of the knowledge and experience of your other self, which you can bring back and implement in your “real” life.
It goes without saying that quantum jumping has not been validated by rigorous scientific testing. Instead, it rests on a nebulous understanding of some already complicated scientific topics. Richard Feynman once famously said “If you think you understand quantum mechanics, you don’t understand quantum mechanics” and that probably applies whether we’re leaping or jumping.
All of that said, existing in this world is hard enough. If a quantum jump or a Quantum Leap helps you to navigate this life, or any other you may encounter, we wish you safe travels and a clear road home.
Quantum Leap premieres Sept. 19 on NBC, with the episode available the next day on Peacock.