The Age of Diffraction

There’s a state of mind that’s been increasingly common for me lately, which I can only describe as a sense of being outdoors in time during inclement temporal weather. I’ve been searching for the right metaphor to describe this feeling, and I think it is the feeling of being diffracted. Like being a hapless, innocent electron being tortured through the famous double-slit experiment. Here’s a cool animation I found on Wikipedia (physics would have been so much more fun if these sorts of animations had been available when I was learning this stuff).

Animation by Jean-Christophe BENOIST at French Wikipedia. [CC BY-SA 3.0]

If your state of mind is normally like that of a particle — you are here and now, thinking about this, doing that, with some uncertainty around it all — being diffracted is feeling like a wave. Like you’re in multiple states at once, with those states interfering with each other in ways that creates subjective dyschronia or timelexia.

Being a Wave

What is it like to be an electron in a double-slit experiment? How is it different from being an electron that’s just kinda bumming around in less weird environments, without double-slit torture chambers? Let’s call the electron Alice while it is traveling through ordinary space, and Mabel when it is passing through weird Wonderland-like double slits spaces where it’s hard to be in denial about your inner wave-like nature.

So what does it feel like to be Mabel Electron, and how is that different from being Alice Electron?

For those who never took college-level physics, the basic point demonstrated by the double-slit experiment is that elementary particles like electrons have both particle-like and wave-like natures. When you torture an electron (which we normally think of as being particle-like) by forcing it through a pair of narrow slits, it creates a diffraction pattern, like a wave.

If you don’t know what diffraction is, think of a pair of stones dropped into a pond simultaneously. The intersecting, expanding ripples form a diffraction pattern. If it was paint instead of water, and you held a stick just above the surface of the rippling liquid so the peaks could lick at the stick, the result would be something like the photographs physicists take of diffraction patterns. Except it would be a 1d picture of a 2d wavefront rather than a 2d picture of a 3d wavefront.

If you insist on a default particle understanding, the electron is simultaneously going through both slits. A more technically accurate way of understanding it is that when an electron is moving through untortured space, the probability distribution of its location is like a fuzzy sphere. It is most likely to be actually “found” by a measurement at the center of that sphere. When it is “passing through” the double-slit set up, the probability distribution looks like a diffraction pattern. The whiter spots in the gif (but not the white of the barrier, more on that later) are places where the electron is more likely to be “found” if you were to put a detector there. The darker interstitial areas in the pattern are where it is less likely to be found.

Human-visible images of such behavior are created by passing a stream of electrons through such a set-up, all of which get diffracted with the same probability pattern. So you see an accumulated picture (much like if you toss a bunch of identical coins, you’ll have an image with about half heads-up and half tails-up which is also the probability of heads or tails for a single coin, an example of ergodicity). But it is important to note that in the double-slit case, this is NOT because each individual electron is passing through a single, but unpredictable slit (ie coming up either heads or tails). EVERY electron is being diffracted like a wave through both slits. The picture is like a bunch of coins that have come up both heads and tails on the same toss.

So to start with, Alice Electron feels like a fuzzy blob, maybe a bit uncertain about her state, but fundamentally together, while Mabel Electron feels like she’s passing through a strainer, fundamentally distributed across a coherent and connected pattern determined by the double-slit torture chamber environment.

Intrinsic Identity Ambiguity

The distinction between the subjective mental states of Alice Electron and Maude Electron is the distinction between uncertainty and intrinsic ambiguity.

Uncertainty is when you have an imprecise, incomplete, or outdated measurement of a state that is itself determinate. For example, I know I currently weigh 161±2 lbs based on the last time I weighed myself. That’s uncertainty. There is an actual number describing my weight at this instant to any arbitrary degree of precision. I just don’t know it.

Ambiguity begins when you fundamentally don’t know what you’re looking at. For example, let’s say I stand on a scale and it shows the number 120. Is it a pound scale that’s off by -41 lbs, or a kilogram scale that’s off by +48 kilograms?

That doesn’t quite capture it though. Here’s a better version. If I didn’t have a prior belief about my actual weight (perhaps I am from Mars and have no calibration with respect to Earth units), and I had no reason to believe the scale was inaccurate at all, then I’d assign a particular probability to myself being either precisely 120 lbs or precisely 120 kgs.

Even that isn’t full-blown intrinsic ambiguity, since I’d be (correctly) assuming that one of the two possibilities is in fact the case (I’m either standing on a kilogram or pound scale), and I’m just uncertain about which one. I lack data about an unknown but determinate environmental state.

Full-blown intrinsic ambiguity is ambiguity in the duck-rabbit illusion sense, where both are in fact true at the same time.

Duck-Rabbit Duality

If you look for a rabbit or duck in the above image, with high probability you will see it, and be able to switch between the two. If you look for a popped corn kernel, there’s lower probability that you’ll see it. This image is a particular diffraction pattern of low/high probability perceptions across the space of roughly round, lumpy object images. This might be quite literally true in terms of the probabilities of various classification by an image classifier.

Now imagine that kind of full-blown intrinsic ambiguity extending out in time as well. Maude Electron exists as a pattern of high probability patches where you are more likely to “find” her if you took a spot measurement. Each of the connected components of Maude Electron is like a horcrux with its own identity, evolving in time, but in a way that’s globally connected to how other patches are evolving.

While in Maude state, the Alice-Maude story comprises multiple parallel timelines, one per moving high-probability patch. The Maude chapter of the story has duck, rabbit, and various other subplots.

Or if you prefer (and I’m way out of my depth here) Maude is performing a quantum computation to propagate her identity, while Alice is performing a more classical identity computation (People keep telling me to read David Deutsch on this stuff, and I will at some point. Lisa Neigut, one of those people, is doing a workshop on what I hope are similar themes at Refactor Camp in a couple of weeks, and I’ll probably learn precisely how I’m not even wrong then).

The Maude Electron pattern presumably reconstitutes into a single connected Alice Electron blob at some point in spacetime past the double-slit grating (I’m again reaching way beyond my physics pay grade here, but as a fermion, I assume the Alice-Maude electron story has a unique statistical identity to it; it must be harder being a boson).

I’m going to switch back to human stuff before I get myself into deep physics trouble here, but I’ll point you to Kenneth Shinozuka’s Symmetery and Identity post, and Brian Skinner’s old posts if you want more food for thought around the physics reference metaphor I’m developing here.

Diffracted States

I can’t explain myself, I’m afraid, Sir,” said Alice, “because I am not myself, you see.

— Alice in Wonderland

Let me come at the sense of identity diffraction from another direction: What it feels like to an actual human instead of an anthropomorphic electron.

As it happens, I was in a particularly severely diffracted state this morning so the memory is fresh.

I was unusually distractible, and irritable when I got up, thanks to a night of poor sleep. I had nowhere in particular to get to, and no appointments, but I still had a vague feeling of being somehow delayed and late for something. A sense of being temporally disoriented from the inside out, beyond normal workflow chaos (which I’m comfortable with). Lots of little things going wrong in glitchy ways.

On the way to Starbucks, somehow it seemed like everyone was clumsily getting in my way; that Pike Place, which I walk through almost every day, was somehow more chaotic and crowded than usual. That both sidewalk and vehicular traffic were more gnarled than usual. All this was likely true by the way, and not just in my head. During cruise ship season, Pike Place is full of awkward outsiders, and there’s a lot of construction going on too, which explains the gnarly traffic. Still, I don’t always feel it this strongly and viscerally.

Also I forgot half the lunch I usually pack for extended Starbucks sessions. No banana or cookies for me today.

This is a relatively novel experience for me. Normally, I have my stuff together. Even if it’s a mess, it’s sloppiness/slack by intention and design. Feeling diffracted is a weird way of feeling off my game.

It has to do with a new approach to life, the universe, and everything that I’m trying on for size, because the old approach wasn’t working anymore.

Multitemporality

Throughout 2017 and 2018, I was in a rather desultory, low-energy mood that was coherent and pleasant enough, but not very productive or energized. I had a strong sense of atemporality; of being stalled in dead time, on a backwater of a historical timeline. Like Alice Electron waiting in front of the double-slit wondering if she should go through. A sense of being outside of historical time on a siding. Aion over Kairos or Chronos.

No great mystery there of course; I was just reacting in my own way to the Great Weirding. What’s interesting is how I got myself out of that state.

This year, I’ve been successfully snapping out of my funk, getting more energized, writing more (and differently), starting new projects, and finishing old ones. But I’ve been doing it all in a very weird (at least to me) mode that involves a particular mindset and environmental condition.

I call this mindset and environmental condition multitemporality. I’ve been thinking about it for a couple of years now, and even done a talk on it.

It is a mindset of deliberately trying to experience time much like I imagine Maude Electron does, as a set of evolving high-probability patches within a globally connected diffraction pattern. A mindset of being more like a wave rather than a particle.

That’s what’s been causing my more frequent state of feeling diffracted. It’s the cost of living like a wave. This isn’t all entirely inside my head of course. Multitemporality requires properly designed prosthetics in your environment to achieve. It’s not that easy to interfere with yourself, and when you do succeed, it mainly feels annoying rather than productive. Still, you get things done, and you move along instead of being stalled in atemporality.

You might say I’ve set up a complicated double-slit experiment in the operating environment of my life. On this blog for example, there are the blogchains I’ve been writing. Each is a little subjective clock for me. They’re all connected, yet distinct, creating a personal narrative multiverse in which I’m doing a big chunk of my thinking.


Twitter, where I’ve been way more active in the last couple of years, is also part of my multitemporality scaffolding. It is a much higher-resolution, improvised, socially constructed diffraction grating.

The private and consulting parts of my life are going the same way. It’s all a bunch of slits I’m passing through simultaneously.

It’s not compartmentalization, and it’s not multiple identities. It’s experiencing time like a wave rather than a particle.

Diffracted Identity

While I’m passing through my self-designed multitemporal torture chamber, as Alice said to the Caterpillar, “I can’t explain myself, because I’m not myself, you see.”

Well, that’s not quite right. I know who I am myself while I’m in a classical Alice-like state. I don’t know who I am while I am in a non-classical Maude-like state, but even in that state, so long as I’m mostly concentrated in a single “time tunnel” (as when writing a new post in a blogchain) I do know who I am. It’s when I have to switch between tunnels that things get confusing.

I made a half-serious joke on Twitter yesterday: Most of the time, time is on autopilot and kinda ticks along by itself. But sometimes, the autopilot craps out and you have to take over manual control to drive it along.

Atemporality is when the autopilot of subjective time experience craps out because it has run into an impassable narrative barrier that you cannot go around.

Multitemporality is when you take over manual control and drive it through the barrier.

There’s two ways to do that, classical and quantum time tunnels.

(And before a mob of angry physicists @s me for Deepak Chopraing all over this subtle topic, let me hasten to assure you I’m talking about subjective, Bergsonian time experience. Kairos, not chronos; there are no physics claims being made here about time. At least not on purpose.)

Classical Time Tunnels

Before I settled on this diffraction and “interfering with yourself” metaphor, I was thinking of what I was doing in terms of tunnels in time, each with its own internal subjective kairos clock. Classical time tunnels are ones you can just walk through. No diffraction needed so long as you know how to navigate.

This is pleasantly poetic way of putting it, but the underlying metaphor is neither original to me, nor particularly mysterious. We all use the classical time tunnels metaphor implicitly when we talk about multitasking or parallel processing, or when we juggle multiple projects. My blogchain approach to writing myself out of the weirding is an example.

The way we talk about parallelism maps to tunnels in space in a classical sense. If you’re walking along a branching network of tunnels underground, you’re always in a single tunnel at any given time. To get between tunnels, you either pop up overground and cross over via an open-surface path to the entrance of another tunnel, or you use special cross-tunnels.

That’s two varieties of classical context-switching, open and closed.

For example, if you work for a large company, chances are you are matrixed into multiple projects, and when you attend review meetings, you get to look at slides indicating progress against some sort of internal project clock. Perhaps it is a burn down chart of features built. Or a time-to-go towards a deadline. Or times past a starting time. Or a red/yellow/green delay status indicator.

These localized subjective time cues are very familiar and important elements of industrial life, but they represent a classical understanding of time as mapped to space. When you walk from one meeting to another relating to a different project, you briefly transition through an enveloping shared context containing both of them. That’s a closed context-switch cross tunnel. Maybe you check your email. Maybe you think about broader company level stuff. Maybe your attention leaks out of the corporate context and you think about plans for the upcoming weekend.

In other words, your context switching itself has a coherent context. Imagine Alice Electron going from one meeting to another.

The thing about classical subjective time tunnels is that you have continuity in your stream of consciousness. Context switches, whether open or closed, might feel more or less disorienting, but fundamentally feel like they’re part of the same stream of consciousness. You don’t feel like you’re living in multiple parallel timelines at once. You don’t feel like you’re interfering with yourself.

Interfering with Yourself

In quantum mechanics, there is a notion of quantum tunneling that’s like the weirder Big Brother of the double slit experiment. In the double slit experiment, at least the idea of “slits” (tunnels in a sheet of material) is a classical-geometry way of understanding a tortuous environment designed to bring out the electron’s inner wave-nature.

Turns out though, that if you get to small enough scales, the barriers themselves start behaving in quantum ways, and even without slits, particles can sort of phase through walls like superheroes. This is the quantum tunneling effect that you may have heard of. It is one of the constraints on modern processor design.

To map this metaphor to what Maude might feel like transitioning between meetings, imagine that there are no cross-tunnels between contexts, and no way to pop up back to the surface and back down via a surface path, because fundamentally there is no surface, and no open embedding space in which the tunnel system exists. The temporal outdoors has collapsed. The limited system of tunnels is all there is.

Context switching in such a condition will feel like quantum tunneling through nominally solid barriers. And while doing so, you’ll feel more like a wave than like a particle, a superposition of states rather than a sequence. An evolving mesh of consciousness rather than a stream of consciousness.

In a quantum tunneling environment, the set of individual context tunnels are the only places “you” as a coherent Alice-like whole can be. There’s nowhere else to be. So if you’re not coherently inside one of them, you’re smeared via probabilistic superposition across all of them.

You’re in a diffracted Maude state. You’re interfering with yourself. You’re in a post-Woolfian, post-stream-of-consciousness story. A story that has no temporal outdoors to it.

Outdoors in Time

In our classical subjective time tunnel metaphor, there is an obvious mapping for being outdoors in space. You have to map space to narrative.

The system of tunnels is a classical bounded geometry contained within a system of barriers embedded in a larger non-weird space. So long as there is always a larger embedding space, the idea of going “outdoors in time” is unproblematic. You’re stepping out from a narrower story into a broader one, from more foreground to more background.

For example, walking between project meetings at work is probably a case of context-switching via closed cross-tunnels within the broader corporate timeline. But walking home from work, when you are mentally neither at work, nor at home, is a case of being outdoors in time, experiencing the timeline of the broadest story of all: that of the world itself, the grand narrative.

You might see a hundred little things in the environment as you walk home, and make sense of them in a hundred seemingly isolated ways. Perhaps you see homeless people and wonder about their lives. Perhaps you see a protest in progress and think about politics for a bit. Perhaps you see an “opening soon” sign for a new pizza place and think, “I might want to try that.” Perhaps you see a bus headed to another part of town and think, “hmm, I should go there next weekend.” Perhaps you notice the weird weather and wonder about climate change.

These sensations and thoughts that you experience while outdoors in time — navigating an open-narrative-space context switch — constitute a temporal or narrative “weather” of sorts. You’re cutting across many different subjective process times. The more individual tendrils of thought and sensation harmonize with each other and the various closed time tunnels you spend your time in, the more you’ll feel normal. The more they make no sense in relation to each other or your closed time tunnels, the more you’ll feel weird.

If it feels weird enough, you might wonder if there’s a there there at all.

Appearing in Public

That sense of overall harmony we experience while navigating open context switches is really what a societal “grand narrative” is. It has no author, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have a texture and direction. You have a broad, overall sense of the background currents of Big Historical Time that you’re caught up in, and being swept along by. Sometimes you can influence the flow of events in some small local way, other times you’re being swept along passively. Sometimes you pop into the foreground, other times you fade into the background.

The sense of being “outdoors” during an open context switch is a sense of an overall harmony among thousands of interpenetrating subjective time tunnels. In some, you are an actor. In others, you are a spectator. In some you’re an insider. In others, you are an outsider. The overall experience is that of appearing in public and participating in history.

This illusion of being “outdoors in time” when you appear in public is strong and coherent under situations that map to classical conditions, and weak and fragile under ones that map to quantum-torture-chamber conditions.

The former condition is what we think of as normalcy, when the outdoor time environment isn’t a sensory assault of a hundred glitchy sensations.

The latter condition is what I’ve been calling the Great Weirding. Another good term for it is narrative collapse. The present interregnum between aeons of human history which began with the death of Harambe the gorilla.

Narrative Collapse

Narrative collapse is when the felt sense of subjective time during open context-switches does not have a sense of emergent harmony, but is experienced, instead, as atemporality. Under a condition of narrative collapse, classical open context-switching feels weird and hard. But if you stick to single contexts and closed context switches it feels like you’re under siege, unable to get out in some sense.

Narrative collapse is when there is nothing it is like to appear in public.

Narrative collapse is a good term, especially when applied to grand narratives. The grand narrative is an emergent harmony that prevails at the largest outdoors in time scales that you experience during classical, open context-switches between the various narrower time tunnels of your life.

While in a state of narrative collapse, you still think in terms of being “outdoors” in subjective time and appearing in public (though you may not call it that), but what you’re actually doing is phasing through walls like a superhero rather than context switching in a classical way. You are quantum tunneling between parts of your life, smearing yourself like Maude Electron along the way, never touching a state that feels like “appearing in public”. That’s what feels weird about the weirding. Because the grand narrative has collapsed, there is nothing it is like to be outdoors in time. What you mistake for a weird outdoors-state is the sensation of being in a diffracted state.

But you don’t think of it that way. You just think of it as the “outdoors” in time being/feeling weird instead of normal, and feeling an urge to “retreat” to the most robust private, classical time tunnels you can, minimizing time spent in diffracted states, phasing from one context to another.

It’s like avoiding going out in bad weather. This is the retreat mode I’ve been calling waldenponding. The problem is, just as sometimes you do have to leave home to get somewhere else you need to be in space, sometimes you do have to switch context across time tunnels to be somewhere else you need to be in subjective time.

There are two alternatives to staying home in bad weather.

First, just as you can put on appropriate rain gear and/or warm clothing and go out comfortably in bad weather, you can go out in bad temporal weather. Just set your information filters, mutes, and blocks to keep the worst, most disorienting weirdness out. This works up to a point but eventually fails if the weather gets bad enough. That’s filter failure.

Second, you could just use a system of underground tunnels to get around, like those in many major cities that have a lot of unpleasant weather to deal with. They work in much worse weather, but the downside is they are much more disorienting environments.

Also they might not be classical time tunnels. They might be quantum time tunnels. To use them to get through the weirdness, you might have to learn to be like a wave. You might have to learn to interfere with yourself.

Mind like water. Mind like Maude.

Through the Weirdness

The question naturally arises, why do this? Why subject yourself to what I’ve been describing as a kind of torture of subjective identity?

One reason is it’s the only way through the weirdness. Understood as a solid, classical-physics barrier, the Great Weirding is a condition of narrative collapse that is too wide for the story of history — and your story within it — to go around.

And though there are tunnels under the barrier, they constitute a treacherous maze where you could potentially get hopelessly lost in if you attempted to navigate them in a classical way. And they’re such a tight squeeze relative to the size of your identity — just like the slits in the double-slit experiment are at the scale of the wavelength of electrons — that might not even be an option. So you kinda have to diffract through; ooze through like minced time-meat, and do so using more than one tunnel at once.

Speaking of mazes, my buddy Dan Schmidt makes fascinating maze drawings and is just putting together a book of mazes that really levels up this children’s pastime to adult levels of intrigue. Here’s one of the mazes from the book (we’re hoping to distribute preprint copies at Refactor Camp).

Classical maze navigation has been a long-time interest of mine, from back when I was working on robot navigation algorithms (here is a 2007 post of mine applying the concepts metaphorically to the Harry Potter narrative world). But Dan’s mazes get at fascinating levels of emergent complexity in the topic that I haven’t seen explored before, either conceptually or technically.

But think about how you might get through a maze.

How do you “phase” through a barrier that is too wide to go around, and whose tunnels are treacherously difficult to navigate in a classical way, with no exits to pop out of, and no map?

To phase through a potentially impossible maze, you have to smear yourself out like Maude to use all the tunnels, becoming wave-like and feeling weird along the way. That’s multitemporality. It will feel really weird, but at least you’ll be moving along. Time hasn’t stalled for you, even if it is moving along in an unfamiliar way.

The maze might even be classically impossible, like one of the examples in Dan’s book, without being obviously so, especially from the inside. In that case, multitemporality might be the only way through.

This is the deeper danger of waldeponding. In pursuit of the classical normalcy of a limited environment — a classical time tunnel — where you can maintain the coherent identity you are attached to, you might get trapped inside the heart of an impossible maze.

Alice may not be able to work herself through the barrier without briefly turning into Maude. She might be trapped within the limits of a diffraction-limited narrative.

Diffraction-Limited Narratives

There is a concept in optics called diffraction-limited optics, where lenses and mirrors have been made as perfect as possible, and the image quality they produce is only limited by the wavelength of light, but you still can’t see what you need to see.

To get past the diffraction limits of a near-perfect optical instrument, further improvements don’t help. You either have to make a larger instrument or use a smaller wavelength for imaging. That’s how you end up at electron microscopy.

There’s a third option: learn to work with the wave-like properties directly. This is how you get (among other things) interferometric imaging with what are known as “synthetic aperture” telescopes, where many small telescopes are combined in an array to act like a larger one. Long ago, in another lifetime, I worked on aspects of this stuff for my PhD.

The Great Weirding and associated narrative collapse is, in a sense, the narratives of the industrial age reaching some sort of diffraction limit. Even the best historians of our age will not be able to handle the narrative collapse we’re living through with traditional history-writing techniques. So what are our options?

  1. We could go grander. Bigger telescopes! This is what a lot of big history theorizing of the Sapiens variety appears to attempt. The results are kinda janky and feel like unsatisfying just-so myth-making. It is just hard to make and hold up really big mirrors to the human condition.
  2. We could work with shorter and shorter wavelengths. I think this is roughly what intersectional identity politics is trying, and failing, to do.
  3. Or finally, we could learn to work with our own wave-like nature, embracing diffracted identities and multitemporality.

I suspect, as in astronomy, the third option is the only one that is actually workable past a point of complexity. I suspect we’re all going to have to get weird and wave-like to navigate the near future and learn to tell our own stories again.

I like to think of it in terms of that old stoic line: the only way out is through. I’ve preferred the slight variant the only way through is through, because with time, there is no “out”, even though sometimes it is helpful to pretend like there is.

The quantum-tunneling update to that is: the only way through is to diffract through.

That’s why we are in the Age of Diffraction. You have to interfere with yourself to get anywhere at all.

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About Venkatesh Rao

Venkat is the founder and editor-in-chief of ribbonfarm. Follow him on Twitter

Comments

  1. This is a nice treatment of some phenomena I’ve noticed myself. The analogy with quantum mechanics is appealing, but personally I don’t feel the need to invoke it.
    I think that the brain is, in part, using something analogous to the old-fashioned machine vision algorithm called “Condensation” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Condensation_algorithm). A probability distribution of possible futures is maintained and sampled from, GAN-style. Those samples are updated according to the dynamics you’ve learned since childhood, Kalman-like combined with new measurements, and used to make a new distribution of futures (maybe not in exactly that order, if even in any order) to be sampled from next time around. When you make a measurement that suddenly rules out a swath of potential futures, those regions of the PDF are squashed to zero and stop generating samples to be updated/simulated/imagined.
    If you find yourself in a state where the distribution of futures is multimodal, with disjoint masses having large and similar measures, you can feel like you’re “living in two universes at once” or even just switching rapidly between very different realities.

    Condensation-GAN might make for a good thesis.

  2. I’m not getting the quantum physics connection here, but I also thought of a software analogy, this kind of self-interference sounds a little more to me like you’ve found a serious OS bug, and to fix it, or to get things done while it needs fixing, you’ve removed memory protection and code signing and are just running programs for short chunks in order instead, in the hope that they will be individually fault resistant enough to cope with rewriting each other’s data.

    I’m also thinking about the differences between coding for a computer with a shell, running scripts, and one working more like a games cartridge or old fashioned microprocessor, which also end up having a certain amount of moving through walls.

    Or at the risk of using one of the classic ribbonfarm overcoded analogies here, perhaps you’re experiencing the consequences of going maximally fox? Embracing localised action-fit over intertemporal-consistency to the extent that the compartmentalisation of these focus shifts itself is destabilised by this inconsistency.

    • I like the OS bug angle. I was thinking of speculative execution bugs too, but couldn’t figure out a way to properly map that here, plus I like the more basic physics feel of the diffraction metaphor.

      I think this is more trying to have your cake and eat it too re: fox/hedgehog than maximally fox.

  3. New Age comes q-bit by q-bit in no time. Once the classical world is gone it becomes obvious that passing from a state of an a-temporal energy low to the multitime blogchain requires quantum tunneling …

    It is a bit too easy to make jokes on your costs for throwing heavy theoretical imagery on mundane things like a bad hair day or a morning confusion. Your essay doesn’t seem to realize that keeping your morning banana instead of forgetting it is also an example of quantum reality, since there is always a low probability reality branch without the banana. The classic to quantum transition never happened. We’ve always already been diffracted, it is just that the less artistic types don’t constantly invent themselves using a poetics, they don’t have theories of their own creative processes.

    There is also the advice/consulting angle: don’t be Alice, don’t measure too much, accept diffraction torture. Use naturally diffracted processes and apply them to yourself. Now things get interesting because even a quantum company needs to get paid in order to continue but payment is measurement and debt condemns us to stick in the past. Instrumentally options / futures could be the way out here. UBI with options. Are you Yang Gang, Venkat?

    • Heh, I am kinda skeptical of the Yang Gang. The whole UBI conversation seems more Alice mode than Maude mode.

      LVT/Georgism though… hmm, there’s some interesting Maude-mode thinking going on there, it’s a diffraction mechanism.

  4. I really like the connections you’ve made here among feelings of identity as quantum mechanical waves/superposition of states and diffraction as this interaction with an environment. The analogy captures both the semantics and properties of physics and some notion of neuropsychological projections and evaluations of internal state…thank you!

  5. After reading this post I was struck by the point / comment: “…I think this is roughly what intersectional identity politics is trying, and failing, to do.”

    It struck me that identity politics fails on the left, because it splinters (which communism is most pure?) and on the right because it becomes monolithic (fascism). The right clearly has an organisational advantage but is of course more destructive.

  6. Very interesting ideas, thank you for this post.

    I’m trying to work out the mechanism of how the narrative collapse (caused by the industrial age reaching a diffraction limit, i.e. ever increasing inequality) gives someone malaise. I see two possible explanations.

    Perhaps people adapt to the diffraction limit by automatically diffracting themselves, but that act of diffracting oneself causes malaise/disorientation. If this is the case, how do we reduce that psychological cost?

    Or perhaps it’s our failure in obtaining high enough performance (in the microscopy analogy, high enough resolution; in a socioeconomic context, finding a comfortable life amid increasing inequality and overpopulation) that causes us malaise. If this is the case, and if self-diffraction is the answer, how do we do it and to what end?

    Do we self-diffract to (a) convince ourselves that we don’t need such a comfortable life, (b) quantum tunnel our way to that life (if so, is it all a zero sum game?), or (c) collectively organize society in such a way that that life becomes obtainable? The (a) option sounds like the whole idea of acceptance, but I don’t think it works because accepting something bad (while seeing many others who by luck alone don’t have to) makes it hard to stay motivated to survive. I wonder if (b) is a possibility. A land value tax might fall under the (c) option.

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