Schrödinger’s Financial Cat

Exodus Hizkuni: Ki Tisah

Schrödinger’s Financial Cat

According to physicists, the act of measurement can affect or even destroy possibilities. This was noted most famously in the 1935 thought experiment by Erwin Schrödinger. In a series of letters between himself and Einstein, Schrödinger postulated the following (simplified) scenario:

There’s a cat in a box. There’s some radioactive material as well. The radioactive material may or may not decay. If it decays, it will trigger a reaction that will kill the cat. If it does not decay, the cat remains alive. There is no way to know the state of the cat unless you open the box. As long as the box is closed, the cat can be dead or alive. The second you open the box, you have either killed the cat, or given it another lease on life.

Schrödinger’s Cat

Schrödinger used this example in part to demonstrate the ridiculousness of quantum mechanics as it relates to the world that we are familiar with (the Newtonian, non-Einsteinian world). Schrödinger’s cat remains relevant though in the quantum world where the very act of observing or measuring will taint your results and where uncertainty prevails. (While the theory is clearly wrong in Newtonian mechanics, I believe it is quite valid regarding interpersonal mechanics).

It is curious that Rabbi Hizkiyahu ben Manoach (Hizkuni) centuries earlier postulates a parallel theory – not regarding quantum particles, but regarding money.

In Exodus 30:12, God does not allow the direct counting of the Children of Israel. Each individual places a half-shekel in a collection box. The total money is counted and the numbers of Israelites are then determined indirectly.

Hizkuni makes reference to the episode when centuries later, King David conducted a formal and direct census of the Children of Israel (Samuel II 24:1-16). The results were the divine punishment of a plague as referenced in the above verse.

Hizkuni then quotes a famous Talmudic line (Bava Metzia 42a – check it out for other investment tips), that blessing only rests on things that are hidden from the eye. In other words, once you measure, once knowledge of a financial position or stake is clear and public, it is harder for uncertainty to work to your advantage. God is less predisposed to bestow his blessing via that channel. He is not as likely to change the possibilities of a larger holding or better results if you are monitoring the minutia for all to see (hence the other part of the Talmudic tips to diversify and be discreet with one’s portfolio).

May our finances always be alive and well and may areas of uncertainty only reveal blessings.

Shabbat Shalom,

Bentzi

Dedication

To Professor Komar, a student of Einstein. He tried teaching us the equations, but we were more interested in the stories.

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