The State Pension

First Post on

November 1st, 2020 entry:

When the physicists announced there were many worlds and many “mes” and many “yous,” I wasn’t sure what to think. But I was inclined to believe them. If we are to listen to scientists about the quarks and gluons and genes and evolution, we have no course for denying them in this particularity. After all, who are we average mortals to gainsay these giants? It is they who can level cities with a mere equation. One of many feats they’ve accomplished that were previously reserved for God.

And what have we ordinary people done to compare? I cannot answer for you, but all I did was write columns for The Daily Mail before being replaced by an algorithm. I then lost the capital I had saved for my retirement in foolish speculations.

I can’t say this attitude isn’t troubling, though. One feels oddly passive in this age of reason. These eminent scientists casually dispense with our common-sense notions of space, then time, then finally identity itself and (lacking the capacity to understand why in any detail) we nod our heads and hope other people think us cleverer for it.

We mediocre folks must take an extraordinarily large number of things on faith. And I fear this must always be so, for mediocrity is the only disease that cannot be eradicated, even in principle.

Nonetheless, It is because of my faith in science and its processes that I have always been of the opinion that the state pension, though grisly from a naive “one-worlder” perspective is actually a remarkably humane, efficient and (dare I say) generous social program.

If you look back at the columns I wrote before being sacked, you will note I have always cheered on its adoption in other countries, and applauded Prime Minster Clarkson for his sound thinking in implementing it after the blight made it clear that our welfare system was destined for a slow-motion collapse.

The Daily Mail, as you may or may not know, was one of the first newspapers to switch to algorithmic journalism, considered an ideal candidate for reasons beyond my understanding.

It was depressing when the aforementioned giants announced that though artificial intelligence was turning out much more difficult than they thought, artificial pundits could be churned out with almost no processing power whatsoever using one simple trick that, I can confirm, journalists do hate. But such is life.

It was because of this that I was made redundant, the first domino in that chain reaction that lead to my bankruptcy.

But my skills are not entirely without worth: the algorithms, having no inner experience, are still no good at writing biographical stories, and so I think there is still some value in me writing, some ten years after my termination, a series of posts detailing the process of receiving the state pension, and giving you, the reader, an inside view of the process. I will post them here on this blog, this ethereal thing, in the hope that at least one person finds it enlightening.

An except from Thinking and Acting in the World So Large, Elijah Mayer:

It is considered, I must admit, somewhat shameful among professional philosophers to write a book for the common man. To these critics I say this: they will not be so common once I am done with them.


November 3rd, 2020

Tomorrow, the pension. Today, I write.

What I thought I would do with this morning’s post is go over the history and philosophy of the state pension and why my worry is unfounded. I know most of you younger people went over this in secondary school, but is strikes me that some could use a refresher, so bare with me or (if you must) skip to tomorrow’s post where I will go over the details of the process.

Now as you know, during the 1920s physicists were mystified by the behavior of the photon in their famous double-slit experiment. You see, light behaves in a manner that seemed contradictory at the time. You measure it one way and it seems to be made of discrete particles; you measure it another and it seems to behave as a wave does. How, the greatest minds of the age asked, could it behave in both ways at once? The answer seemed to be that this individual photon was in all possible states at once, and thus was interfering with itself to produce its wave-like properties.

This raised a bigger question: if that were true, why don’t we observe such states in macroscopic objects? One of the greatest minds of his generation, Niels Bohr, had an answer unworthy of his genius: wave function collapse. That is, Bohr thought (and many did until the future Nobel laureate Hugh Everett III published his celebrated Ph.D. thesis) that the process of observing and measuring a quantum event solidifies the process that occurred, retroactively, into a definite state. This is manifestly absurd, of course. For measuring devices and observers are themselves quantum processes.

Schrödinger demonstrated this with his famous thought experiment. He wrote:

One can even set up quite ridiculous cases. A cat is penned up in a steel chamber, along with the following device (which must be secured against direct interference by the cat): in a Geiger counter, there is a tiny bit of radioactive substance, so small, that perhaps in the course of the hour one of the atoms decays, but also, with equal probability, perhaps none; if it happens, the counter tube discharges and through a relay releases a hammer that shatters a small flask of hydrocyanic acid. If one has left this entire system to itself for an hour, one would say that the cat still lives if, meanwhile, no atom has decayed. The first atomic decay would have poisoned it. The psi-function of the entire system would express this by having in it the living and dead cat (pardon the expression) mixed or smeared out in equal parts.

It is typical of these cases that an indeterminacy originally restricted to the atomic domain becomes transformed into macroscopic indeterminacy, which can then be resolved by direct observation. That prevents us from so naively accepting as valid a “blurred model” for representing reality. In itself, it would not embody anything unclear or contradictory. There is a difference between a shaky or out-of-focus photograph and a snapshot of clouds and fog banks.

Schrödinger points out there is no clean separation between the world of photons and the world of humans. If you agree with Bohr that microscopic objects can be in an indefinite state until observed, then you must also agree that macroscopic objects, too, (cats cars, and importantly, other people) can also be in this state. What Bohr’s wave function collapse implied was a kind of strange solipsism in which everything is indefinite until you yourself observe it. Thus Schrödinger’s thought experiment was the first volley that lead to Bohr’s eventual loss of influence in the field — At a conference in which Bohr was not in attendance a young Richard Feynman famously quipped, “Can this gathering be said to have occurred if Bohr is not here to observe it?”

But with the collapse of collapse, the field was left with no explanations for this question, even a poor one. It was in this time of confusion that Hugh Everett III made his mark on modern physics, and now many (years down the line) the pension system of the United Kingdom.

What Everett showed in his Ph.D. thesis — and solidified with his later discovery of decoherence (for which he was awarded the Nobel) — was that wave-function collapse is entirely unnecessary so long as you give up one cherished assumption: that experiments have only one outcome.

That is, if you actually just look at what the Schrödinger equation describes, wave-function collapse isn’t needed and the explanation is very clear. There is just one “universal wave function” in which everything that can happen, does happen. In which macroscopic objects, too, are in superposition. Like the photon, all objects are in many states simultaneously. The reason we don’t observe superposition ourselves is because decoherence occurs at microscopic scales, making it impossible for any version of ourselves to experience more than one outcome, as our parallel realities decohere (and are thus unable to interact) long before things on human-scale would be able to notice.

Now, as I said, I’m an average man. So my explanation is more of an elephant’s painting than a portrait of what occurred. My more technical readers, please forgive any blunders.

The important fact is this: there are parallel versions of me and parallel versions of you. Scientifically indisputable. The earth is round, it orbits the sun, and there are infinite versions of everything stacked like a deck of cards throughout the multiverse. There is a version of me still working at The Daily Mail. There is a version of me, happily retired, who laughed off his cousin’s offer to go halfsies on an American alpaca farm. And most importantly, there is a version of me who will survive the state pension and will be much richer for it.

You see, what the bureaucracy of our great nation realized, as the blight was on the point of emptying the state’s coffers, was that if there are infinite copies of every person, then every person is “backed up” as it were. And so by removing some redundant copies, you can make the welfare state vastly more efficient.

That is, suppose the state has only 2 million pounds but needs to pension off 100 people. To an ignorant one-worlder, there would be no choice but to leave your citizens “high and dry.”

But from our many worlds perspective, pensioning off 100 people with 2 million pounds is purely a matter of removing 99 redundant copies from a 100 universe branch.

Now its true that some of the less-educated fellows out there conflate “removing redundant copies” with “murder of the poor.” But we cannot allow scientific illiteracy to bankrupt the state.

And, yes, many have to be coerced into applying for the state pension, but the vast majority of those surveyed afterwards are very happy with the exceedingly generous yearly annuity they are provided with, which in most cases is several times more per annum than they’ve ever made in the best years of their lives.

An except from Thinking and Acting in the World So Large by Elijah Mayer:

What many may not know is quantum suicide started as a mere gedanken experiment, seemingly so harmless. First imagined by Einstein, who had a tremendous gift for this style of thinking. Though he would later become an enthusiastic advocate for Everett’s now-orthodox relative state formulation, the idea first hit him rather poorly; and it was in a characteristically rude missive from Einstein to Everett, in which he suggested Everett volunteer himself for such a trial, that we first see the idea fully formed.


November 4th, 2020

This morning, a very upright young police officer came by my home and escorted me to the welfare office. He has had an excellent set of teeth and smiled often as we chatted while he escorted me out the door.

The handcuffs, I admit, were very uncomfortable.

But I suppose it is not too often an Oxford-educated chap is eligible for the state pension — those who don’t know better must be protected from themselves.

“You confuse me for some foolish one-wolder,” I said as he slipped and tightened the shackles around my wrists, “I have not the least worry in the world.”

He flashed his teeth, tightened the cuffs and said, “I don’t doubt it sir, but we are all slaves to policy.”

I nodded my head in agreement. “Now, you can ask anyone and they’ll tell you you won’t find a more patriotic fellow than me, but I think we’ve all been a little put out by bureaucracy now and then.”

And I wasn’t lying when I said that, I can tell you. Bureaucracy does get on my nerves. Take the TNCs, the tracking and neutralization collars. Now I understand they are for our own safety, and when Clarkson introduced them I was one of their fiercest advocates.

But you see, I developed a nickel allergy several years ago. And you won’t believe the time I had getting my TNC replaced with a hypoallergenic model. I had to fill out reams of paper work and it took months to arrive, and getting it installed at the police station was itself a nightmare. Bureaucracy has gone amuck, it has, when a man with a nickel allergy can’t get a hypoallergenic tracking and neutralization collar installed in a timely manner.

I was so put out commiserating with this public servant that I didn’t even notice as I was lead gently into the back of a white van. The man was a magician of the highest order, for he got me into his police car very smoothly and with minimal fuss.

He placed the bag over my head with great delicacy, too.

The ride was uneventful. The itchy wool bag over my head leaving little to be described. After roughly an hour the van stopped, the door screeched open and the officer said, “Please lean towards my voice.” I did so he plucked the bag from my head. It was when I attempted to respond that I realized he had selectively activated my TNC, paralyzing only those muscles that are required to verbalize.

Though a wonderful invention and responsible for the nigh-elimination or anti-social behavior, I can’t help but think that in this particular instance activating the TNC, even in this limited fashion, was not completely justified.

“Now exit the vehicle and walk towards that yellow door to your left”

I nodded and followed his instructions to the letter. The door lead into a large hallway filled with people who looked very much like me. There were 100 people exactly. Each was standing in front of a red door.

That is, this hallway had 50 red doors on each side, and beside each door a person stood stock still, paralyzed in place. There was, however, one door at the very back that didn’t have a person in front of it. My door.

Without waiting for the officer to instruct me I walked towards and stood in front of it.

“This one’s rather eager,” the officer said. Then he grabbed a small device from his pocket and pointed it at me.

I felt a very curious sensation. Many live their whole lives without having their TNCs activated. In the van, unable to speak, I would have been rather terrified had I not read and written extensively about TNCs in my previous life. However, even this did not prepare me for the full-body treatment.

The delicacy of these devices is hard to describe. But simply, I was unable to walk in any direction. I could maintain my balance fine. I could sway my arms slightly. I could twist my head and look around. But if I tried to run, as I did in a shameful moment of terror, I simply failed. My body simply did not respond to my orders. If my mind was its officer then the state was its general. And it now had higher orders.

Those around me looked equally terrified. There was an old woman to my left who looked particularly distressed. She had thick, wrinkled features, but in her fear, she almost looked like a child. I could tell, looking at her, that she had not internalized our modern understanding of quantum physics!

Contemplating her philistinism, any pity I felt for her turned into disgust. And it was this disgust the freed me from any fear.

The logic of the state pension is simple and unassailable. We live in a multiverse and one cannot experience non-existence. Thus when you walk into the displacement booth, you are guaranteed to not experience any of the realties where your displacement booth is filled with cyanide gas. A quantum event is used to determine which booth will be spared. As all outcomes occur in the universal wave function, there is always a branch where a copy of you survives and gets the pension.

Thus, the only future I could experience was one of quite-considerable wealth. When the officer ordered it, I would open the door walk into the room, take a short nap, and then I would walk out alone but rich. What did I have to be afraid of? Nothing at all.

“We now have our quorum,” the officer announced. “Once I finish speaking the door in front of you will open and you will walk inside it. Once the door closes your TNC will render you unconscious for 5 minutes. Once you awake, your first check will be transferred to your account and you will then be free to enjoy your generous retirement as you see fit.”

It happened just as he said. The door opened as an elevator door does. The TNC changed slightly and I began to feel an unbearable itching that eased as I took a step forward, then increased exponentially, then eased again as I took another step forward, finally vanishing as I stepped into the booth and turned to face the hallway outside.

Before the door closed, I saw a man about my age opposite to me, attempting to resist. He put up an admirable fight but the outcome was not in doubt. He stepped haltingly, agonizingly into this both. Then the door closed and mine did as well.

I sat down on the floor and leaned against the wall, feeling an extreme sense of drowsiness.

An except from Thinking and Acting in the World So Large by Elijah Mayer:

One should predict, then, that you will not end up in those future histories in which you have chosen to take measure-reducing actions, and this holds true even for measure-indifferent agents. [..] It is for this reason that I feel measure-reducing actions, such as quantum roulette, are not exploitable even by agents who claim to be indifferent to their measure.

I suppose a slogan for such a view could be this: Though you are not interested in measure, measure, I think, is interested in you.

Final Post on

November 6th, 2020

And then what happened?  Everything theory predicts. I slept, I awoke. I walked out a rich man. If you think me lucky, you have not learned your lesson. For so was everyone else who took the pension that day!

We will all live rich lives, though will never interact. All of us happily retired in separate branches of the multiverse.

It is so simple, now, on this side of the displacement.

In retrospect, though I managed my fear well, I think I could have done better. It really is not a big deal. Should you qualify for the pension, take it in stride!

It really is as good as I always thought.

I’ve got a very generous first check in the mail, just signed a lease on a beautiful apartment in London. But it is not just the apartment I have signed on for, for I feel like I have a new lease on life, all thanks to the wonders of quantum physics and the British state pension!

An except from Thinking and Acting in the World So Large by Elijah Mayer:

I once dreamed I was performing the quantum suicide experiment. It was discomfiting. But everything turned out fine. I woke up safe in bed.

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