I stared at the screen, looking at the price of the flights, daring myself to click “purchase”.
“You do this, and it’s all over”, I said to nobody. Finally I sighed, closed the laptop, and went back to playing my DS. Another day gone by where I didn’t buy the flights, where I didn’t hand in my notice, where I didn’t admit that all possibilities were no longer open.
And therein lay the problem. I had decided some months ago that I wanted to quit my job and travel, and not just because every blog and online article in the world told me that I should. For me, the boredom of working in an office had finally taken its toll, cancelling out the pay check that I received every month. I wanted sunshine and excitement, I wanted to see things and go on adventures again. But I couldn’t deny the fact that life in Beijing was pretty sweet. I never worried about money, I was lucky enough to find myself in a very loving and happy relationship; I had a good friendship circle and a flat that I adored.
For months, I occupied a space in my mind where every decision was possible. It was a happy space, a space where I could have job stability and a steady income, and still spend my days seeing the world. A space where I could be free from responsibilities but also enjoy the positive aspects those responsibilities brought. It was an impossible unsustainable space, and the longer I stayed there, the more each possibility slowly decayed.
A few years ago I read a Stephen Hawking book called The Grand Design, hoping that it would transform my poor knowledge of particle physics and quantum theory into somewhere between elementary and average. One of the most interesting chapters was regarding wave function collapse and Schrodinger’s interpretation of it. Like the Chinese language, the El Nino phenomenon and the inner workings of the male mind, this was an area that I always thought I understood but had yet to grasp its full complexity.
We all roughly know the idea of Schrodinger’s Cat: a cat climbs into a box (because cats love boxes) which contains a vial of poison and a radioactive sample. The box is then sealed. Once the radioactive sample decays, it will trigger the smashing of the bottle of poison and kill the enclosed cat. According to the Copenhagen Interpretation, one of the dominant approaches to quantum mechanics, the radioactive sample has both decayed and not decayed – therefore the cat inside the box is both alive and dead.
This is called superposition, referring to a state where all possibilities exist at once, and has been proven by experimenting with single photons of light. What makes it one or the other, what makes the cat dead or alive, is the act of observation (or measuring – observing implies that a conscious mind is required to provoke the change, which it’s not). Once the observation takes place, all the possibilities collapse at a faster-than-light speed into one, single reality. The cat is either alive or dead.
A rival to the Copenhagen Interpretation is the Many World Theory, which due to its prevalence in pop culture is many people’s first real exposure to quantum theory. If we take this theory and apply it to Schrodinger’s Cat, it would mean that instead of the wave function collapse which leads to one single possibility, there is no wave function collapse at all. Instead, at the moment of measurement, the other possibilities split off into another universe, essentially creating a new universe where that possibility exists. There is one world where the cat is alive and one where the cat is dead.
Indecisiveness is a genetic fault that I’ve unfortunately inherited. In the last few months, my head has been awash with all the open possibilities that I could take. Living in a state of superposition, where all possibilities exist, where nobody gets hurt or disappointed and you have everything you could possibly desire, is very comforting. But it’s not real. And even if I had booked that flight, and not played Pokemon, it still wouldn’t have made it real – just more likely. It wouldn’t be real until I actually got on that flight.
A state of superposition might be okay for photons of light, but it wasn’t okay for me. It was making me anxious and miserable. I had to do something, I had to finally decide.
So I wrote my resignation letter. And even when I called that meeting with my boss, and told him that I would be leaving in a month – even THAT didn’t make it real. But it did feel like there was a faster-than-light acceptance of whatever reality eventually awaited me. I had closed a very big, very significant door and opened another. I was collapsing the possibilities in my own head, the hundred million possibilities of what the next year could bring to my life. One by one, with each flight booked, with each more goodbye, they were reducing and disappearing. And that was a good thing.
Whilst this has been, at best, a very clumsy attempt to understand my indecision with quantum physics, I do feel like making those difficult decisions can be an incredibly liberating experience. There will always be a Sliding Doors type idea at the back of my mind – a “what if?” and a fleeting thought towards my other self, that chose to stay in China, that chose stability over uncertainty. But letting those thoughts paralyse me would be the worst decision of all.