Donald Trump and Schrödinger’s Cat

2020-08-13 – I’ve noticed recently that Donald Trump isn’t the only one who confuses evidence and truth. He confuses truth with many things, but I’m just focusing on the evidence issue, in particular, his assertion that we’d have fewer COVID cases if we didn’t test for it.

Of course, this is nonsense. To use Trump’s phrase (but in a more accurate way): “it is what it is.” If 10 million people have had COVID in this country, 10 million people have had it, whether we test 1 million, 2 million, 5 million, or 50 million. The only difference that the testing makes is that we know about the cases. And, perhaps, that information can help us fight the disease. But testing doesn’t change the number of people who actually had the disease. The number is 10 million (our hypothetical number)—test or no test.

I saw this confusion the other day in another context. Dr. Fauci was commenting on the Russian release of a COVID vaccine without completing their tests. His point was that, without completing the tests, we can’t know whether the Russian vaccine is safe and effective. But the headline writer twisted this around to proclaim that Dr. Fauci said the vaccine was unsafe. He didn’t say that at all. Even in the article, he specifically said that he wasn’t saying the vaccine was unsafe. He was only saying that we didn’t have the evidence because the tests were not completed.

This all reminds me of the Schrödinger’s cat thought experiment.

If you know anything about quantum physics, you probably know about Schrödinger’s cat. People’s fascination with Schrödinger’s cat really has nothing to do with physics. It’s the comical idea that crazy scientists might think that a cat could be simultaneously alive and dead.

Scientists did not think a cat could simultaneously alive and dead, however. Physicist Erwin Schrödinger used the crazy image to make a point about a paradox in quantum theory (theory of the subatomic world) in a discussion with Albert Einstein. It had to do with the quantum theory that a subatomic particle like an electron or a quark or a photo might have multiple “states” simultaneously. These quantum states are not the same as alive and dead, but Schrödinger was using the ridiculousness of a simultaneously-alive-and-dead cat to question the meaning of the simultaneous states.


The quantum world is a very weird world when viewed by macro observers like us. And the weirdness of simultaneous and contradictory states rarely invades our macro world.

But for the President of the United States contradictory things don’t seem to be problems.

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