Decoherence and Entanglement

Saturday, October 24, 2009 Leave a Comment

I will try to talk about decoherence, a quantum process, without falling into incoherence, because I think that this process is connected to how our play The Lesser Seductions of History works.

(Two caveats: posts like this are hindsight peaks under the hood of a process that is mysterious to me as it instinctually happens; and none of these theoretical posts count a whit if the characters don't have some dirt under their fingernails).

Here is a lovely quote about decoherence and entanglement from my recent issue of Scientific American, talking about the bizarre things that happen in the world of quantum physics:

In the most distinctive such effect, called entanglement, two electrons
establish a kind telepathic link that transcends space and time. And not just
electrons: you, too, retain a quantum bond with your loved ones that endures no
matter how far apart you may be. If that sounds hopeflessly romantic, the flip
side is that particles are incurably promiscuous, hooking up with every particle
they meet. So you also retain a quantum bond with every loser who ever bumped
into you on the street and every air molecule that ever brushed your skin. The
bonds you want are overwhelmed by those you don't. Entanglement thus foils
entanglement, a process known as decoherence.

If it wasn't for decoherence, we'd be able to notice all the mad quantum connections; how a change in our existence would instantly affect those we are entangled with, however far apart we are. If we were like electrons, we'd put on a blue shirt, and suddenly our brother miles away would also be wearing blue.

Maybe you see where this is going - a play strips away the entanglements we don't want so we can see more clearly the entanglements we do. By keeping the decoherence at bay, we're able to examine the connections that do matter to us more closely. This happens in every play structurally, but in our staging of Lesser Seductions, it happens literally.

Because most of the play involves overlapping scenes with all of the characters on stage most of the time; opportunities for entanglement abound. Our first priority is clarity: tracking more than one story unfolding in time is difficult, and much of our work is making sure the simultaneous action strengthens the play's energy, rather than diffusing it. This may be our singular challenge in the show.

BUT! It is also our singular opportunity, and many exciting moments exist for us to have one moment on stage echo across the literal divide and subtly touch the life of another character - moments of quantum entangelment like:

-Martha driving up from Alabama makes a joke about sad songs "my baby left me and my Daddy died"; and then Lizzie in Texas stands to deliver her father's eulogy.
-George at a dive bar storms away from his sister and crosses by Isaac who is on his roof; and in that moment, Isaac remembers he needs to meet George, and breaks away from his wife.

These are just two moments of many in the play - I nearly wrote more before realizing they gave too much away - but one of the gifts of the stage is characters can share literal space but be many play miles away; be acting in the same moment, but play years apart. And so the actions of the characters can mirror quantum entanglement and transcend space and time.

And that's exciting to me, because I do believe these scientific ideas that seem so far beyond our every day experience are actually deeply wound into the fabric of our existence; so much so that we don't always see how these quantum uncertainties and elegant relativites touch the way we experience time, space, and all the fascinating lovely scary things of this world.

Thoughts? Anyone experience this in other plays, or in life?


  • lucia said:  

    I think this is at the root of our fascination with n degrees of separation from character x (e.g., Kevin Bacon) - because in some physical sense, our molecules have been altered by this chain of encounters. And perhaps we know it only implicitly - though once we reconstruct the chain consciously, there is a frisson of explicit recognition? Anyway, a fascinating take - and yes, perhaps more than a metaphor - on the play.

  • August Schulenburg said:  


    I agree, and think there's also a link to our fascination with Synchronicity (and her poorer cousin Coincidence). Sometimes the weirdness of the quantum realm feels more like my actual experience than the relative stability of pre-quantum physics. I'm especically excited to see what role quantum effects play in cognitive neuroscience; and what impacts those effects have on our perception of the world and our own identity.