[Version française]

Text by Etienne Klein, footnotes by Maxime Bondu.
For the exhibition, Quantum information at Jérôme Poggi Gallery, 2017.

Quantum physics transports us into incredible universes where, through wormholes and quantum tunnelling, the line separating the possible from the impossible becomes porous. But nothing can radically be destroyed: nothing can ever become absolutely nothing. 

But physicists sometimes disappear without a trace, carried away by a craving for permanent wandering. 

This was the case of Ettore Majorana, a brilliant theorist who evaporated one day in March 1938, at the age of thirty-one. Nobody knows what happened to him: suicide? flight to South America or a parallel universe? reclusion in a monastery? The young man orchestrated his disappearance so well that the mystery remains. It appears today as a quantum particle whose destiny superimposes a multitude of diff erent trajectories. None of the possible hypotheses about his disappearance can be considered more substantiated than the others, the only thing that can be said today is that he disappeared on a certain date (which is known), that he died on another date (which is not known), and that between these two events the course of his life could have followed a thousand and one different scenarios, all equally plausible, all of which are impossible to distinguish.1The many theories of his disappearance are typewritten together on a single sheet of paper.

A pale and frail man, Majorana lived for and by equations. In those days, the Macedonia that he smoked at a wipe speed rate were sold in 10 cigarette packs.

Once empty, the young man used these small packages to write down an urgent idea or make a pressing2Probable packages of Macedonia cigarettes are replicated and annotated. calculation, especially when travelling by tram: 

Often a new idea came to mind, or the solution of a difficult problem, or the explanation of some experimental results that had previously seemed incomprehensible. He would then search his pockets, draw out a pencil and a pack of cigarettes on which he would scribble formulas. Once he got off the tramway, he went away, very absorbed, his head lowered, while a big strand of black hair fell on his eyes. As soon as he arrived at the Institute, he started looking for Fermi or Rasetti, and, with his pack of cigarettes in his hand, he explained his idea to them.3Laura Fermi, Atomes en famille, mon existence avec Enrico Fermi, Paris, Gallimard, 1955, pp. 62-63. 

Majorana Let’s imagine now an individual, endowed with both superior intelligence and excellent memory, who would have stored in his mind all the equations and phrases written by Majorana on these cigarette packs, parallelepipedic and ephemeral material supports of his most abstract thoughts. It is no exaggeration to say that this unlikely individual would probably have more knowledge about the world of elementary particles than many encyclopaedias. But where could this now invisible past go? Is it nowhere, is it completely gone?4In December 1925, the SS Cotopaxi steamship SS, carrying a cargo of coal to Havana, disappeared off the coast of Charleston in South Carolina. In 2015, a series of articles became viral on the web, claiming it reappeared not far from the Cuban coasts. Using the principle of superposition known thanks to the paradox of E. Schrödinger’s dead and vivid cat, the speculated vessel, based on an image, appears to exist in the various states observed, both disappeared and reappeared. Or would he have retained the ability to project his evanescent reality into the present? 

Let’s take a closer and as penetrating as possible look at it. What do we see? When we focus on these cigarette packs, the mere fact of paying attention to them leads us to delve into their history, to move away from the surface of their present: we perceive then something that still seems to tie them to their distant provenance. Wasn’t Vladimir Nabokov right to evoke a “transparency of things, through which their past shines”?5Vladimir Nabokov, La Transparence des choses, Fayard, Paris, 1979, p. 11. 

Moreover, if we consider them as relativity theory invites us to do so, we can see that they are not static things in space, but sequences of events in space-time; that they are not three-dimensional volumes, but four-dimensional hyper-volumes, which would have begun to take shape in the depths of the 1930s and would have never ceased since then to be translated in time, minute after minute. In short, these cigarette packs have endured by repeating themselves in the same way, continuously, without ever missing themselves, without missing a moment of the moment.

Fascinating perspective: the persistence of things that seem immobile to us hides in reality an invisible dynamic6In 1972, the American biologist and father of cryptozoology Ivan T. Sanderson published The Twelve Devil’s Graveyards Around the World, where he developed a theory of localizing twelve specific zones according to a specific geometric pattern he called the vile vortex. Based on this information, the maps presented here attempt to reproduce a geometric trace that positions these zones on a randomly folded planisphere. By chance, geographical connections, emptiness and passages are thus created., incessant, that of the uninterrupted succession of moments that have carried their presence7The anagram can be perceived as carrying the letters of a formulation in time and space. A possible translation of the sequence of letters forming the expression “to the quantum situation of Majorana” corresponds to “o radiant mask that destroyed the addition. The second expression summons – through the notions of duplicates, radiation, nothingness and addition – fundamental concepts of quantum physics. since their first appearance. 

So, at the end of these cigarette packs deployed in space-time, what should we see after all? Ettore Majorana, the pleated forehead, writing a sublime formula, for example, dedicated to the spin of hydrogen placed in a variable magnetic field8Some unpublished notes by E. Majorana supported a magnetic moment of the spin of the hydrogen (the magnetic moment of a body manifests itself in the tendency of this body to align itself in the direction of a magnetic field). This quantum property is at the heart of the development of Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) technology. According to brain slices, a three-dimensional elevation is speculated here, which formalizes these superimposed planes of the mind-like masks: Majorana’s masks.

Etienne Klein, 2017.