To me you’re a wave, but to myself I’m sometimes a particle

By Emanuel Derman
January 4, 2012

In quantum mechanics — i.e. in the real world as we understand it today — matter can have two kinds of formerly apparently contradictory qualities.

The same applies to people.

Matter propagates as a wave but materializes (for observers) as a particle.

Similarly, people can be both free and yet enslaved, depending not only on circumstance but on the observer too.

Example:

When I do something GOOD, I like to say I acted freely, and I experience it that way.
When I do something hurtful or BAD, I sometimes excuse myself by saying I couldn’t help it (meaning I experience the cause as compulsion, provocation, reaction, environment, upbringing, parents, circumstances …)

But, when you do something GOOD OR BAD, I tend to praise OR respectively blame you as though you acted freely, in either case.

People can be simultaneously responsible for their actions, and yet not exercising free will. Or vice versa.

Quantum ethics.

3 comments

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/

Ah yes! The question of freedom. Many acts are not free – the baby crying for milk, the dog sniffing the vistors. If an act is to be free the person acting needs to be able to identify each and every motive affecting his actions and questions from an objective stance whether it is indeed best for him. It is no easy task and in many instances the excuse is partially correct – the drunk who hits his wife cannot control it at that point in time and can’t help it. Over a long period of time such a drunk could work and cure his drunkeness (despite his natural tendancy for it). In the realm of human action is indeed possible to be both free and unfree. The quantum concept that defies normal understanding I am unable to really have an opionion on and the Schrodinger’s Cat objection leads me to believe that one day we will completely revise this so called Quantum Theory.

Posted by BidnisMan | Report as abusive

This post really made me think of a certain Feynman phrase:
“We calculate as if light is a wave, but we interpret the intensity of the wave not as the intensity of the light but as the probability of finding a photon”

Posted by CarlosMedina | Report as abusive

Reminds me of compatibilism (http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/compa tibilism/).

Posted by RobSteele | Report as abusive