Wilkinson has decided to let his hair grow to represent his new self
IT’S ONE THING to connect – as England rugby player Jonny Wilkinson has done – Buddhism and quantum physics in the search for enlightenment, particularly when a cat is involved. But it’s quite another to use the Wilkinson path to personal peace in order to come to terms with the uncertainty of markets. But let us try. First to Jonny, who famously won the World Cup for England in Sydney against Australia in 2003 with a clinically executed drop goal. For reasons unknown, he then slipped into a state of almost permanent despair. He developed a pervasive sense of fear of failure, and recently – in an interview to promote his new book, Tackling Life – says he “didn’t know how to free myself from it”.
Plagued by injuries, Wilkinson spent the time away from rugby studying quantum physics and Buddhism. Enter Schrodinger’s Cat, a proposition designed in 1935 by physicist Erwin Schrodinger. You call that a “proposition” – although online dictionaries describe it as a “(theoretical) experiment”.
Anyway, here’s what Schrodinger asked us to imagine: We place a living cat into a steel chamber, along with a device containing a vial of hydrocyanic acid. There is, in the chamber, a very small amount of a radioactive substance. If even a single atom of the substance decays during the test period, a relay mechanism will trip a hammer, which will, in turn, break the vial and kill the cat.
“The observer cannot know whether or not an atom of the substance has decayed and, consequently, cannot know whether the vial has been broken, the hydrocyanic acid released and the cat killed. Since we cannot know, the cat is both dead and alive, according to quantum law, in a superposition of states.
“It is only when we break open the box and learn the condition of the cat that the superposition is lost and the cat becomes one or the other (dead or alive). This situation is sometimes called quantum indeterminacy or the observer’s paradox: the observation or measurement itself affects an outcome, so that the outcome as such does not exist unless the measurement is made. (That is, there is no single outcome unless it’s observed.)”
Thus, concluded one of the best fly-half’s the world has seen, it was all about the idea that an observer can change the world just by looking at something: the idea that mind and reality are somehow interconnected.
“It is difficult to put into words, but it hit me like a steam train,” Wilkinson says. “I came to understand that I had been living a life in which I barely featured. I do not like religious labels, but there is a connection between quantum physics and Buddhism, which I was also getting into.
“Failing at something is one thing, but Buddhism tells us that it’s up to us how we interpret that failure.”
So the observer can be the creator of the reality. If observation doesn’t take place then there’s no reality. We’ll have to assume the cat is both alive and dead – a concept that would, in my case anyway, result in insanity. Some might say I must already have been living with a cat that’s both dead and alive. Wilkinson muses on: “The so-called Middle Way is about seeing everything as interconnected – success and failure, victory and defeat. Who is to say that the foundations of success in the 2003 World Cup were not built on the failures that went before?”
Now, finally, to the markets. What can be more unfathomable than that thicket of impenetrable crap that those high-flyers in financial services cobble together and call, among other terms, derivatives?
We won’t bother with all the acronyms they have invented to bamboozle each other in their scramble for obscene bonuses based on nothing more than their ability to deliver a line of bull dust to some other greedy player better than the next charlatan can.
Now, returning to Schrodinger’s Cat, it can be stated that there are life and death events taking place deep within those impenetrable markets about which we’re unaware. We can’t see them because they haven’t yet been displayed to us.
We know because of the price signals flying about that all hell is breaking loose. But we don’t know, and will not know, until the steel case is opened whether or not the cat has died. Until we have such awareness then that cat is, as we learned from Wilkinson, both dead and alive. Our economic world as we know it can continue largely as it has for the past eight or more decades (the cat lives) or we can sink into the mire of bank runs, massive unemployment in the industrial world, soup lines, families walking the streets homeless, cold and hungry.
What will we observe when the steel tank is opened? Well, the cat will probably be alive and those roughly 1,2bn who live in the advanced world will continue to enjoy their decent lifestyles.
However, as the default position of humanity is poverty, the bulk of the world will continue to suffer, walking the streets, begging on pavements, cold and hungry.
That’s the dead cat, yet to be given life by a change of system and Schrodinger can rest easy: the cat is both alive and dead.