Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The Hunger Games and Quantum Physics

Early in 2012, I, along with a friend of mine and his girlfriend decided to drive out to Sandusky, OH to meet up with a college friend of hers.  The four of us decided to see The Hunger Games on opening night.  I never read the book, nor did I really know anything about the story, but I quickly took note of the post-war dystopia in which such people lived.  I analyzed the movie from a physics perspective, and tried to analyze how I would have played the game, if put in such situation.

The analysis I used was that of a quantum physicist.  Quantum physics is the study of energy states of tiny particles.  An electron can have an angular momentum, or a magnetic spin number of either + 1/2 or -1/2.  The actual energy it has would be either ħ/2 or -ħ/2, where ħ is a constant related to Planck's constant.  The important thing to understand is that an electron can either spin clockwise or counterclockwise.  An individual electron is difficult to anticipate, since it has a 50% chance of spinning in either direction.  A large amount of electrons can be assumed to have an expectation value of 0 angular momentum, meaning that the positives and negatives cancel out.  It is nearly impossible to know the energy of one individual electron, so we may think that quantum physics is useless... Or is it?

Upon hearing your name called, you know nothing about your competition, so you assume that you are as likely to survive as anybody entering this game, giving you a 1/24 probability of survival.  You may consider yourself dead... or just a wee bit alive.

Quantum physicists say that you are BOTH alive AND dead before the game occurs.  More specifically:  you are 23/24 dead and 1/24 alive SIMULTANEOUSLY.  This is how Schrodinger described a cat placed in a box of poison.  Unless we actually look to see what's inside, the cat is both alive and dead (why would somebody want to do this?).  Upon making a quantum measurement, or in this case, looking at the cat, you can now conclude with 100% certainty what state something is in.

All quantum states must quantified and describable to a degree of direction.  This means that Katniss is 1/24[A] and 23/24 [-A]:  [A] stands for alive, where [-A] stands for negative alive, or dead.  When writing a formal quantum state, we actually use the square root of the probability, and this is used for a certain reason (I won't go into detail).

Thus:  [K] = .204[A] + .979[-A]

The coefficients are the square root of the probability of each state, in decimal form.
This is how quantum energy states are described.

Upon learning new information about one's rating compared to other tributes, you can alter a quantum state by determining a more accurate probability.  Quantum physicists do this whenever they develop further research.  One might say that Katniss did not improve her odds; she was always good with a bow, and likely to survive, but a fundamental principle of quantum mechanics is:


This is starkly in contrast to what 90% of science experts think.  This is not to say that they are dumb; quantum physics is a very recent field of study; only around for a bit over 100 years, and much is still unknown.  For most of science, it is safe to assume that something is what it is without human measurement.  However, quantum physics governs everything in science, so keep in mind the importance of human perception.

Quantum states change all of the time.  The only states that don't change are called "eigenstates."  I think eigen is German for "own."  Perhaps that could be twisted to mean that the state remains as its "own" and is not affected by time.

Another major thing to understand about quantum physics is that:


Suppose Katniss died in the beginning.  Upon receiving the information of the cannon firing on her behalf, she would then be in the state of:

[K] = 0[A] + 1[-A].

Every time somebody dies, Katniss's quantum state changes.  She is now more likely to live, so the state weights itself towards the [A] state.

This means that if you enter the hunger games, no matter how dominant you may seem to be, your best bet is to avoid confrontation for as long as possible, because every time you enter a confrontation, there is a probability that you will not survive it, so your chance of survival is greatly enhanced by curling up under a bunch of rocks and eating leaves.  After trying to determine how to engineer a superweapon out of the environment, I concluded that the theoretical physicist has the ultimate advantage in doing nothing.

I would have either done the above or attempt to fake my death.

One last question:  let's see how well you understand quantum physics.  Suppose I play a hand of poker, and without knowing the value of any cards but my own, I decide to "burn" 2 cards instead of the customary 1 card prior to dealing.  Did I change the game?  Somebody who understands quantum physics knows the answer.

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