Schroedinger, one of the first quantum physicists, posited the notion of indeterminateness this way: if you put a cat in a box, and close the lid, and wait, and wait, and wait, waiting long enough for the possibility that the cat has perished to arise, the cat is technically both alive and dead. Until one opens the box, that is. At that moment, and only at that moment, reality resolves itself into a determined state. The cat is observed to be alive, or dead, and it is the act of observation which constructs the reality being observed.
If that is too complex, consider Ursula’s barrel. Before she opens it, it is full of possibilities. It might hold the treasure she hopes to find: gold, pearls, rubies, diamonds. It might hold evidence of dastardly crimes: bones, perhaps, or a last will and testament meant never to see the light of day. It might hold the key to a new puzzle, a clue to some other mystery.
In quantum physics, the barrel holds all these things equally. They are all present and not present in the barrel in the deep, dark, dusty corner of the dark and cold cellar in the widow’s rooming house in this small town in a relatively obscure corner of a country that is still determining its own character and future possibilities, a country that is both welcoming and hostile, both inclusive of its indigenous peoples and seeking to extinguish them; and this country holds all the possibilities of its planet’s futures, peace and war, preservation and destruction, all this waiting to be observed by someone and, thus, brought into existence.
Ursula is about to usher in a specific future, as she moves the lid of the barrel to one side, and peers into its depths.
She sees something that looks an awfully lot like giant rolled-up cigars, but more cylindrical, and with strings extending from each cigar-shaped item.
It smells of sulphur.
Ursula wonders if she has glimpsed the hell the nuns speak of in her time at the Catholic school; and then she hears the creak of the cellar door open, and the newly determined world set in place by her observation swings into action.