JISHOU, HUNAN — It’s not often I can read something about quantum physics and politics at the same time, so I have to share this piece in the Sunday New York Times about the puzzling phenomenon known as Mitt Romney, candidate.
Of course, as is true when reading some xkcd comics, if you’re not up on the concepts, the jokes will fly right over your head, but I got a few chuckles out of David Javerbaum’s “A Quantum Theory of Mitt Romney.” Romney is not only animatronic and a living Etch-a-Sketch, he’s also a metaphor for quantum physics.
Two excerpts from Javerbaum’s piece will show what I mean:
Complementarity. In much the same way that light is both a particle and a wave, Mitt Romney is both a moderate and a conservative, depending on the situation (Fig. 1). It is not that he is one or the other; it is not that he is one and then the other. He is both at the same time.
Entanglement. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a proton, neutron or Mormon: the act of observing cannot be separated from the outcome of the observation. By asking Mitt Romney how he feels about an issue, you unavoidably affect how he feels about it. More precisely, Mitt Romney will feel every possible way about an issue until the moment he is asked about it, at which point the many feelings decohere into the single answer most likely to please the asker.
Both excerpts do a pretty good job of summing up two basic principles of quantum physics. Light will exhibit as a wave or as a stream of particles depending on the experiment being done. (Paul Hewitt’s conceptual explanation is “light travels as a wave and interacts with matter as particles,” which probably oversimplifies matters but at least it’s comprehensible.) Thus, we can say light is a particle and a wave at the same time. Entanglement appears in Werner Heisenberg’s gedanken experiment of trying to look at an electron in a microscope, as well as in real-live-physics situations. The act of observing something at the quantum level changes the state of the thing being looked at it. So, if we assume Romney’s positronic brain contains all possible policy statements, each questioner can be assured that the immediate response is just the one the questioner desires.
Javerbaum also shoots a couple of barbs at Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum, who are in fact not anti-Romneys. Romney himself contains the possibility of his own anti-candidate. Javerbaum calculates that a chance encounter between Romney and an anti-Romney would result in their complete annihilation, leaving only a scattered electron and a $20 bill as evidence of their existence.