Monday, May 21, 2007

Schrödinger's cat:

Tigerhawk thinks through the whole question of strategy in Iraq by reasoning from a series of "minimalist assertions". One interesting conclusion:

My best guess is that a strong and legitimate government of a unified Iraq will emerge more quickly if the United States withdraws. This is because the international journalists will mostly leave if the United States leaves, so the combatants will be free to use brutal methods that will more quickly and decisively exhaust the losers' will to fight. Unfortunately, we cannot reliably predict the nature of that ultimate national government.

The effect of the observer upon the actual outcome of an experiment has long been a feature of the philosophy of science as regards quantum physics. Maybe it works that way for history too, except that the wave function collapses differently when the New York Times is doing the observing. Tigerhawk is not the first person to suggest that the success of a counterinsurgency campaign varies inversely with the presence of the mass media. Max Boot once suggested that small American interventions succeeded because they did not drag in the press, and with it the distorting gravitational field of Washington, DC. Anyway here is some food for thought for those with a philosophical bent. Maybe there's a world in which all possible outcomes in Iraq happen. I wonder which one we will experience. (This is a playful post, so don't take the assertion too seriously.)

The many-worlds interpretation or MWI (also known as relative state formulation, theory of the universal wavefunction, many-universes interpretation, Oxford interpretation or many worlds), is an interpretation of quantum mechanics that claims to resolve all the "paradoxes" of quantum theory by allowing every possible outcome to every event to define or exist in its own "history" or "world", via the mechanism of quantum decoherence, instead of wavefunction collapse. Proponents argue that MWI reconciles how we can perceive non-deterministic events (such as the random decay of a radioactive atom) with the deterministic equations of quantum physics; history, which prior to many worlds had been viewed as a single "world-line", is rather a many-branched tree where every possible branch of history is realized.


Blogger unaha-closp said...

This is because the international journalists will mostly leave if the United States leaves, so the combatants will be free to use brutal methods that will more quickly and decisively exhaust the losers' will to fight.

This is over estimates the effectiveness of Western Media on non-Western actors. Western Media only distorts in the West, for example it is well reported that 100,000s are dying in Dafur and has been for the past 3 years - the situation continues regardless.

Thus the minimalist assertion could be:

"...if the United States withdraws.[-] The combatants will be free to use brutal methods..."

Perhaps this is a function of the observer over weighting their own self importance.

5/21/2007 06:29:00 PM  
Blogger wretchard said...

General Petraeus sends an open letter directly to the Iraqi people. "Deny the enemy shelter ... reject violence ... embrace reconciliation ... he Coalition can help you realize this objective. In the end, however, success depends on you." (Blackfive)

What's interesting about this is what it implies about who the Iraqis may actually believe. Some reports have suggested that people have greater faith in the Coalition and in local Iraqi commanders and leaders than in politicians in the Green Zone. If that's true, then there would inevitably be pressure for this grassroots movement was probably looking for a spokesman, albeit an informal one. It would be the greatest of ironies if Gen. Petraeus were actually the most credible man in Iraq, and one who spoke for many Iraqis to boot. I don't want to push the speculation too far, but I think there is some truth to the observation that the lack of national leadership has created a vacuum which has to be filled, in some way.

5/21/2007 06:44:00 PM  
Blogger Mətušélaḥ said...


Why not let natural selection play its course? Let the smartest Iraqi oil pirates/smugglers apply their wits to the problem. Why this resistance to relocate to Kurdistan? A force of 20,000 will give us savings of a 100 billion dollars per year, AND remove the protection that the Jihadi glamour machine (See: BBC, CNN) now enjoys.

5/21/2007 08:14:00 PM  
Blogger Elmondohummus said...


Quote - "What happened to the cat? It looks half dead."
-Mrs. Schrödinger


partially non joke, yet somewhat tongue-in-cheek myself:

Keeping in mind your warning that you're not being entirely serious: I'm not sure that 1. Analysis of the closed cat box would reveal anything worthy, as the fractal theory of event evolution really splits off in unlimited directions for every decision-making process, and does so for every actor in an event. So there's literally an infinite number of probable outcomes. Even though the actors and the "degrees of freedom" within which they have to act are finite, there are a ridiculous amount of actors in the scenario (I'm not talking merely conscious, self-governing ones, BTW, I'm talking everything invovled in an event) and a ridiculous number of possible actions. And actions stemming from those actions, each also having a finite but ridiculously high number of permutations. It gets complicated quick.

2. That in our "thread" through this Schrödinger line i.e. our own particular reality - that removing the observers will actually have a real world affect on the actors that's as strong as Tigerhawk implies. On the atomic and subatomic level, getting information does indeed severely affect the actions and activites of the observed: Probing the internals of an atom with a photon disrupts the atom. But on the "macro" level, getting information about the actions of individuals and groups doesn't involve shooting great amounts of energy at them; on the contrary, it can be exceptionally passive, and from a distance, and uses energy the observed themselves are emanating (in the form of sound, "light" (itself in the form of images i.e. video and still pictures), etc) withouth requiring your own input.


Non joke:

I see what Tigerhawk is saying about the distorting effect of the press, but as unaha-closp said, we can overstate their effect. It's mostly directed at us, after all, and merely takes effect after the actions of the actors themselves. The actual contributing factor in what would happen if the US pulled out and took the press with it is much more determined by the attitudes of the actors invovled than the press's reports of those actors actions.

Also: Tigerhawk's assertion is based on an assumption of what those actors' goals and attitudes are. It's a rather oversimplified assumption he makes (no offense to Tigerhawk, who I respect).

5/23/2007 12:32:00 PM  

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