Brain and Body

Made a Poor Decision? Blame Quantum Physics.

September 24, 2015 | Kelly Tatera

A man panicking with question marks around his head
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A new theory uses quantum physics to explain the psychology of our utmost irrational choices.

If you’ve ever made a completely ridiculous decision and struggled to justify your logic, a new theory on “Quantum Cognition” may provide you with the perfect excuse — you were simply obeying the laws of quantum physics. The quantum cognition theory suggests that the principles of mathematics might explain one of the most inexplicable phenomena in research: human behavior.

The field of quantum physics seems particularly daunting and complicated, but to break it down as simply as possible, its main agenda is to explain the ambiguities of the physical world: the state of certain particles, the energy they contain, their location, etc.

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The emerging field of quantum cognition also deals with ambiguity, but in our brains instead of in the physical world. While quantum theory isn’t intuitive at all when it’s applied to explain the behaviors of a particle, it’s actually fairly intuitive when describing the uncertainties of our minds.

Essentially, the new theory suggests that all of the possible choices we could make coexist in our minds until we finally reach a decision, at which point all of the other possibilities disappear. When we weigh a problem in our minds, we don’t jump from one possible solution to the next — they simultaneously drift through our minds until we pick one.

Study researcher Zheng Joyce Wang, director of the Communication and Psychophysiology Lab at Ohio State University, explains that we experience a state of ambiguity when contemplating all possible options. Though we’d like to believe our moral compasses will always point us toward the best decisions, the “right” choice isn’t always glaringly obvious. The quantum cognition theory allows for this uncertainty, as opposed to previous theories that attempt to interpret human behavior as sudden transitions from one state to the next.

“Whenever something comes up that isn’t consistent with classical theories, we often label it as ‘irrational.’ 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,” she said in a statement.

Basically, your strange decisions (or downright terrible lapses of judgment) aren’t as erratic as they’ve always been explained. In fact, they’re natural, according to the theory of quantum cognition.

Here's Zheng Joyce Wang, author of the study, explaining her new theory:


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