What’s in a decision?

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The sun was already up when Livia opened her eyes. She looked out of the window. Everything was covered in immaculate and shiny snow. She slowly got out of bed, and got ready for her day. As every morning, she made herself a tea, read the news while listening to classic FM on the radio. Today was a special day. It was her 75th birthday.

The house was quiet and still. Livia had lived alone already for 5 years, after the death of her beloved husband in an accident. The couple was incredibly active and fit, it had been while they were travelling in south america, climbing on a ridge, that Tom had lost his balance and slipped down the ridge hitting his head.

Livia was feeling lonely and nostalgic. She knew that her daughter and son would soon come to her house with her nieces and nephews, the house will be filled up with colours, music, chatter and happiness. At least for one day. The bell rang, she walked downstairs and opened the door. Her daughter hugged her, her nephews smiled and kissed her. Later, her son arrived with her niece Bianca. Even if Livia didn’t want to admit it, Bianca was her favourite. She was 21 and she was living abroad, studying Physics at the university.

They all had a wonderful time. Towards the end of the day, Bianca was alone in the living room with Livia and was telling her all about her new class on quantum mechanics. Livia had been a painter and a yoga teacher all her life, but she was an avid learner, and would read all kinds of scientific books. “you know grandma, in quantum mechanics, you can have superpositions! all quantum objects can have different states at the same time, for example an electron can be simultaneously excited and not excited!” -“so nothing in reality is defined? everything is constantly in a superposition?” -“Oh, no, no, the moment that anything is observed, or interacts with other objects, the observer gets entangled with the electron! It means that now there are two of each, one observer observing the electron excited, and another observing the electron not excited!”-“That’s puzzling! And where do they end up? surely we don’t have copies of everything in the world?”.-“Well, some say the copies just live in different universes!”. “Ahah, how funny! This quantum mechanics is really magic!”.

The next day, Livia’s life was proceeding as usual. She did some yoga. She attended to some emails, took care of all the plants she was growing in her living room, got surprised at how big the mint had become, and made herself a mint tea. Then, she took her brush and started painting on an old canvas. As her creativity unfolded, she realised Bianca’s worlds were running around her mind. “You can have superpositions!”. “The copies just live in different universes”. She started thinking of every moment in her life, where she took a choice. She thought, maybe for every choice she had made, there would be a universe in which she had made the opposite choice! For example, when she decided to go to art school instead of studying mathematics. Or when she decided to go to South America with Tom 5 years ago rather than going to a meditation retreat. Even the smallest choices, she realised, must have split into more universes, for example in the morning, when she decided to wear her blue jumper rather than the orange one. Somewhere, who knows where, right now, she must have been wearing her orange jumper.

As her hand was skilfully giving shape to an image on the canvas, her mind was full of questions and confusion. Suddenly, Livia had a realisation: that truthfully, every time that she had made a choice, she couldn’t really tell who had made the choice, and why. Often it had happened to her to be faced by a decision, and, incapable of making one rationally, she would just go for one following some sort of gut feeling. This had been true for the vast majority of the big decisions she had taken. She could not say she had been fully taking decisions in her life.

She began thinking, what if, in fact, I am simply the “other possibility”. What if the one who made the choice wasn’t the me belonging to this universe, but the other me, at the other end, and I was simply the result of her choice?

The telephone rang and Livia was shaken out of the swirl of thoughts. It was a friend, asking her to give a yoga class in her wellness centre later that week. She agreed. Quickly she went back to her canvas, which was filling up with a wonderful turquoise colour.

What if, actually, these quantum mechanics doesn’t apply to us humans? Bianca had not said anything about it. On the other hand, she thought, this problem with choice still persisted. What determined the making of a choice? A mixture of neuronal networks, and memory, and impulses, and electrical potentials made up of.. electrons.. even if humans were not quantum mechanical, the stuff inside them must fundamentally have been quantum mechanical.. And for each decision, after all, there are only two possibilities: yes or no.

She tried estimating how many of her would have been. During that day she had made about 50 yes or no decisions, which meant that only through those choices there would be 2 to the power of 50 of herself, that is a million billion, 10 to the power of 15, 1000000000000000. And only in one day! “Deary me! “She thought. Her head was spinning. She left the brush fall on the table, looked at the canvas.

On the canvas, hundreds of faces, all the same, all with her very face, were staring back at her, from their respective universes.

About the Author: 
I am a PhD student in Quantum Information, passionate about education and outreach!