The Observer Effect

 *SPOILER WARNING* Everything in this blog contains spoilers for Bioshock: Infinite. Do not read this blog until you have completed the game.

*SPOILER*

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*SPOILER*

I bet these two are a real hit at parties

I bet these two are a real hit at parties

We know that there have been multiple Booker DeWitts. There were 122 previous incarnations of Booker DeWitt before the one you play in the game. Elizabeth, once she becomes all-knowing and all-seeing, tells you that the Songbird always stopped you before. So why was your Booker DeWitt successful?

The in-game explanation is still up in the air. And really it seemed even Rosalind didn’t have an explanation. Maybe I’ll explore it that more in another post, but today I want to explore a very intriguing idea I read on reddit in this thread. In the comments section the question of why our Booker was successful is brought up and an answer is proposed that perhaps the real difference for this Booker is that he is being observed by the player.

Now it isn’t the player’s “mad skillz” or Booker being on his best behavior because he is being watched. It is all about science. But in order to make sense of how the player could possibly be the source of Booker’s success we have to learn a bit more about quantum mechanics. It is the Quantum Observer Effect, but I’m no scientist so let us turn to our good friend Ms. Wiki Pedia…

The theoretical foundation of the concept of measurement in quantum mechanics is a contentious issue deeply connected to the many interpretations of quantum mechanics. A key topic is that of wave function collapse, for which some interpretations assert that measurement causes a discontinuous change into a non-quantum state, which no longer evolves. The superposition principle (ψ = Σanψn) of quantum physics says that for a wave function ψ, a measurement will give a state of the quantum system of one of the m possible eigenvalues fn, n=1,2…m, of the operator which is part of the eigenfunctions ψn, n=1,2,…n. Once we have measured the system, we know its current state and this stops it from being in one of its other states. This means that the type of measurement that we do on the system affects the end state of the system. An experimentally studied situation related to this is the quantum Zeno effect, in which a quantum state that would decay if left alone but does not decay because of its continuous observation. The dynamics of a quantum system under continuous observation is described by a quantum stochastic master equation known as the Belavkin equation.

A consequence of Bell’s theorem is that measurement on one of two entangled particles can appear to have a nonlocal effect on the opposite particle. Additional problems related to decoherence arise when the observer too is modeled as a quantum system.

The uncertainty principle has been frequently confused with the observer effect, evidently even by its originator, Werner Heisenberg. The uncertainty principle in its standard form actually describes how precisely we may measure the position and momentum of a particle at the same time — if we increase the precision in measuring one quantity, we are forced to lose precision in measuring the other. An alternative version of the uncertainty principle, more in the spirit of an observer effect, fully accounts for the disturbance the observer has on a system and the error incurred, although this is not how the term “uncertainty principle” is most commonly used in practice.

[See the full entry]

English: Quantum mechanics travelling wavefunc...

Random quantum mechanics graphs to make you think I’m smart (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Whew. I’d imagine that is the kind of story Rosalind Lutece reads her brother before bed time.  But what this is essentially saying is that what is observed is changed by the direct or in-direct interaction of the observer.  It makes getting acurate observations and measurements maddening for a quantum physicist and helps support an interesting theory about Bioshock: Infinite.

Perhaps this is the one true variable that makes your Booker so different than the other Bookers.  The player is the observer and having an effect on the experiment.  The Luteces spend a lot of the game testing constants, looking for variables.  In some cases they directly try to affect the outcome like they did with the telegram.  But they continue to get the same result over and over again.  But this time, while the constants remain constant, Booker is different.  He is successful.  The main variable that is different between all the other Bookers and your Booker is you, the player.

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7 Responses to The Observer Effect

  1. Aminpro says:

    Love the extensive research and theory. I myself am a “fan” of quantum physics for quite some time and found this game to be truly well crafted.

    • Ralsar says:

      You have to respect any work of fiction that prompts so much discussion related to history, politics, physics, etc. I’ve spent more time discussing the game across the internet than actually playing the game :)

      I’m very much a neophyte when it comes to quantum physics, but this game has certainly inspired me to explore the subject. I’m reading Brian Greene’s lastest book ‘The Hidden Reality’ and it is quite fascinating.

      Thanks for reading!

  2. Pingback: Rosalind and Robert Are Dead | Bioshock Infinite Mysteries

  3. ADWCTA says:

    Do we know Old Liz is all powerful and all seeing? I imagine that she’s not, since they implanted her. When she says “songbird stops you every time”, she means that in her timeline, songbird repeatedly stopped you… (or at most that in the few timelines she’s looked at, songbird stops you)… not that in every single possible timeline before her intervention, that songbird stops you.

    It’s also instrumental in interpretation that her line is in answer to Booker’s assertion that “I would have come for you”. Booker never speakers inter-parallel-universe stuff. All Booker means to say is that this Booker would have never given up. Old Liz’s response is to a much smaller proposition than what you seem to interpret it as standing for.

    (This doesn’t invalidate your post at all, but I just thought it might affect some other big picture thinking you’re doing by getting this detail right. Love the job you’re doing on this site! Keep it up!)

    • Ralsar says:

      Interesting point and I admit I treated Old Liz as if she was representive of the Elizabeth we know from the end of the game but she may have still had the ability to see across the multiverse.

      Old Liz remarks that she used everything she had left to bring Booker to her during that scene indicating that what power she had has dwindled to nothing. In her universe, a universe where Booker did not save her, the siphon is never destroyed.

      “I suppose the Siphon is a kind of leash. Yes, my father put it on me, but when the time came, neither did I remove it myself. What would happen if I took off the leash, and I found I was…as obedient as ever?” –Elizabeth

      It wasn’t until she was older that she finally released herself from the Siphon

      “Tomorrow, the leash comes off, because all of this…has to end. But even if I destroy the Siphon, will I be strong enough to see all the doors, and open whichever I choose? And if I bring him here, who is to say that he would be any match for the monsters I have created?” –Elizabeth

      We never get confirmation on her abilities once she destroyed the Siphon beyond the fact that she was able to bring Booker to her and send him back. I have assumed she had to be able to get at least glimpse at the multiverse in order to locate Booker.

  4. tnag552 says:

    indeed, Schrodingers cat test in a glass box would give this effect. There’s no superposition of possible outcomes.

  5. Pingback: Bioshock: Infinite "The Observer Effect Theory" - Geek Me NYC

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