Schrödinger’s Cat, Magical Thinking, Equivocation, and Agrumentum ad Ignorantiam

I’m a huge fan of research into quantum computing, artificial intelligence, and machine learning. I don’t know much about these topics beyond the basics, but I find it worth understanding. We’ll probably see exponential growth in wealth as a result of automating the process of automating itself – meta-automation.

On quantum mechanics (the study of particles smaller than atoms), many seem to use the observation problem (Schrödinger’s Cat) as a springboard into concluding, “Therefore, magic.” Maybe. I think I understand it better now.

The observation problem

The problem (question) traces back to the question of whether light is a wave or a particle. I’ll skip the long history. Light seems like both particle and wave, and that’s confusing. It also seems like the very act of observing photons (individual packets of light) affects the result. Until we observe, the photon is both a wave and a particle. And that’s the question. Why does observation affect the result?

The illustration of Schrödinger’s Cat goes further to highlight the confusion. Suppose that Schrödinger creates a box that contains his cat at the receiving ending of a gun’s barrel such that the gun has already fired depending on whether a given photon is a wave or particle. Is the cat dead or alive? Until we open the box (until we observe), the cat is both dead and alive.

Schrödinger’s Probability Equation, for which he received a Nobel Prize, demonstrates that we know probabilistically (as opposed to deterministically), at best, the position of a particle. Until we observe, the particle is quite reasonably everywhere at once.

As it relates to magical thinking, the supernatural or the paranormal, it seems like the nature of the universe exhibits subjectivity. That the mere act of looking (observing), and therefore thinking, directly changes our external reality.

I’d agree that thinking does change our external reality – through very quantifiable steps such that thinking leads to doing, and that doing something about one’s situation changes our external reality.

The magical part, bending reality like The Matrix with just thinking alone, I believe comes from at least two errors in reasoning: equivocation, and argumentum ad ignorantiam (appeal to ignorance).


Great white sharks are man-eaters. No woman is a man. Therefore, women may safely swim alongside great white sharks without protective equipment.

Stale food is better than nothing. Nothing is better than fresh food. Therefore, stale food is better than fresh food.

In the first paragraph after the heading. The meaning of man changed from “human being” to “male.” In the second, the meaning of nothing changed from “starving” to… “nothing.”

The same error in reasoning happens when using the word observation as opposed to measurement. Observation implies looking, and therefore the presence of someone looking. Measurement means physical interaction.

It’s not the presence of the observer and his act of observing that affects the behavior of the photon, it’s the physical interaction of measurement that breaks down the wave probability.

Argumentum ad ignoratiam

We don’t know; therefore, we do know. Is this valid? If and only if we’ve tried all reasonable possibilities.

Let’s say that on a train are Alex, the Butler, Charles, David, Eric, no other passengers, and no possibility of other passengers entering or exiting the train during its movement from Destination 1 to Destination 2. It appears that Alex has been murdered between destinations. We don’t know who did it. Therefore, nobody did it.

Given only that information (everything before, “Therefore…”), we could just as well conclude that therefore the Butler did it, that any of the other passengers did it, that a combination of them did, that all of the other passengers did, that Alex committed suicide or that Alex died of natural causes. Without exhausting all other reasonable possibilities, we know only that we do not know.

Or as the saying goes, absence of evidence doesn’t mean evidence of absence (or evidence of anything else).

The same type of magical thinking extends to quantum mechanics. We don’t know the underlying fundamental nature of the universe. Therefore, we know it’s magic.

It might very well be magic (whatever that means). But could we say that we know it?