Posts tagged with superposition

Some people think of postmodernism as the rejection of the existence of objective facts. Another take is that po-mo comprises broader methods of getting one’s point across than didaction. For example: joking, insinuating, or ending sentences with question marks.

For example this sarcastic remark:

A theory is something which nobody literally believes except the person who invented it. An experiment is something which everybody literally believes except the person who invented it.

pokes fun at what a different conversational mode might wax about in general terms such as “human frailty” or “fallibility”—or sound like a stronger attack on the scientific method than it intends to be.

It’s natural to express scepticism when an expert or supposed expert disagrees with something that makes complete sense to you. (I owe ya a post called “The rigid rod of modus tollens & modus ponens”.) ”Says who?” is a sentence anyone can utter. You could view “the scientific method” as one way to respond to that criticism. But is it the only way?

Some (postmodern?) anthropologists and ethnographers begin their essays on people who are foreign to them by discussing their biases and where generally they’re coming from. Which may be a more appropriate response to scepticism with non-experimental data—a different way of addressing the same problem that repeatable double-blind experiments are supposed to, namely errors in judgment by the observer/researcher.

Economists have field-specific ways of addressing problems inherent to what they study. These include models, stylised facts, stating own biases, statistics, and rebuttals against the statistical analysis. But also self-questioning sarcasm. For example

The questions in economics never change. Only the answers do.


When we leave our closet, and engage in the common affairs of life, [reason’s] conclusions seem to vanish, like the phantoms of the night on the appearance of the morning; and ‘tis difficult for us to retain even that conviction, which we had attain’d with difficulty.


The Economics Nobel confers upon the laureate an appearance of expertise which in economics no one ought to possess.

I don’t think “a postmodern economics” needs to be “post-autistic” or revolutionary or hip in the ways I’ve seen suggested by heterodoxists. It could simply be the recognition that informal speech like sarcasm can be on the same level of importance as speeches, lectures, claims, statements, and pontifications.

  • copy editor
  • anti-trust economist
  • "international development" (anti-poverty, microfinance)
  • fair-trade certifier
  • logistician
  • bookie
  • statistical data analyst
  • (web) venture-capital business development / strategy
  • assistant domain-specific language (DSL) programmer
  • research potential new markets for industrial petroleum products
  • novelist
  • bank analyst
  • government statistician
  • (financial) trading assistant
  • (oil rig) roughneck
  • musician
  • casino attendant
  • distressed debt investor | liquidator | manage companies temporarily in receivership
  • miner
  • dockworker
  • OTC derivative synthesiser
  • computer engineer
  • (oil-drilling) mud log analyst
  • machine-learning quant

I cringe whenever an old person asks a young person "What do you want to do in life?" As if the answer could ever be simple. I’m sure I can’t remember everything I ever thought I might want to do but failed to. (And I’d guess it’s the same for most people.) Each of the above represents a potential alternative history now, and at the time, a superposition.

The act of writing is like the collapse of a quantum waveform. So many things are in your mind, interacting with each other, unsaid. Many truths — some at odds with others — could be spun into a thread. But whatever you write crystallizes as the story. The other ephemera die.

Since speech is serial, it’s hard to portray the composite quality of real-time motivations, perceptions, emotions, impulses, sentiments, choices, …. I’ve heard that Chinese poetry can multi-track — and perhaps many great writers can — but not me. 

Quantum Quacks

Even Roger Penrose was roundly mocked for suggesting that quantum interactions in the brain relate to free will. Going the other direction, What the bleep do we know? draws several intellectually limp conclusions from quantum mechanics, e.g. that QM implies the possibility of telekinesis. (I would say that the authors must have leapt to conclusions from blurbs & pamphlets, except that Niels Bohr and Wolfgang Pauli also took spiritualistic and parapsychological views on QM.)

So it would seem that connections between QM and psychology are limited to quackery.



However, QM is just an abstract mathematical theory. You don’t have to plug physical parameters into the formalism. In that sense you can abscond the superposition-and-collapse metaphor out of the subatomic realm where it was invented and apply it to other things — like thought.

In other words, you don’t have to talk about quantum superposition. You can talk about emotional superposition, opinion superposition, mood superposition, colour superposition (like, are these images green? red? blue? 1 2 3 4 5), personality superposition, guilt superposition, … and more.

If I say: “I had a superposition of thoughts during the bear attack which collapsed into a 1-D sequence when I told the story,” that is valid.

It’s neither what-the-bleep nor relying on quantum effects on my brain. I just appropriated the mathematical metaphor of superposition and the mathematical metaphor of collapse, to express how I can’t really tell you the whole story of the bear attack, and how the telling perverts the story itself.