Are You Quantum Probabilistic?

Who knew?

Quantum physics is behind our irrational decisions.

According to a new report, when you decide to buy $300 worth of shoes when you can't pay your cell phone bill (like me), you're not acting irrationally.  You're just being quantum probabilistic.

Say what?

The next time someone accuses you of making an irrational decision, just explain that you’re obeying the laws of quantum physics.

A new trend taking shape in psychological science not only uses quantum physics to explain humans’ (sometimes) paradoxical thinking, but may also help researchers resolve certain contradictions among the results of previous psychological studies, according to newswise.com.

For those who try to model our decision-making processes mathematically, the equations and axioms that most closely match human behavior may be ones that are rooted in quantum physics.

“Whenever something comes up that isn’t consistent with classical theories, we often label it as ‘irrational,'" says  heng Joyce Wang, one of the researchers.  But from the perspective of quantum cognition, some findings aren’t irrational anymore. They’re consistent with quantum theory—and with how people really behave.”

Their work suggests that thinking in a quantum-like way¬—essentially not following a conventional approach based on classical probability theory—enables humans to make important decisions in the face of uncertainty, and lets us confront complex questions despite our limited mental resources.

When researchers try to study human behavior using only classical mathematical models of rationality, some aspects of human behavior do not compute. From the classical point of view, those behaviors seem irrational, Wang explains.

 For instance, scientists have long known that the order in which questions are asked on a survey can change how people respond—an effect previously thought to be due to vaguely labeled effects, such as “carry-over effects” and “anchoring and adjustment,” or noise in the data. Survey organizations normally change the order of questions between respondents, hoping to cancel out this effect. But  last year, Wang and her collaborators demonstrated that the effect can be precisely predicted and explained by a quantum-like aspect of people’s behavior.

We usually think of quantum physics as describing the behavior of sub-atomic particles, not the behavior of people. But the idea is not so far-fetched, Wang says. “In the social and behavioral sciences as a whole, we use probability models a lot,” she says. “For example, we ask, what is the probability that a person will act a certain way or make a certain decision? Traditionally, those models are all based on classical probability theory—which arose from the classical physics of Newtonian systems. So it’s really not so exotic for social scientists to think about quantum systems and their mathematical principles, too.”

Quantum physics deals with ambiguity in the physical world. The state of a particular particle, the energy it contains, its location—all are uncertain and have to be calculated in terms of probabilities.
 
Quantum cognition is what happens when humans have to deal with ambiguity mentally. Sometimes we aren’t certain about how we feel, or we feel ambiguous about which option to choose, or we have to make decisions based on limited information.

“Our brain can’t store everything. We don’t always have clear attitudes about things. But when you ask me a question, like ‘What do you want for dinner?” I have to think about it and come up with or construct a clear answer right there,” Wang says. “That’s quantum cognition.  I think the mathematical formalism provided by quantum theory is consistent with what we feel intuitively as psychologists. Quantum theory may not be intuitive at all when it is used to describe the behaviors of a particle, but actually is quite intuitive when it is used to describe our typically uncertain and ambiguous minds.”


So the next time I go into Lord and Taylor's and see the shoe sale sign, I'll think about quantum physics and that may probably keep me walking right on by.


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