As my physics teacher, a tall, grey haired gentleman who looked like he had been picked out of thousands of applicants for the role of sophisticated gentleman in a new movie, explained Bell’s Theorem, I considered if it wasn’t time for my girlfriend of seven months and I to test the bonds that held us by breaking up, breaking out and dating others.
According to Bell’s Theorem, objects, particles usually, but in this case us, when brought into sufficient proximity maintain a connection when separated. I was pretty sure what we were when together: I was a ball of obligation trying to do whatever I figured she wanted me to do to please her and she was a domestic sort, tucking our unborn children into bed nightly in her dorm room.
I knew that if I listened to my teacher closely I would still forget the intricacies and nuances that he revealed about how this world works. Physics is like that. I was surprised to hear him endorsing our breaking up with such solid scientific evidence.
Breaking the news to her.
We were getting together for dinner that evening at the dorm. It was the typical fare, and as usual we would turn up our noses and eat it anyway. Within months we would graduate, realizing how nice it was to have someone else prepare mediocre food for us instead of doing so for ourselves.
I wasn’t sure how to break the news to her. So I began with Bell’s Theorem. As an early education major I wasn’t sure she would get it, but I would try. I had taken some notes, not trusting myself under the pressure of breaking up, to remember what Bell’s Theorem actually was. So I looked down, a gesture she took to mean I was hurt or sad, and began to read:
“There is a way to escape the inference of superluminal speeds and spooky action at a distance. But it involves absolute determinism in the universe, the complete absence of free will. Suppose the world is super-deterministic, with not just inanimate nature running on behind-the-scenes clockwork, but with our behavior, including our belief that we are free to choose to do one experiment rather than another, absolutely predetermined…”
I paused, realizing that I might have lost her in which case she wouldn’t notice that I hadn’t finished.
“Umm…” she said, knitting her brow and reaching over to wipe some spaghetti off our ever-less likely to be born baby’s face.
I got up, excused myself, walked toward the men’s room, took a violent left and escaped out the back door of the restaurant, leaving her and almost-junior behind.
I wish I could say that this was the first time this ever happened to me.
How physics can make break-ups easier.
Physics is responsible for way more break-ups than you might think. Bell himself might suggest that my recently departed girlfriend and I were forever bound together, in a particle sense, just from the time we had spent together.
You know those movies where someone goes back in time and changes one thing, putting the whole world in jeopardy?
That is how I felt here. I didn’t really want to break up with her, but it was a necessity for the world to keep going round and the laws of physics to hold.
So breaking up with her really was important for the whole future of the race and the most selfless thing I could do.
While it is tempting to imagine that you have a choice when it comes to breaking up, staying together, having a baby or what you have for dinner, quantum physics, and specifically Bell’s Theorem makes it pretty clear this isn’t so.
If you are going to break up you will. There is no need to remember anniversaries, send flowers, be monogamous or be on time for dinner. Instead turn your relationship over to physics and let the chips, particles and spouses land where they may.
While at first this may sound like good news, getting us off the hook, it is useful to remember that turning your relationship over to physics offers temporary relief. But doing so will soon lead to the sort of relationships physicists have: and while I don’t know how those scientists do in relationships, I am pretty sure that I don’t wish to emulate them.
Realizing that, I called her that very evening and apologized. I am so glad I did. Now, 15 years later she is changing real diapers on a real child, our second, and Mary, our first child is turning nine.
I still dream about physics sometimes, but when I do I just pull Mary a little closer and find myself really pleased that our particles are aligned.
Author: Jerry Stocking
Editor: Travis May
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