By Kumar David –
Schrodinger’s Cat: The futility of election analysis and forecasting – The Irrelevance of Gotha’s & Sajith’s Programmes
A commentator on a popular website remarked: “It’s a waste of time analysing or deciphering the manifestos of the major parties. If one scrutinises previous manifestos of new-style Presidents or old-style Prime Ministers, what have they delivered?” Another commentator added “A manifesto is worthless unless it is implemented. What proportion of past manifestoes have been? Only a small fraction; an indictment of the rectitude of candidates”. Both commentators had Gotabaya and Premadasa in mind. Hence one side of the coin is: The manifestos published by the two candidates are simply a collection of empty platitudes put together by drafters whose objective is to maximise their hero’s votes. Their relationship to what a candidate may do in power is tenuous; at best it conveys a feel for the candidate’s personality and style. The other side of the coin is: A great majority of people do not read any of it. They cut out an attractive picture of ‘their’ candidate to stick on the wall, the other sides manifesto lines kitchen shelves. Irrelevant and unread that is the fate of both manifestos.
This brings me to a valid point. Few people are likely to change their minds at this late stage. Nearly everybody has made up his/her mind; when you read this it’s less than a week to 16 November and I would be surprised if even a tiny percentage is still undecided. Sometime on 17-18 November we will know the outcome, but paradoxically the decision is already made; it’s not that the outcome is uncertain, it is certain, but will only be revealed when the box is opened so to speak. This brings me to an oft-told story celebrated among physicists.
It’s known as the Schrodinger’s Cat paradox – it’s not a paradox for quantum psychists; these things though bizarre for folks like us, is the stuff in which these weirdos wallow. But let’s not knock quantum physics; its predictions have always proved correct. Schrodinger’s Cat (SC) is a thought experiment to “explain in a simple way” how a quantum event can be both “positive” and “negative” at one and the same time. It’s a bit odd but SC is a quantum-cat which can be both dead and alive at the same time, it is in a suspended or superposed state of being both dead and alive simultaneously. This is only till a certain thing happens (I will tell you about that in a moment). When it happens, and only then, the two states collapse into one; the cat becomes definitely dead or definitely alive.
Schrodinger put his feline in a partitioned box like a physicist does to a particle in a lab. Then he closed the partition not knowing in which section the cat was. At random he released a toxic gas into one compartment. If the unfortunate beast was in the wrong place it was kaput, if not, it was fine. Schrodinger then cleared the gas and lifted the partition. In the interim, and this is crucial, the cat was neither dead nor alive, it was in a state of suspended probability. That is in the interim it was both dead and alive; mathematically its life was in a state of superposition. Shakespeare’s cat can “be” or “not be”; Schrodinger’s cat can “be” and “not be” at the same time. You’ve got to relax your credulity a bit and make a concession to these weird psychists. Quantum theory creates a weighty conceptual gap between Shakespeare’s deterministic universe and Schrodinger’s probabilistic world.
Now what’s that “certain thing”? It’s when someone opened the box and looked. Suddenly the two states collapsed into one and became one state; mathematically the cat goes either dead or alive, but only at that moment. It’s not that the cat was either dead or alive all along but we didn’t know till we opened the box. No, no that would be conventional common sense. For these quantum chaps it’s not like that; the cat is neither dead nor alive but in a suspended state of probability until the box is opened, then it decides to be one or the other. [To jump ahead, Mahinda Deshapriya declaring the results is equivalent to Schrodinger opening the box].
What’s the link between the futility of manifestos, everybody having made up their minds but nobody having a way of knowing the outcome, and Schrodinger’s troublesome feline? The point is this: Though the outcome of the presidential election is already known to the divinities, in that it floats in a state of superposition between Gota and Sajith, not on the life of any nitwit pollster, fiction loving manifesto drafter, or blabbering TV commentator, will it be known to humans until the count is over. Don’t believe those who say this one is ahead or that one is behind, don’t believe those who predict how many Tamils will abstain, or claim how many Sinhala-Buddhists respond to Gota’s abrupt anti-Tamil turn after his (and Tissa and Namal’s) effort to woo the Tamil electorate and the TNA flopped.
Suspend judgement on whether the national security bullshit and scaremongering post April bomb attack will panic Sinhala-Buddhists. It has admittedly panicked Premadasa who thought it necessary to open his manifesto with a fusillade about national security and saying in all but words “I will be as tough as Gota; mother Lanka is safe from separatist Tamils and terrorist Muslims in my custody”. Gota and Sajith are competing to sound tougher than each other on security, both whipping it up to appeal to the herd instincts of the Sinhala electorate. On this matter, specially at election time, Sri Lanka has not grown up.
Of course Gota is more Buddhist fundamentalist; the other joker can’t build a sufficient number of temples by 16 November to compete. Is it true that Gota’s manifesto is available only in Sinhala and English while Sajith’s is out in all three languages? (The NPP/JVP manifesto is still, 7 November, not available in English!) Where does this leave us? Forget about skinning Schrodinger’s cat; forget about trying to second guess the nuances of voting – how many firsts will X get, how many seconds will Y get. Simply dig in and do what you gotta do! And what’s that?
Krishna reminded Arjuna on the battlefield at Kurukshetra: “Look boy, you gotta do your duty; keep your loadstar clear”. So, first-for-Anura; second-for-Sajith; nothing less, nothing more. Let’s not tweak our voting intentions, deluded by imagined scenarios of how this candidate may fare or that candidate poll. We cannot know at this time whether anyone will poll 50% firsts, or whether it will go to second count. Here is what we need to be clear about: AKD represents the coalition that the country will have to depend on in the future if it is to go forward,
What kind of a government will Gota’s, if he wins, be? Former army boss Daya Ratnayake has shoot his mouth off on YouTube. Ratnayake-arrogance exhibits the military mind-set if ever it gains power. Believe me it’s not very far from fascism; go to https://youtu.be/nyISBGvhNjU to experience the Ratnayake show in person.
What about class? Gota’s base is cross-class; one portion is nuevo-riche business interests, a section of the Sinhala middle and professional classes and ex (and current) military types. I call them the Shangri La throng. The other portion is the urban, semi urban and informal sector; those with what you might call appi Sinhala emotions. Sajith’s base is also cross-class; Maharaja type big business, elite and traditional UNP loyalists that Ranil can draw in, and a different segment of middle, lower-middle, urban and informal sectors. In respect of the petty-bourgeoisie classes, the vector that divides Gota and Sajith’s portions is Sinhala-Bauddha–abimane.
Finally, what about international experience? Last week I drew up a list of about a dozen trouble spots where governments are under pressure to quit. The examples varied from Hong Kong where youthful fascist mobs terrorise the streets, to insoluble contradictions in Lebanon and Iraq, and places where a settlement seems difficult – Bolivia and Chile. Streets explode when socio-economic contradictions, personal greed for power and/or hysteria take control. We cannot rule out unrest in Sri Lanka on 17-18 November or in the following weeks. If on the 17-th it becomes known that a count of second preferences is needed, it will be a red-alert for Gota supporters. There will be agitation at street corners and at SLPP gatherings. The grassroots will stir to disrupt or influence the counting. Allegations of fraud will fly like embers in a California wildfire. Plots are possible – recall foxy Dayananda Dissanayake’s jillmart and rumours of his sojourn at Temple Trees. Endeavouring to stop Schrodinger’s feline from having the last laugh – that is attempting to subvert the true result – will lead to interminable chaos since no one will be able to get away with jillmart this time.