Chapter 2 – 2nd Edition

The Visit to Neg Ahne Poc: A Quantum Parable

Chapters 3 and 4 cover the small amount of background in classical physics needed to appreciate the quantum enigma. But to give an idea of where we’re headed, Chapter 2 tells a story that displays the bafflement that readers should anticipate.

The quantum enigma, the quantum measurement problem, can be truly displayed only by an interference demonstration, or by entanglement. However interference (or entanglement) is tricky to explain, and there’s little motivation for that at this stage. Moreover, it’s not the technical aspects of the enigma that are most significant. It’s the bafflement challenging our worldview that’s most meaningful.

Therefore, to display the bafflement presented by the quantum enigma, we tell the Neg Ahne Poc story. The experimental “objects” dealt with are people. This story is, of course, not actually a display of quantum phenomena.

We emphasize a couple of times that Neg Ahne Poc is a magical place that does not exist in the actual world. The story is an analogy displaying the same bafflement that the real quantum enigma leaves us with. It’s in fact a pretty close analogy to an actually doable version of the archetypal demonstration of quantum phenomena, the two-slit experiment. (By a different choice of observation, you would create a different prior physical situation, and its relevant history.)

Though we emphasize in class that it’s only an analogy, though a close one, we make sure that everyone gets the point of the story. Students should clearly understand why the visitor to Neg Ahne Poc is baffled, and that we expect them to eventually experience the same bafflement. The story is also intended to have some sociological significance about the attitude of many physicists toward the measurement problem. (Usually at least one student announces that they understand the choice of the name “Neg Ahne Poc” for the village.)