That darn (Schrödinger’s) cat!

As intriguingly unnerving as the title of Ars Technica’s article, “Human observation of dark energy may shorten the life span of the universe” is, I read the entire article waiting for the counterargument that appeared at the end of the penultimate paragraph:

For an opposing viewpoint, the New Scientist writer contacted Prof. Max Tegmark of MIT who states that the quantum Zeno effects is not predicated on humans doing the observations of dark energy or light. “Galaxies have ‘observed’ the dark energy long before we evolved. When we humans in turn observe the light from these galaxies, it changes nothing except our own knowledge,” says Tegmark.

Thank you, Dr. Tegmark. Perhaps I am the one who’s just not “getting it” when it comes to quantum uncertainty (indeed, I never studied any of the hard sciences beyond high school, although I’ve read a fair number of non-technical books on physics and cosmology in my adult years). But I find it incomprehensible that serious scientists would actually consider that human observations of dark energy would have a significant impact like this. As Dr. Tegmark suggests, it’s not that our observations don’t affect quantum systems, but interactions with anything count as “observation,” and surely dark energy was interacting with something else (anything… take your pick) before our humble little species on our insignificant little planet became clever enough to detect it.

The “free market” solution

I’ve always found the notion that the free market will naturally solve any pressing environmental problems ludicrous, but this light bulb joke puts it in succinct perspective.

I was not in attendance at this year’s Nobel Conference but I just read about a comment made by presenter Steven Chu:

How many free-market advocates does it take to change a light bulb?

None, because if there was a problem, the free market would have taken care of it.

In other words, it’s possible that just maybe the profit motive does not always coincide perfectly with what’s best for the world (shareholders notwithstanding).