Donald Trump is like a large clump of live quantum energy; he is confusing to typical humans because like quantum objects he unabashedly exists in two simultaneous states: (1) Personal Twitter Insults (PTI), and; (2) Charming Love on Society for Everything (CLOSE). You never know what to expect from Trump: Strategy or Ignorance…or neither?
Trump often displays both states simultaneously like he did July 7th in his press conference with the president of Poland. This is similar to the strange behavior of a quantum-entangled particle – you never know what to expect until you see it in action. And that is really the point. Trump’s actions are not revealed by his potential acts, which are suggested by his unique form of communication in terms of tweet attacks and charm offensives. Like quantum physics, Trump is a quantum mystery.
This postmodern dilemma also plagues development of quantum computers, which, like Trump, hold the promise of so much potential power for good. Both have turned out to be very hard to develop and deliver on their promise. Dilbert’s postmodern cartoon below captures this quantum dilemma brilliantly for quantum computers and quantum Trump.
I had intended for this piece to be a follow up to a post I wrote in February 2016 as part of a business case study of Trump’s presidency as the first business billionaire CEO of America. However, Trump is not just a non-traditional businessman; I have never met anyone remotely like him, in business or otherwise. Further, I do not know anyone who has ever met another human like him! (Could he be an alien life form?)
After following Trump’s campaign and six months on the job, the only recurring pattern he reminds me of is the uncertainty principle of quantum physics. I explored this analogy and decided to use it as the basis for my analysis instead of business principles.
I wanted to give a primer of the quantum uncertainty principle for context, but honestly, that would be like giving you a recipe for a new dish instead of giving you a taste of the actual dish to see if you liked it first. But I can’t do that; so instead, I will do my best to describe quantum uncertainty in the brief explanatory intermission below, which you may ignore or enter at your own risk. (My thanks to syndicated comedy sports writer, Norm Chad, aka, “The Couch Slouch,” for this rhetorical device).
Explanatory Intermission: The uncertainty principle of quantum physics, formulated by Werner Heisenberg in the early 1930s, states that it is impossible to simultaneously measure two conjugate properties of a quantum object with perfect precision. Conjugate in physics means “joined together” in a fundamental physical way. The primary two conjugate pairs in physics are position and momentum, and energy and time. Position is where a particle is located, and momentum is the product of particle mass times the speed of the particle. Energy is the capacity to do work, and time is the duration in which the energy is doing work. The uncertainty of each of these four conjugate properties controls the limit of accuracy to which they can be measured determined by the product of conjugate pairs. For example: the product of uncertainties in location and momentum, respectively, must be less than or equal to the universal Planck constant, h, which is 0.000…to 35 zeros, which was discovered experimentally by Max Planck in 1900. The h constant is very, very small. The product of uncertainties in energy and time must also be less than h. When increased precision is attempted of one conjugate variable the uncertainty in the other variable of the pair automatically increases for the product of the pair to stay within the Planck limit.
I feel obliged to establish my credentials for putting “quantum” and “Trump” in the same sentence and for applying them in a social setting. Below is a summary of my quantum bonafides when I was trying to understand the universe before I morphed into a strategy consultant for CEOs, which I erroneously thought would be easier. An alternative view from a social perspective to understand Trump is also included for completeness.
My first real exposure to quantum uncertainty was my PhD thesis. I studied the behavior of quantum particles that were thought to be or closely related to the “glue” that holds the positively-charged nucleus of protons in atoms together without being pushed apart by their positive electric charges.
Trump is like an atom in his own universe that lives under the constant pressure of a “win-at-all-cost or bust” strategy; the only way he can apparently stay together is by letting generally accepted notions of truth vary for his convenience without any shame or need for apology whatsoever.
This behavior goes against society’s generally accepted behavior, and is more like the behavior of a quantum system which could care less whether you observe it or not. In physics, “quantum” is the ultimate and impenetrable solipsistic character of the universe; it’s at the root of everything privately holding all secrets of the universe. Trump acts like a human version of the quantum.
I never thought I would witness analogous quantum behavior in a human, much less a president of the USA, until now. Is it good that Trump is acting according to the most powerful known scientific principles of the universe, or bad? Is he controlled nuclear energy for cheap electricity, or is he a nuclear bomb for war and destruction?
It’s too early to tell but the six-month trend is not promising. The central problem is his unpredictability in the ways that he personally violates the commonly held behavior of modern society at all levels.
Our lived reality reveals commonly held scientific truths and social truths. Science truths can be precise to the precision of many decimal points, but are not fundamentally absolute according to quantum physics. As Hofstadter opined in his GEB book:
There are things we can prove but not know, and things we can know but not prove.
This absolute uncertainty suggests that absolute truth is absolutely inaccessible. This fact gives wiggle room for free will which is the basis of social truths that are made up by all of us.
One of those social truths is called street cred, the street name for social capital–the language and behaviors we learn growing up that allow us to assimilate into groups of others who have different experiences and views.
One social explanation of Trump’s behavior is given as simply a lack of social capital, which means that Trump grew up without any friends and never acquired basic social capital, as explained by sociologist, Kay Smythe:
Trump’s linguistic skills suggest he wasn’t exposed to a great deal of other children and/or anyone of fluctuating demographics. Ever. Most individuals will adapt their accents, terminology, phraseology to those around them as a form of social capital, which Trump doesn’t seem to do/have. In layman’s terms this basically means he didn’t have any friends growing up, nor into his twenties. This in turn could mean that he has lived his entire life thinking he is the paradigm of humanity as he has never had to assimilate into social situations where his linguistic ability (and likely his broader opinions) would obviously make him stand out in a negative way.
Tony Schwartz knows Trump very well, having ghostwritten his best-selling book, “The Art of the Deal.” Schwartz said that after working closely with Trump, he is sure that the man has an extremely small vocabulary. Schwartz puts it at about 200 words, nowhere near the 5,000 words that the average person is supposed to use in speech, according to linguists.
Commonly shared social beliefs are commonly held truths that allow society to function. Truths only believed by one individual that no one else shares are always creative, by definition, and are usually rejected at first. Sometimes “new truths” represent new ideas society needs and wants, but sometimes they are just outright lies for competitive advantage.
Because the majority will always be wrong when big new ideas come along (by definition), sorting winners from losers, or identifying purposeful lies for new ideas and their expression, is never easy. The ultimate arbiter that determines which new ideas live and which die are emerging common sense (common social truths). Collective wisdom of the crowd has always paved the way to collective truth through the trial and error cycle of interacting with each other, testing and learning in a forward moving continuous spiral of progress and growth.
During the last 20 years we have speeded up this cycle more than any time in history, and are approaching a breaking point. We can hardly manage life both personally and institutionally. We are not just doing the same things faster, like going from horse and buggy to 100+ miles per hour i a sports car. We are doing fundamentally different things faster in fundamentally new ways. It’s like a family going from living on a farm to living in a space home connected to billions of people, knowledges, things and ideas on demand.
Economics marks change best. Facebook and Exxon have about the same market cap at $400 to $350 billion and PE ratio at 38 and 34, respectively, but Facebook needs less than 1/4 as many employees as as Exxon (17k vs 72k) to produce the same market value. Exxon is 135 years old and Facebook is only10 years.
Fewer jobs and lower pay trends are also buried in these data. During the last 40 years GDP been gradually growing faster than income so that entering 2017 GDP/capita was $52k, and Income/capita was $30k, a gradual GDP/Income increase over the last 40 years of 30% to 73% . These data reflect where we are on the information/energy paradigm shift power curve as we head into the #FrictionLessSociety™.
I first experienced this changing reality both socially and scientifically in my PhD thesis work. My theoretical task was to use the quantum wave equation, which I barely understood, to calculate results for measured results I would generate from my particle accelerator experiments, which I also barely understood.
I had acquired enough social capital through college and graduate school to get help from my physics professors and graduate colleagues to support and guide me as I moved into the unknown to grab some new knowledge, bring it back, and present it for peer review by international experts in my field. I was so nervous I lost my voice for two weeks before my thesis defense. It came back as soon I completed my defense successfully.
In my experimental work, a particle accelerator sent protons crashing into carbon to create a stream of pions– short-lived elementary nuclear particles (half-life about 18 nanoseconds)—that were guided by giant magnets onto very low-mass targets of Lithium and Beryllium so I could study their nuclear interaction.
Pions were first observed in cosmic radiation and thought to be related to the glue that held a nucleus together. Negative pions are about 273 times heavier than electrons, and when they penetrate light elements they are captured to form simple pionic atoms by settling deep inside the inner electron shell of the target elements close to the nucleus; pions actually spent some time inside the nucleus and generated information about the nuclear glue that I could extract via analysis of pion-atom radiation. At least, that was the theory.
I conjectured that pionic atoms would emit radiation patterns as they decayed with nuclear glue information embedded in the unique shape of their radiation energy pattern. This information could be harvested through analytics and compared with the quantum wave calculations of the pionic atom. I programmed the analytics math on punched paper cards,and ran the program for hours on a mainframe computer myself. And, everything worked, not the first time, but eventually.
I was absolutely flabbergasted (and relieved) when my calculations accurately matched my experimental results with literally millions of variables in play that were contained in a large truck of electronics gear operating inside two huge particle accelerator industrial complexes— Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility in Newport News Virginia, and the Carnegie Mellon Accelerator Facility in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania–where my experiments were conducted.
The classical mechanistic paradigm of things and their interconnections adopted from Newton in the 18th century could have never even conceived of this thesis problem, much less had an approach to solve it. Ironically, Newtonian thinking still largely organizes society today. Quantum thinking with high-speed and select low-noise field effect digital electronics (cooled with liquid nitrogen) was needed to get the job done for my thesis; at the end I was still confused about why the spooky quantum theory and its uncertainty principle worked so well.
That’s why it’s called quantum “mechanics”—it’s a mechanical recipe to make “quantum soup!” It tastes good, but you can’t describe it. Quantum Mechanics is the most accurate and least understood physics in science; it is just beyond our large scale experience and makes no everyday sense.
Likewise, classical Newtonian thinking will not explain Trump. What I propose is a “quantum strategy approach” for understanding Trump and his Presidency with the dual goals of understanding the upside while hedging against the downside.
As problem solver, I see problems as patterns in problem space and look for pattern solutions in solution space that neutralize, or “fit,” the problem pattern. That’s the way nature tends to work. Example: proteins and enzymes fold together in “mutual fitting patterns” to create new organic entities to solve particular problems in living systems.
I had to figure out what “conjugate pairs” described the uncertainties in Trump’s world in order to understand his problem space beyond just reacting emotionally to what he says and how he says it. This led me to focus on what he says and does, and how the public hears his promises and evaluates his delivery on them (Quantum Trump chart above).
I think many can probably agree that Donald Trump is unique in recent history as arguably the most powerful man on earth with the least experience at the most unstable time in recent history . I believe his uniqueness and power will lead to one of three outcomes that will be true of his time as president:
Trump will have represented the emergence of humanity’s next great leap forward into the #FrictionLessSociety™ by breaking a lot of rules;
Trump will have represented a leap too far and result in a temporary regression of society back to humanity’s harsher past causing a shock wave, which stabilizes humanity’s course so it can begin to move forward again;
Trump will leave office within eight years and continue to be an enigma whose “behavior” has created a new reality of governance and international order that keeps humanity precariously balanced on a cultural knife’s edge as it tries to maintain its balance with only two possible outcomes for Trumps legacy: historic condemnation or historic praise.
Trump’s uniqueness (as measured by almost constant surprise) was demonstrated to me in real time as I was writing this piece while watching him extol American values such as “free speech, freedom of the press, a world of free nations, and NATO” as if he was Ronald Reagan; all of this happened moments after he had just leveled personal attacks against these very same values of America in this very same speech!
Surprises, however, swing both positive and negative. Even though words do count, actions speak louder, whether as scripted speeches or 140 character impromptu tweets.
Stay tuned to this space for updates.