Mindy Newell: Oh Boy!


“Theorizing that one could time travel within his own lifetime, Doctor Sam Beckett stepped into the Quantum Leap accelerator – and vanished. He awoke to find himself trapped in the past, facing mirror images that were not his own, and driven by an unknown force to change history for the better. His only guide on this journey is Al, an observer from his own time, who appears in the form of a hologram that only Sam can see and hear. And so Doctor Beckett finds himself leaping from life to life, striving to put right what once went wrong and hoping each time that his next leap – will be the leap home…”

Quantum Leap • Donald P. Bellasario, Creator • NBC, March 1989 – May 1993

I was cruising the channels on the Sunday before Memorial Day – which I still think of as May 31, not the last Monday of the month – when I discovered a marathon of Quantum Leap airing on Cozi, an obscure cable network which is broadcast as one of those extra local channels. (I’ve also discovered that it airs episodes of The Dick Van Dyke Show on weekday afternoons.) Being a rabid fan of the show back in the day, I sat back and enjoyed the view.

I’m obviously not well versed in quantum mechanics, but here’s an explanation of the term “quantum leap” by Jim Loy in 1996:

Some people think that a quantum leap is a particularly large leap. This is incorrect. In fact, in quantum physics, where the expression came from, a quantum leap is usually a very tiny leap indeed, often smaller than the diameter of the nucleus of an atom. So what is a quantum leap?

“A quantum leap is a leap from A to B, without passing through any of the points between A and B. Imagine that you enter a train in A-ville. You sit in your seat, and the train is instantly transported to your destination of B-ville. You just made a quantum leap. The train didn’t pass through any point between A-ville and B-ville.

“A train on tracks is essentially a one-dimensional system. The quantum leap idea works just as well in 2 to 3 dimensions. Something performs a quantum leap if it goes directly from some point A to some other point B, without passing through any other points from the time it left A to the time it arrived at B. Cartoon characters can perform quantum leaps, very easily. In fact, the art of cartooning is mainly involved in making the characters seem to move smoothly from A to B, instead of in leaps.

“Outside of cartoons, we don’t see quantum leaps in real life. We only see quantum leaps at the sub-atomic (or quantum) level. A sub-atomic particle (an electron, for example) can often go from A to B without passing through any other points. This is counter-intuitive. But, it happens. Besides leaping across a distance, sub-atomic particles can change by leaps in other ways. An electron can change energy from energy-level A to energy-level B in a leap, without having any of the intermediate values of energy. In fact, this is where the term “quantum” comes from. At the sub-atomic level, energy is created and used up in well-defined amounts called “quanta.” “Quanta” is plural, “quantum” is singular.

As you can now see, the quantum leaps in the TV series, Quantum Leap, were true quantum leaps. The main character did indeed leap through space and time, without passing through any of the intermediate space and time.”

Pretty cool, huh? And I bet all you professional and aspiring sequential storytelling – i.e., comics and cartooning – artists didn’t know you were quantum physicists, leaping your characters from panel to panel in your own bubble universe.

But can you and I experience a quantum leap in the real world? Maybe the answer is yes. Oh, I don’t mean the way Sam Beckett does – his theory is that “a person’s life is like a length of string; one end represents birth, the other represents death. If one were to tie the ends of the string together, their life becomes a loop. Next, by balling the loop together, the days in one’s life would touch one another out of sequence. Therefore, jumping from one part of the string to another would allow someone to travel back and forth within their own lifetime, thus making a “quantum leap” between each time period” – but have things ever happened to you that suddenly bring you to another level, another reality, another existence?

Like…you come home from work and the phone rings and you pick it up and there’s a man on the other end of the phone, and he asks you out, and you say yes, and as you hang up the phone you suddenly realize that you have “quantum leaped” into a new life.

Like…you sit down and write up a story because you’re bored and you mail it off and in a few weeks you’re sitting across the desk from the editor of a comics company who wants to publish your story and when you get on the elevator to go home just like that you suddenly realize that you have “quantum leaped” into a new life.

Like…you’re at work and your husband calls you and he tells you that he’s leaving you and the world goes upside down and inside out and just like that you suddenly realize that you have “quantum leaped” into a new life.

Like…you’re in the car with your daughter and son-in-law and they start to laugh and they tell you that you’re sitting on something and you move your tuchas and you have been sitting on a photograph of an ultrasound of a baby in utero and just like that you are a grandmother and you suddenly realize that you have “quantum leaped” into anew life.

Like you’re visiting your parents for a holiday and you offer to go food shopping for them and you leave them laughing and talking and dancing and when you get back from the store your father is acting strangely and you think he is having a stroke and as you call your brother and 911 you suddenly realize that you have “quantum leaped” into another life.

Yeah, quantum leaps do happen and they happen all the time. Sometimes they’re great and sometimes they suck, but like electrons in the sub-atomic universe, our lives can jump from point A to point B in an instant…and like Schrödinger’s cat, our experiences shape our reality.

Oh, boy.