You see, we have this little problem in physics. When you measure small things, they move really fast — think you vs. bees — and the really tiny things such as photons (subatomic particles of light) act super strange. They can be in two places at once.
This little mind trip is called quantum mechanics, and it starts with a classic experiment. Head down to a physics lab and set up a light gun to shoot one itty-bitty particle of light (a single photon) at a time through a series of slits. The particle should hit the film on the other side randomly. But as you shoot a series of single photons through, first one, then another, each wavers on its way, as if a second photon in an alternate universe were acting on it at exactly the same time. Shoot a series and you get a classic wavelike interference pattern. Physicists believe the particle actually takes both paths at once — and only lands when you, the observer, observe it forcing the universe to land on one option.
You catch that? The universe is constantly splitting into options, and it only settles down when you pin your eye on it to measure where it is. Uh-huh. You really did go out with that hot guy/girl in high school, and if you can’t remember it, you’re just stuck in the wrong universe.
Austrian physicist Erwin Schrödinger pointed out the silliness of this subatomic duality with a thought experiment now called Schrödinger’s cat. In this, a subatomic particle could decay or not with equal odds, and its decay is tied to a vial of poison inside a box with a cat. If the particle moves the wrong way, the cat dies. But because subatomic particles do two things at once, the cat is both dead and alive inside the box at the same time — until you open and observe it. We think Schrödinger may have been smoking when he thought that one up.
We note all this because the U.S. electorate has become obsessed with polls lately, and the poll numbers have been all over the map. Obama is up, but McCain is closing fast. Early voters account for 30% of the electorate, leaning Democratic, but voters on Election Day may lean Republican. The strangest thing is both Obama or McCain could fairly win the election depending on the day the vote is taken (McCain would have won easily days after the RNC convention), and the randomness of Nov. 4 falling where it does seems a strange way to pick the future of our land. The many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics holds that both outcomes are true.
So it’s President McCain. And President Obama. In a world where you left high school at age 16 to become a famous rock star with that hot girl/guy in tow. Sleep tight, Americans, and see which universe you wake up in.