We must ask ourselves: Should we let a grade on a pen-and-paper test determine our future? Unfortunately, many of us do. While the evidence clearly reveals that grades on intelligence and school tests have very little predictive power about how well we will do in the future, many of us have wrongly identified who we are now and who we hope to be in the future based on these scores. From the world of quantum physics we get a startling image of the damage that we inflict upon ourselves when we allow our life potential to be limited by our scores on tests of academic achievement. That image is called the collapse of the wave field.
Quantum physics deals with atoms and the subatomic particles that comprise them. Everything in the universe is made of atoms: you, me, birds, bees, DNA, brains, rocks, plants, asteroids, everything. Understanding how atoms and their subatomic particles behave gives us a greater understanding of how our world behaves. But in analyzing and studying atomic matter, we enter a world that shakes our hold of the classical view of reality. Quantum physics presents a shocking reality where Aristotle, Descartes, and Newton’s classical logical, linear, and predictable machine-like paradigms are no longer adequate to explain all that goes on.
Seven decades of the most intense and rigorous scientific research has proven the fascinating fact that when an atom is being observed and measured by a physicist, it takes on very definite properties. It looks and acts very much like a real object, one of the tiny tangible building blocks upon which the entire physical world is built. But the second the physicist stops his act of measurement and looks away, he is presented with a very strange dilemma: that is, the atom can no longer be described as a particle in any way. Amazingly, the atom gives up all its definite properties and takes on the properties of a wave. Unlike a wave in a pond, which has specific limits, this wave, called a possibility wave, spreads itself out over the entire universe all at once! This state where an atom is everywhere at once is frequently called the “field of all possibilities.” I have often thought this “field of all possibilities” must be a very fun and joyful place for an atom to hang out.
What can jerk an atom out of its wave function and have it take back the properties of a particle? The magic act of measurement. The important point for our discussion is that the mere act of measurement is what collapses the wave function of the atom, forcing it to abandon its joyful, unbounded dance with the field of all possibilities, allowing only one “realityâ€ to be singled out. In his award-winning overview of the new physics, The Dancing Wu Li Masters, Gray Zukav speaks of the power of measurement upon atomic matter. “Without perception the universe continues… to generate an endless profusion of possibilities. The effect of perception is immediate and dramatic. All of the wave function representing the observed system collapses, except one part, which actualizes into reality.”
If we can snatch atoms out of the field of all possibilities simply by measuring them, can we not do the same to humans? After all, humans are made up of atoms. Do not test scores and our judgments collapse the field of all possibilities for people, limiting who they can become? A famous study conducted in Wisconsin in the 1970’s shows we may do just that. In this study, students were first given IQ tests, and then split into two groups, labeled the high IQ group and the low IQ group. The two groups were then sent to teachers who were informed which group they were to instruct. As expected by the teachers, the group labeled high IQ did well and outperformed the low IQ group. But the researchers who conducted this study had tricked the teachers and reversed the two groups. In both groups it could be said that the students’ perceived intelligence test scores and the teachers’ judgments collapsed the students’ field of possibilities down to one reality, which was the reality that the teachers most expected.
Over the last 35 years, large numbers of studies have confirmed the Wisconsin study, showing that people perform based on how we prejudge them. In The Quantum Society, Dana Zohar and Ian Marshall point out the role of judgment in the collapse of the wave function. “In the quantum realm, the observer plays a crucial role in bringing about the very situation that he observes. His presence and his expectations physically alter what he sees. As the philosopher Nietzsche said more than forty years before quantum mechanics was articulated, “We can never see round our own corner.'”
It is important to recognize that collapsing the wave field is not in itself a negative event. Quantum physics tells us that there must be a collapse for matter to have a definite shape. What I am addressing is collapsing the wave function with inaccurate forms of prediction like IQ tests, SATs, grades, and judgments that fail to take into account a person’s true potential. All that intelligence test scores and grades tell us is how well “authority” thinks we will do in academic settings. It says little if anything of our personal ability to succeed in the real world of infinite possibilities.
If our wave function must be collapsed for us to take shape in the world, should we not accept that power for ourselves? Imagine the huge numbers of individuals in our world who would have been the next Einsteins, Edisons, or Churchills, but, in accepting their academic performance as a true indicator of their future potential, collapsed their own wave function down to a mediocre future. Should we not collapse our own wave function around what we personally define as successful, meaningful, and worthwhile in our life? Should we not define our own success quotient, that is, figure out what will make us happy, safe, and fulfilled and then collapse our own wave function around those personally chosen possibilities? When Henry Ford said, “If you think you can you can; if you think can’t you can’t; either way you are right,” unbeknown to Henry, who knew little if anything of quantum physics, he was talking about collapsing our own wave fields around a personally chosen reality (see “What Is Intelligence?“).