Schrödinger’s Bank

Major scientific breakthrough in Ireland

Quantum physics in the 1930s was more than a science.  It was a revolution in philosophical thought.  Suddenly, all the old absolutes were gone, replaced by a universe that operated on probabilities and uncertainties, where nothing could be known for sure, and where the very act of observing something changed it to something else.

However, hand in hand with the new willingness of scientists to embrace uncertainty, there went a political hardening, or as Bronowski pointed out, a certainty that was the sworn enemy of true knowledge.  As the scientists debated the nature of the fundamental matter we’re all made of, and came to agree that not everything could be known, Nazism and Communism spread their tentacles of fear across Europe, crushing dissent and creating a religion of absolute ideological belief.

In 1935, Albert Einstein, Boris Podolsky and Nathan Rosen (E, P & R) jointly wrote an article describing what they perceived to be a flaw in current scientific thinking.  Einstein fervently wanted to understand the hidden mechanisms behind quantum physics, and the EPR article argued that there must be something missing, some hidden mechanism to explain the mysterious behaviour of sub-atomic particles. Einstein didn’t like the idea that something could be in two places at the same time, only choosing a final resting place when someone observes it.  To him, that looked suspiciously like magic.

Erwin Schrödinger, an Austrian physicist, agreed and came up with an example to illustrate the point — a metaphor that has come to be known as Schrödinger’s Cat.

Suppose, he said, you have a cat in a steel box which also contains a very weak radioactive source.  There’s a fifty-fifty chance that the source will release a single subatomic particle in an hour, and if it does, it triggers a mechanism that releases poison gas and kills the cat.  Of course, there’s also a 50% chance that it won’t give out the single particle, and the cat survives. Therefore, for a full hour, provided this closed system is not observed by anyone, the cat is both dead and alive at the same time.

Schrödinger didn’t seriously think a thing like that could happen, but he used the example to reduce the current quantum theory to its ultimate, absurd conclusion.  More work needed, was his advice.

Schrödinger, incidentally, was deeply anti-Nazi in his convictions, and left Germany in 1933, with  his wife and his girlfriend (!).  Shortly after taking up a position in Oxford, he was awarded the  Nobel Prize.  Unfortunately, the Oxford authorities took a dim view of his domestic arrangements, and so he went to Princeton, where he encountered the same problem, so he went back to Austria before finally going to Dublin in 1940 at the invitation of deValera, to set up the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies.

He was busy as always, producing a book that inspired Rosalind Franklin to decode the DNA structure, (a discovery subsequently hijacked by Crick and Watson),  and also finding time to father children by two of his Irish students.

But we digress.

If Erwin Schrödinger had not died in 1961, but had somehow managed to get himself into a steel box with an extremely weak readioactive source — perhaps one particle every hundred years — he might somehow have contrived a way to observe the outside world, and he might be able to note real, tangible proof that his paradox wasn’t as silly as he thought.

After all, here we have a bank — Anglo Irish — which is both dead and alive at the same time.  A bank which needs to be protected and yet simultaneously killed.  I think deValera, a man with a strong interest in science,  would be rather pleased at this breakthrough in quantum physics, right here in little old Ireland.  Scientific advances are often made by mistake and somehow, through greed and corruption, we have managed to create a groundbreaking discovery.

First our financial physicists created a gigantic money-accelerator, the Large Have-None Collider, where cash and anti-cash annihilate each other in a huge, secret, underground, Golden Circle. And then they brought forth unliving proof that there was more to Professor Schrödinger’s famous thought experiment than a mere reductio ad absurdum.

And just as in the 1930s, scientific advance is accompanied by a hardening of political attitudes.   People right across Europe are required by their leaders to believe utter nonsense, and just as in the Thirties, nobody knows where it will all end.

Unfortunately, the quantum involved in sustaining the dead-and-alive bank is somewhat greater than the minute measurements of standard physics, but that’s a small price to pay for revolutionising science.  Unfortunately, Professors Cowen and Lenihan are not men of the same calibre as Einstein and Schrödinger, and therefore their work might not survive a rigorous peer review, but if it does, we could see another first.

Imagine Seánie Fitz winning the Nobel Prize for Physics.

29 thoughts on “Schrödinger’s Bank

  1. Strange but very fitting analogy of our current state of affairs! Is there any way we can lock the bankers in a box with radioactive source that will definitely release noxious gas within a few minutes?! That would be noble.
    I’ve been reading everything I can get my hands on re: Quantum Mechanics lately but had no idea of Schrodinger’s Irish life other than he came here in the Forties…and Dev went to hear Einstein give a lecture. Intriguing stuff.

  2. Great analogy! I think we need to get more of the Great Irish Mathematicians’ (some probably dead or alive) work to help us get out of the trouble.
    For example, William Rowan Hamilton’s Quaternions are widely used for resolving navigation problems in deep space, GPS, etc. If you get your quaternions wrong, up will become down, left becomes right, hence you’d think you’re gaining height when you’re in fact dropping towards ground and a very probably death, or at least spread over a vast area – just like the Sperm Whale approaching the probably existing planet Magrathea, in the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy.

    It’s time to set the Improbability Drive on Stun!

  3. I don’t think we need to lift the lid on the metal box labeled Anglo to see if it’s alive or dead. You can smell it’s rotting carcass from a mile away.

    It is both dead and alive. A real live Zombie.

  4. I am not surprised that it is you BOCK that has spotted this very apt link to Ireland’s amoral, anthropological and political past.

    But I disagree with your assessment of the political scenario. Certainly hardened political attitudes do fluctuate with a more open seeming political scenario from time to time, like a turning cog so to speak. An example recently would be the introduction of the freedom of information act during the 1990s but which was reversed by the Government that took over from the Rainbow shower via McDowell.
    I believe that the political reality is a constant smoke and mirrors show and the front put out for consumption be it hardened or open, is merely that; a front. Behind closed doors the political systems do not alter one whit.
    I know off the point, but I thought it needed saying.

  5. That piece should be translated into the various languages of the European Union, and emailed off to the editors of the major European newspapers. Excellent stuff.

  6. Great angle Bock. Quantum Banking! I love it. Mind you, you may have inspired one or two developers to look up if there are zoning issue as regards constructing housing estates in the 5th dimension.

    But Ireland’s present scientific breakthroughs don’t finish there. I hear we are constructing the largest Head-on Collidor in the world. If the men in white coats can cause two Irish people to hit at the optimum speed they theorise that it may result in the creation of “anti-paddy”, a positively charged discerning voter.

  7. Bock

    You may be “Now 20% more offensive”, it is unfortunate that RTE/Pravda is not but is still on its knees licking the boots of Fianna Fail. And Main Stream Media wonder why they are losing audience.

    Schrödinger’s Cat / Lenihan’s Bank.

    Had heard about it but had to look it up on wiki.'s_cat

    “The thought experiment presents a cat that might be alive or dead, depending on an earlier random event. In the course of developing this experiment, he coined the term Verschränkung — literally, entanglement.”

    So one could say that for Lenihan’s Bank

    “The thought experiment presents a bank that might be illiquid or insolvent, depending on an earlier random event.”

    But the condition of the cat/bank is unknown until someone outside the box observes the condition.

    But, if I read it correctly Schrödinger was practicing “Reductio ad absurdum”.

    One could say that the EU/ECB/FT/Wall Street Journal/New York Times have now “opened the box” and observed the condition of Lenihan’s Bank and come to the conclusion that the bank is insolvent.

    One might be wrong.

    If I were to engage in reductio ad absurdum in this matter I might come to the conclusion that they already knew it was insolvent and that they were all along in cahoots with Fianna Fail.

    The object being that the risk money which should have taken the hit has long left the building and now they come in for the kill.


    We suffer Verschränkung in something we had no part in.

  8. i’m guessing that Schrödingers cat was healthy and normal before it went into the box. if the cat was dead or nearly dead, then surely Schrödinger could only consider the parasites living off the body of the cat.

  9. I went to the Schrödinger building in UL for four years and never knew who he was. Thanks for that Bock, read of the year!

  10. I pay my respects to Schroedinger each time I am in Alpbach – his grave is beside the churchyard wall.

    His image in the Schroedinger Theatre at TCD is that which appeared on the Austrian 1,000 Schilling note; which is perhaps a message from beyond the grave.

    The single currency, with the ECB keeping interest rates at a low level to assist the significant members, permitted the massive credit bubble. Perhaps salvation lies in one’s own currency?

  11. So the observation has occurred.

    The truth is out.

    Fianna Fail are nothing more or less than a bunch of corrupt County Councillors.

    The EU is in charge.

    And Fine Gale, in the corpus of Michael Moonan have been told to take the EU line.

    Who needs democracy when the EU controls Fianna Fail and Fine Gael?

    All the EU has to do is “open the box”.

    Republic indeed.

    A Pandora’s paradise.

    Welcome to EU hell.

    I hope you like your new German Masters.

  12. Kropotnikus

    When can we expect German troops on O’Connell Street?

    Oh, sorry, I mean European Peace Keepers.


  13. You’re being a bit harsh towards Crick and Watson, and a touch too generous towards Franklin. While Rosalind Franklin does deserve a lot more credit than she gets, the reason why Crick and Watson got there first was because she was such an ass towards other people, in particular her collaborator, Maurice Wilkins. Crick and Watson got the kudos in the end because actually turned the clues they got from Franklin’s photo into a working model, which counts for an awful lot.

  14. Keith — You’re probably right about that. I am being a bit hard on Crick and Watson but not to worry. There’s loads of room here for other viewpoints and you’re welcome to use as much of it as you wish.

  15. @Rich Banker. “Welcome to EU hell”??? Lets not get confused. Neither the EU nor The Germans ran Anglo Irish Bank, Nationwide or the Irish economy into the ground. That was done by our very own home grown Gaelgoirs. Seanie, Fingers, Bertie, Cowen, McCreevy, Harney, Neary, Hurley, Doyle, Ronan, Quinlan and many many more. Not a Geman on the list, nor a Frenchman nor an Englishman. Not even a Greek.

    @Bock. Clearly Schroedinger was a very brilliant and principled man. While the idea is novel, I think it would do a disservice to the man to have such a monstrosity called after him.

  16. Tumbrel Cart

    I think you’ll find that the Germans and French (ECB/EU) were insistent that “no bank will fail”.

    They’re up to their necks in this.

  17. @Rich Banker, I take your point. However I still say that our g*bsh*te politicians deserve 90% of the blame. They ignored the bubble while it was forming, and lined their own pockets. They then agreed to stick all of us with the tab for it, which will crush generations to come, in order to bail out bondholders, shareholders, developers, and other European financial institutions. No wonder the French and Germans insisted – the impact on their banks through bond write-downs etc would have been real and would have led to some hard questions being asked.

    Our economy would have hit a bump regardless, but we’d be doing much better if we could afford to fund a proper stimulus package to increase employment and invest in education and infrastructure now.

    I don’t blame the French and Germans for asking that we suffer on their behalf – but I definitely blame our cretinous leaders for agreeing to it. After all, I can insist that you put your family into permanent debt slavery to pay off the huge bar tab of some shyster that you’re not responsible for. I might even suggest that there will be “repercussions” if you don’t. But you’d have to be a complete moron to agree to it.

  18. You are fantastic, I didn’t know of your existance until ten minuites ago. I’m going to be in Denmark until after Christmas, but when I get back I’m getting you a pint. give me a shout at some point so I don’t forget.

  19. Inspired analogy. I would be happy just to lock these fuckers in a metal only and throw away the key.

  20. Sorry I left the word box out, simply because I couldnt make up my mind whether to say box, cage or slurry tank. In the end I decided to let the bockers decide their fate, Thats democracy.

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