Schroedinger’s Virus

The Province is cautiously opening up. Is it too soon? Other countries have tried this and have ended up with a second wave of COVID. Is it safe to go to the park? To go to work? To go to the cottage? Have I had the virus? Will I get the virus? When can things go back to normal?

Welcome to pandemic life. Settle in. We’ll find ways to keep working, and the economy will bump along. But this is the new normal. Cautious ambiguity. I may be sick. You may be sick. Stay out of my personal space. Wear a mask. Don’t travel. Wash your hands. Wash your hands.

I wrote that twice on purpose.

When will it end? That is a question for physics.

Irwin Schroedinger was born in Vienna in 1887. He won a Nobel Prize. He was Austrian/Irish, Catholic/Lutheran, atheist/mystic, and he lived with two women. The personal duality in his life fascinates me because he is famous for arguing that the smallest particles of matter can exist in two contradictory states at the same time – as long as no one is looking.

You may have heard about his cat. He proposed a thought experiment involving a cat and a box – and some cyanide and radioactive material, but, for simplicity: if you place a cat in a box and close the lid, you have no idea whether the cat is alive or dead. It could be both, as long as the lid is closed. Once the lid is opened and you can see the actual cat, it can be alive or it can be dead, but not both. The quantum world is full of possibilities. The classical world is the observed result.

We have “Schroedinger’s Virus”: with the variation in symptom and severity of COVID-19, you can’t be sure if you’ve had it or not. You could be “perfectly healthy” and passing it on to others. You can be tested, but some who test positive aren’t really sick, and some who test negative are:

We all have Schroedinger’s virus now.

Because we cannot get tested, we can’t know whether we have the virus or not.

We have to act as if we have the virus so that we don’t spread it to others.

We have to act as if we’ve never had the virus because if we didn’t have it, we’re not immune.

Therefore, we both have and don’t have the virus. Thus, Schroedinger’s virus.

(Najib Abou Ismail)

What are we to do? Living in this in-between state, this not knowing?

We wait. With the proper mindset, this could be exciting! We can anticipate future knowledge and freedom – or we can scream in frustration. We can do both at the same time. This is the quantum state. The classical outcome is not yet. And so we wait. In hope and frustration.

Wash your hands. Did I say that?

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