Dear Evil Engineer: Can I store a monster in my pocket?
Image credit: Dreamstime
Inspired by games, our correspondent wants a suitable container to keep a monster concealed in clothing, ready to release at will.
Dear Evil Engineer,
I recently dusted off the old Game Boy Colour. It prompted memories of all the wonderful games I used to play when I was an innocent child, yet to experience the unlikely but thematically appropriate trauma that would turn me into the villain I am today.
It also prompted me to think: if I caught a monster of some sort to keep as my sidekick, would it be possible to carry it around in a spherical pocket-sized device to release at convenient moments? The monster could thus be nicknamed, to pull a completely speculative name from the air, a Pocket Monster.
A villainous gamer
A superb idea! So-called Pocket Monsters would be such convenient companions that – should this incredible storage technology exist – one must feel inclined to catch them all. Let us consider how we may approach storing a living creature in a much smaller space.
The first obvious path we could go down would involve ‘shrinking’ the monster. While there have been occasional demonstrations of impressive ‘shrink ray’ technologies, these tend to involve prompting certain molecules within a smart material to form bonds in a way that ‘draws in’ the material, causing it to shrink. This, though, is no more relevant to the Pocket Monster problem than a drying sponge shrinking.
When it comes to shrinking ordinary materials, there are two options: compressing the atoms, or getting rid of some of the atoms. The former is impossible without fiddling with some universal constants. The latter would be a fascinating and grotesque experiment to make Dr Moreau proud: what fraction of its cells could an organism lose and continue to carry out its essential biological functions? This would, however, be irreversible. You would at best end up with a miniaturised version of the monster you had before.
So, physically shrinking a monster to fit in a pocket-sized ball – shall we call it a ‘Pocket Ball’? – is unfeasible. How about making more space inside the ball?
In theory, you could have a Pocket Ball that appears 3D but contains a larger 4D space. This is easier to comprehend with an analogy that uses familiar dimensions: when you look straight at a cube, it appears to be a square, but we know it really extends into another dimension. Still, I couldn’t begin to tell you how to create a 4D Pocket Ball.
If we can’t make the Pocket Monster much smaller or the Pocket Ball much bigger, what options are left?
An alternative approach is to store the Pocket Monster elsewhere. In this proposal, the Pocket Ball is simply a device that turns the monster into a form which can be transported from a storage location elsewhere (and vice versa). This way, you would not have to carry around the monster’s entire mass with you wherever you go. This is a popular theory among fans of a Japanese media franchise with certain conceptual similarities to those you suggested.
This approach would most likely use quantum teleportation.
Quantum teleportation is, perhaps, not ‘teleportation’ as we may imagine it. It does not involve transporting matter from one place to another place instantaneously; it means transporting information from one place to another instantaneously. The basis for quantum teleportation is quantum entanglement: the ‘spooky action at a distance’ whereby the state of one particle affects the state of an entangled particle no matter the distance between them. Using quantum entanglement, the state of a remote particle can be manipulated, permitting instantaneous transfer of information. This is also the basis of quantum cryptography.
Scientists have demonstrated quantum teleportation with photons and atoms, including caesium and rubidium atoms. For instance, in 2017, Chinese scientists ‘teleported’ a photon from the Gobi Desert to an orbiting satellite. Although it has only been demonstrated with microscopic objects, there is no physical law that would prevent the ‘teleportation’ of macroscopic objects such as a Pocket Monster or even a human.
A speculative University of Leicester paper published in 2013 in the Journal of Physics Special Topics examined the feasibility of performing quantum teleportation on a human. It estimated that a human could be represented by around 2.6x1042 bits of data, which includes the DNA pairs making up the genomes in each cell and the data stored in the brain.
This is a colossal quantity of data. For comparison, the quantity of data on the internet is only in the zettabyte (1021 bytes) range. This means teleporting a human would require the equivalent of the entire UK power supply for more than one million years and, with the best bandwidth available, would still take longer than the age of the universe to transfer.
Once all this data has been transferred, there remains the challenge of reconstructing the human. It is possible to 3D print using ‘bio-inks’ of living cells, but the technology does not yet exist to print a nematode, let alone a Pocket Monster. There is no fundamental law of physics preventing this – it is just immensely complex and time-consuming.
Quantum teleportation also raises an ethical and philosophical problem: the Pocket Monster recreated by ‘teleportation’ is not the same creature that you caught, but a perfect recreation of it. Even villains know that the bond between a person and their Pocket Monster is important. Can you form a bond with a creature that knows it will be killed and cloned before long?
There are similarly far-fetched alternatives, such as using a wormhole to connect your Pocket Ball to a remote storage facility. However, all these are so unlikely that I think you would do better to find a strategy to manage free-range Pocket Monsters.
The Evil Engineer
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