Latest Richardson brothers podcast episode. Full text below the jump.
Schrodinger’s Beer: A Refutation of Quantum Physics from the Duluth Bar Scene
By Jim Richardson
I conceived this theory in the pre-Covid days of carefree bar-hopping.
Part 1. Meeting a quantum physicist for a drink is an uncertain proposition
My barhopping routine refutes the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum physics.
Statistically, in the afternoons and evenings I could be found in one of five bars, taverns, and brewhouses: Vikre Distillery, Hoops Brewing, the Pizza Luce bar, Zeitgeist Café, and/or Sir Ben’s Tavern. If you ran the numbers because you were trying to find me one afternoon and my phone was off, you might assign a 20 percent chance to finding me at each establishment. That is my “wave function.” Before you actually look for me, as a good quantum physicist you say, “Well he’s in this cloud of probability somewhere, essentially a waveform made of math that has not collapsed yet into actually being Jim, because we have not gone looking for him yet. Once we find him, he will cease being a cloud of probability, and he will appear on a barstool.”
Then you go looking for me. First you check Vikre because that is where I would normally start out once I get off of work.
But sometimes I would go to some other bar first. You have no way of knowing. All you have are the probabilities. Perhaps some workmates would have a mind to gather at Sir Ben’s for the afternoon — normally my last stop! On those days, if you looked for me at Sir Ben’s first, you could find me there. Or anywhere in between. You know the math of where I’m likely to be — my orbit, my energy level — but you don’t really know where I actually am.
So when you finally find me at one place or the other, you say, like a good quantum physicist — “The wave function has collapsed from a wave to a particle, because before we found him, he was just a cloud of probabilities — but after we found him at Vikre — well there he was. The wave function has become a solid Jim.” A wave has appeared to become a particle, but only when someone looks at it, as in the Copenhagen interpretation.
So, if you asserted that the act of observing me at Vikre caused me to be at Vikre, that would appear irrefutable. After all, you looked for me, and there I was; if you had not looked for me, you would not have found me there, and I would have remained a wave function. Thus the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum physics reigns supreme.
But really, you couldn’t have known with certainty where I was until you found me. You had a 20 percent chance of finding me in any of my five favorite bars. Perhaps I exist in fifths in each establishment, and when you lay eyes on me, all my other fifths rush to me and complete me for the benefit of receiving the drink you will buy for me.
Part 2: The Uncertainty Principle
You could know the speed at which I move from bar to bar — one drink, maybe two — but not know my location. Like a good quantum physicist, you say to yourself, “Jim has mysterious quantum properties. Normal people are either here or there, and we can say how fast they are moving from bar to bar. But if we find Jim’s location, then how can we say how fast he’s moving — because having found him at a bar, that’s where he is — he is not in motion, he is at a place. So we either know how fast Jim is moving from place to place, or we know where he is, but we cannot know both. With Jim, it is not possible to predict both his location and his speed; we can only know one or the other.”
Yet while fundamentally weird, I am just me either found at a location, or, moving from place to place, in which case I may not be in a location yet. Conveniently, I wait for you to discover me there. Like a good physicist you say, “The act of actually finding Jim at Vikre precludes knowing how fast he is moving because he’s not going anywhere. Finding him has collapsed the probability field that he becomes when we don’t know what bar he is at. Only when his wave function collapses can we buy him a drink.”
Part 3: Quantum entanglement
Since it is early in the afternoon, I want to control the rate of my boozing. Hitting Vikre first normally, if I have two cocktails there, I will then only have one beer down the street at Hoops. And conversely, if I have one cocktail at Vikre, I will then have two beers at Hoops. So, one day I have a cocktail at Vikre. Then I walk to Hoops. Before I get there, I text you that I have had one cocktail at Vikre and I am going to Hoops. You know how many beers I’m drinking at Hoops. Like a good quantum physicist you ask, “How do we know how many beers he’s going to have at Hoops? Are his drinks communicating somehow? Do drinks know math? Can we use this magical property to communicate faster than light?”
Let’s investigate. Say Vikre and Hoops are across the universe from one another instead of just a short walk down the street through Canal Park. And let’s say I have an unknown number of drinks at Vikre. Then you find me at Hoops, and I have had one drink. Instantly, you know how many drinks I had at Vikre, even though this information could not have traveled between the two bars at opposite ends of the universe.
Did the number of drinks I had at Hoops travel back in time to Vikre and influence the number of drinks I had there? After all, the arrow of time is not present in physics, the math works exactly the same forward as backward. So it definitely looks like my drinks have time-traveled, and/or crossed the entire length of the universe. Because as soon as you know what I had at Hoops, instantly the number of drinks I had at Vikre is also known! What could explain this? Is it merely that my slow rate of drinking is well-known, that I drink no more than one an hour so I don’t get wasted, especially earlier in the day? Yet no good quantum physicist will admit to anything less than spookiness afoot.
The same holds true for what time you can find me where. If you know I drink one drink an hour, and I text you that I will be at Hoops having two drinks at 5 p.m., then you know I am at Vikre having one drink at 4 p.m., and you can surprise me there. Are you psychic?
It’s even weirder than that, because sometimes, I go to Canal Park Brewing, or the bar at Hanabi, or Blush, or the Roasteria and its limited hours. There is almost no way to predict where I will be drinking at any given moment that I am not in transit. I could mysteriously pop up anywhere in town, because not all the probabilities are known. I might even swing by Carmody Irish Pub, or Mexico Lindo. You will not find me until you look, but that doesn’t mean I am mysterious.
What it means is, I have an independent existence as a particle, but not all my parameters are known to you. Did I run into someone who boosted my energy level, and we went somewhere new, or perhaps we are smoking a joint on the Lakewalk? You don’t know. If you then find me — a measurement of what bar I am in — your measurement doesn’t cause me to appear where you looked. That’s anti-Copernican. Your measurement shows you where I already was.
Part 4: Shroedinger’s Beer
Suppose I am at the Pizza Luce bar where I stay or leave depending on the bartender serving me quickly or not. If the bartender does not see me, I will never get a drink and so I will leave. If they do see me, I will get served in a timely fashion and I will hang out. But because it is crowded, you don’t know if I am in the Luce bar or not until you ask the bartender if they served me.
If they say yes, then they saw me, and I am there. If they say no, perhaps I was there, but my presence was not measured, and therefore I am gone. Or, if they say no, perhaps I was never there, and I have passed by Luce because I can also get food at Zeitgeist.
Conversely, if you open the door to the Luce Bar, and you see I am there, you know the bartender saw me. The question is, if I am not there when you peek in the door, was I never there? If I am not there, the bartender definitely didn’t see me. My absence is correlated with not being seen. But it doesn’t mean I wasn’t there.
Part 5: The double slit experiment
One slit is the Hoops door, the other slit is the door to the Ripple Bar in the same space, but legally they must be separate businesses with separate doors because Minnesota’s liquor laws are stuck in a classical regime. So, I can wind up at either bar from going through either door. I can go through the Hoops door but then, once inside, I can go to the Ripple. Or, I can go through the Ripple door and then, go to Hoops. If one of the doors is stuck closed when I arrive, I can still be anywhere inside. Like a good quantum physicist you say, “Jim is a single particle because he went through one door, but once through, he acted like a wave and might be found at either bar. He has wave/particle duality and is thus very mysterious and perhaps inherently unknowable.”
My state changes purely through the act of observation. For instance, let’s say I go through the Hoops door 10 times with no one seeing me. It’s a habit of my nature you might verify statistically. But if you are standing there watching me as I arrive, I might go through the door of the Ripple just because. Maybe you made me nervous. Maybe you engaged me in conversation. The act of observing me has entangled us and changed my behavior.
Part 6: Polarization of light through filters
We might also model this on Hoops and the Ripple. If both doors are open, I might be at Hoops or I might be at the Ripple. But if I’m at Hoops I’m having an IPA, and if I’m at the Ripple I’m having a cocktail. So If I’m having a cocktail, you know I’m at the Ripple, but you have no idea what door I came through. So it looks like I was a wave passing through two slits, until I landed at one bar or the other. Then I solidified onto a barstool.
If the barstools were measuring devices, as soon as I sat down, you would know where I was and what I was drinking. And you would also know where I was not, and what drink I was not having. Even if you were on the other side of the universe, as soon as you knew where I was, you would know what I was drinking, even though if I texted you that information, you would never receive it because the universe would expand so far that by the time my text reached you, you would be dead. But even though my signal never reached you, you died knowing what I was drinking. Spooky!
-Related: Convivial Memories of an Epicurean Hedonist Con Mucho Gusto. All my essays here.
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