Communication On Earth

Communication is a key aspect of life for all organisms that live alongside one another. Without the ability to talk to other people or relay information through a common language the human race would not be able to live together or develop new technology. Sending and receiving information over very long distances, like between different planets, can still be challenging. Currently humans send information through space by using radio waves that require precise coordination to receive the signals over very long distances. In Orson Scott Card’s Ender's Game the International Fleet was able to develop technology that allowed them to communicate with no delay to people that is millions of miles away. A long range link can be created between two people using the Philotic Parallax Instantaneous Communicator or ansible. The device operates by using philotic physics, a theory on quantum mechanics that is explained in other books from the series. The philotic physics described by Card shares some similarities with modern quantum mechanics theories, such as string theory and quantum entanglement, but can these theories really allow instantaneous communication across the galaxy?

Philotic Theory

Philotic physics is first explained in the third book in the series called Xenocide. The physics that allow Ender to command the fleet is based on the existence of philotes, a building block of all other forms of matter. According to the Enderverse Wikia Page a philote has no mass or inertia, the only properties they have are location, duration, and connection. A philote combine with each other to create other forms of matter. All philotes found in the universe are connected along a ray that traverses the whole universe. Because these rays exist throughout the universe all forms of matter are connected to each other 1. This connection reflects some of the ideas that create the theory of quantum entanglement. According to Card philotic physics would allow a person to be able to communicate to each other across the galaxy because of the connections that all matter has with the rest of the universe. He mentions that the ansible uses philotic physics to operate.

String Theory

From Ender's Game we see a type of physics that describes how the world is built using incredibly small forms of matter that can intelligently create larger objects. These are used throughout the remaining Ender's Game books to explain the communication between the organisms and a form of teleportation. Philotic theory follows the idea that the universe is made from a single particle called a philote with specific properties. The superstring theory that is being tested and developed right now by physicists declares that some of these same ideas are true for the real world. Brian Greene, a physics and math professor at Columbia University, describes the basics behind string theory in the clip below.

(Suggested section of the video to watch is from 9:40 to 11:37)

Both philotic and super string theories state that matter is created by one material that has varying properties. The greatest difference between the two trains of thoughts is how these building blocks behave. String theory, as the name describes, states that the world is comprised of tiny strings that vibrate at different frequencies, and this will determine what properties the matter it creates has. Philotic theory has a more metaphysical style. Philotes have varying levels of "intelligence", and smart ones will give way to life while others create lifeless matter2. As mentioned, above the philotes will connect to each other using a ray, but in normal string theory the connection to the rest of the universe is lacking. Since string theory does not demonstrate that all objects in the universe are connected to each other by a giant ray it will be much more difficult to communicate long distances faster than the speed of light. The physical connection of the world’s matter makes it very easy for quantum entanglement to function as a means of communication in Ender's Game.

Quantum Entanglement

The ansible from Ender's Game works because of the philote's ability to communicate to one another acrost galaxy. The connection that is shared between the philotes enables this communication to occur. This idea is similar to what we know now as quantum entanglement. From an MIT news article about the creation of wormholes through entanglement, quantum entanglement can be described as the phenomenon where two particles have their properties tied to each other through some connection. Imagine two particles that have different spins, one clockwise and the other counter clockwise, but their states will be indefinite until one of them is measured. If one of these particles were to change spin the other would also instantaneously change its spin, as if it knows what happened to its partner. This effect can be seen at very long distances3.

The idea that two particles can be light years apart and be able to communicate with each other faster than the speed of light is a fascinating thought, and physicists have been trying to apply their knowledge to develop technology using this. Specifically, research is being completed in communication and computer science.

A company called D-Wave Systems has actually developed commercially available computers that use quantum processors for pattern recognition, optimization problems, and other forms of analysis. Their current model, the D-Wave two, is a 512 q-bit computer, and it stores information in the form of 1's, 0's, and simultaneously being 1 or zero. The ability to store as three different types is referred to as quantum superposition. The computer's use of entanglement and quantum tunneling allows it to rapidly complete certain forms of computations4.

The communication of quantum properties is being tested by several groups where they are trying to send the properties of one electron to another at some distance away. Researchers at the Delft University of Technology report they are able to successfully transfer the states of one entangled electron to its pair three meters away. A New York Times article "Scientists Report Finding Reliable Way to Teleport Data" clearly explains the work that they completed. The researchers were able to entangle two electrons and then later observe the properties of one of the electrons and find that the other electron of the pair shows the same properties as the other5.

Feasibility of Ansible-Like Communication

With all of the physics behind the quantum mechanics of the real world and Ender's Game philotic physics, could we actually communicate effectively and instantly across the galaxy? The answer is no, not yet. In Ender's Game a similar form of quantum mechanics exists in that they believe the world is composed of a single building block, as opposed to multiple different things. String theory is somewhat similar to the philotic theory shown in Ender's Game. If we all were to believe in and understand string theory we still do not have the same quantum properties. The philotes are connected to each other while in conventional physics matter is only connected by the theories and laws we have defined to describe it. This almost physical connection the philotes have allows quantum entanglement to be readily possible since information can be passed along telepathically, as seen with the buggers.

In the real world entanglement, needs to be forced to occur if we are going to use it for specific applications. The ability to create quantum computers that solve complex problems is a great tool, but we do not have the ability yet to make them smaller and more versatile. Quantum computers can only be used to solve certain types of problems, and they require specific operating procedures to work. The sending of information using quantum mechanics also is not far enough along to be a viable way to communicate across the galaxy. At this time researchers have only been able to relay the properties of one atom to another. This is very cool, but electron properties are not a normal method of communication between people. Until a method is discovered that will allow real information to transport instantly intergalactic communication like the ansible is not possible.

Final Thoughts

Even though communication across the galaxy is not yet possible the foundation for the technology that Orson Scott Card described does exist. It may not seem like it right now, but maybe in a few decades or hundreds of years humans will have figured out much more about quantum mechanics, and instant communication from long distances will be real. This kind of discovery would be very important if humans were capable of traveling far away from earth. Currently, most, if not all, communication devices in space have a time delay before the data reaches its destination. Fast communication would improve space exploration and research.


1. "Philote." Enderverse. Wikia, n.d Web. 13 Sept. 2014.
2. TED. "Brian Greene Making Sense of String Theory." Online video clip. YouTube. YouTube, 23 Apr. 2008. Web. 13 Sept. 14.
3. Chu, Jennifer."You Can't Get Entangled Without a Wormhole."MIT News. MIT News Office, 5 Dec. 2013. Web. 13 Sept. 14.
4. "Quantum Computing: How D-Wave Systems Work." dwavesys. D-Wave Systems Inc, n.d. Web. 13 Sept. 2014.
5. Markoff, John. "Scientists Report Finding Reliable Way to Teleport Data."The New York Times. The New York Times, 29 May 2014. Web. 13 Sept. 2014.

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