Just Not the Way You Think: Quantum Politics

Illustration courtesy of Katherine Chui





  “Polarization” is a term with which we are all too familiar. Rather than engaging in constructive dialogues, politicians starkly disagree on various issues, like climate change, abortion, or breastfeeding. But is polarization only limited to the U.S. government?

  Enter quantum physics.

  It goes without saying that quantum physics is a very important field of study, so much so that it quite literally dictates our reality.

  But an obscure and technical – but nonetheless fierce – debate is ensuing in the world – or worlds – of quantum mechanics. Scientists around the globe have proposed multiple theories that try to explain how we humans can leave our concrete, or “classical,” world to gain access to the quantum realm.

  To understand this controversy, imagine staring at a pencil on a flat table. In the classical, or concrete, world that we are accustomed to, we would simply see . . . a pencil on a flat table. But in the quantum realm, the pencil and its particles could exist in multiple places at the same time. This idea may seem like science fiction turned real, but there’s a catch. By staring at that pencil, we are assigning it a specific measurement, or a fixed position on the flat table in the concrete world, which prevents us from seeing the pencil as it exists in the quantum realm. In other words, simply looking at that pencil automatically prevents us from seeing it in the quantum world.

  Here is another example: if you are still reading the printed words and letters of this solid newspaper page right now, you are moving further and further away from being able to read in the quantum realm. Sorry!

  But the questions that you’re probably asking yourself right now are “How do we see the quantum realm?” and “What on earth does quantum physics have to do with the US government?!” Scientists have offered many theories that attempt to answer the first, seemingly impossible, question. Unfortunately, these experts favor their own ideas over those proposed by their counterparts all over the world. As the Scientific American put it, “Quantum partisans choose their favorite description of reality based on aesthetics.”

  Let’s look at the second question: this debate extends beyond a few scientists arguing with scientific jargon. It speaks to the growing global culture, and we do not have to look very far to see it in action. Instead of working to fix the reality that we live in, our elected officials are debating about what actually constitutes reality. Sound familiar? In the field of quantum physics, an area that pushes knowledge beyond its limits and where reason and constructive discussion ought to reign, scientists are unwilling to see eye-to-eye. Our leaders in both science and politics are literally picking and choosing their own versions of reality “based on aesthetics.” Those three words speak to the emerging culture of the globe, quantum or not.

  We literally exist in a world of possibilities. As humans, we are not welcome to the unknown; we try to use a measurement, an explanation, or a belief to make sense of what we don’t fully understand. This is essential for our survival. But we must also debate and reason with one another in order to gain greater common knowledge. That is also essential for our survival. What we cannot do is completely shun other points of view, especially with issues that lie at the heart of humanity, like climate change, abortion, gun control, or quantum mechanics.

  It’s about time we faced reality.