Quantum mechanics in survey responses
Math, statistics, and physics have never been good to me so my becoming an engineer, astronaut, or astrophysicist has never been in the stars. I have only admiration and respect for those who are in these fields. In graduate school, I made it through two semesters of statistics and two semesters of experimental psychology by the skin of my teeth, just enough to equip me for my computations-laden thesis on meaning and semantics.
These memories and thoughts come to mind because of the recent Pulse Asia survey results that showed President Duterte, with all the number-crunching involved, getting a 91-percent approval rating. His supporters and rah-rah people must be falling all over themselves with delight while befuddled critics and academics come up with explanations why the results were so while drawing from their fields of study such as sociology, politics, economics, etc. Why — in spite of the shambolic state the country is in during this pandemic and the nocturnal TV appearances of droopy-eyed PRRD notwithstanding.
I have not heard about the field of physics coming into the picture in surveys thereabouts, particularly the quantum theory propounded by physicists that remains baffling to many. A scientific field that may be verging on the paranormal, supernatural, mystical, otherworldly, if I may describe it inadequately.
Gary Zukav, author of the award-winning “The Dancing Wu Li Masters: An Overview of the New Physics” writes: “There is another fundamental difference between the old physics (Newtonian) and the new physics. The old physics assumes that there is an external world which exists apart from us. It further assumes that we can observe, measure, and speculate about the external world without changing it. According to the old physics, the external world is indifferent to us and to our needs….
“The new physics, quantum mechanics, tells us clearly that it is not possible to observe reality without changing it. If we observe a certain particle collision experiment, not only do we have no way of proving that the result would have been the same if we had not been watching it, all that we know indicates that it would not have been the same, because the result that we get was affected by the fact that we were looking for it… According to quantum mechanics there is no such thing as objectivity. We cannot eliminate ourselves from the picture.”
I’ve always thought about this in relation to spontaneous healing and even miraculous phenomena. But not in relation to survey results until I read up.
“Quantum theory reveals puzzling pattern in how people respond to some surveys” is the title of the 2014 article in Phys Org written by Jeff Grabmeier of The Ohio State University.
The article is about how “researchers used quantum theory — usually invoked to describe the actions of subatomic particles — to identify an unexpected and strange pattern in how people respond to survey questions.”
Grabmeier writes that by conventional standards the results are surprising. “The scientists found the exact same pattern in 70 nationally representative surveys from Gallup and the Pew Research center taken from 2001 to 2011, as well as in two laboratory experiments. Most of the national surveys included more than 1,000 respondents in the US.”
He quotes Zheng Wang, lead author of the study and associate professor of communication at The Ohio State University: “Human behavior is very sensitive to context. It may be as context sensitive as the actions of some of the particles that quantum physicists study. By using quantum theory, we were able to predict a surprising regularity in human behavior with unusual accuracy for the social sciences in a large set of different surveys.” Note “context sensitive.”
Grabmeier writes: “These new findings involved an old issue that has long faced researchers using survey data or any self-report data: question-order effects. Scientists have known that the order in which some questions are asked on a survey can change how people respond. That is why survey organizations normally change the order of questions between different respondents, hoping to cancel out this effect.”
Scratch your head no longer. To quote Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” obliquely: “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”
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