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Who Needs Schrödinger’s Cat When We Have Megan Fox’s Thumb?

February 11, 2010

As Matt alluded to in this morning’s Index, thousands of words have been written or said about Megan Fox’s thumbs since their (non?)appearance in a Super Bowl Motorola commercial. Lots of controversy over this one, as represented by this heated chat exchange I managed to intercept and/or invent and/or participate in:

Dude with too much free time #1: “Her thumbs are ugly. Motorola clearly got a thumb double.”

Dude with too much free time #2: “No way, her thumbs have to be hot like the rest of her.”

D1: “No, they’re ugly. Out of the 19,220 Megan Fox pictures I have on my hard drive, more than 1,500 of them show a clearly nubby, odd-looking thumb.”

D2: “Dude, that’s a lot of pictures. Can you burn me a disc?”

D1: “Sure. Do you want me to include the ones that show her hammer-thumb?”

D2: “Are there, like, extreme close-up shots of her hands that make her thumbs look like cocktail weenies? And do her toes look like that too? If so, I know a guy who might really be interested in them.”

D1: “Shut up, dude. You don’t have to lie—I know about your thing for weird toes.”

Wait, where was I? Oh yeah, I was about to say that this Megan Fox thumb “controversy” reminds me of not only weird appendage fetishes, but also quantum mechanics.

Don’t have too much of a nerd-gasm. You should know that you’re dealing with someone who is profoundly ill-equipped to discuss the physics here. I checked out The Quantum Enigma, a book written for general audiences about the relationship between quantum theory and consciousness, from my library yesterday and read 20 pages last night. I also took an introductory Conceptual Physics course in college…13 years ago. The only thing that would make me less qualified to talk seriously about particle physics is if that class had actually been called “Physics for Poets.”

But for the sake of argument, I’m going to assume I’m getting the simplest parts of quantum mechanics right when I say that, at the smallest measurable levels, both light and matter can appear to be both discrete particles and elongated waves, depending on the measurements used. In other words, the nature of matter’s existence (what we formerly assumed was “objective reality”) is unclear until it is observed or measured. In 1935, physicist Erwin Schrödinger used this basic ambiguity to craft a thought experiment in which a cat would theoretically be both alive AND dead until an observer comes along to assess its condition.

Numerous interpretations of quantum mechanics have since emerged to address this inherent paradox; none has achieved anything even approaching consensus. Meanwhile, most physicists go on about their work because these questions don’t really HAVE to be addressed for the math to work and applied knowledge and technology to be developed. And of course average schmucks like me engage these questions only at the level of, “Quantum schmontum, go make me a better iPod, Spock boy.”

I thought of all this, and read enough about quantum mechanics to be able to throw around the terms (in what’s likely a deeply unsatisfying way), because this whole “Megan Fox thumb” thing holds a weird pop culture mirror up to this fundamental question about reality. Her thumbs are, in a way, both “pretty” AND “ugly” until someone comes along to observe them and publicize those observations. There isn’t really one answer to the question—there’s photographic “evidence” that suggests both a normal and an abnormal shape for her thumbs.

How they’re seen depends on the way they’re presented and observed and, even more in cases such as this, why they’re presented and observed. The Motorola folks and presumably Megan Fox herself wanted to avoid the criticism that would have erupted had they shown an abnormal-looking digit doing such a thumb-centric activity as operating a 3G phone. To them, the thumb looks normal (or must be presented as such). The bloggers who first observed the inconsistencies and the evidence of a possible cover-up (I’ll say “Thumb-gate” once and once only) wanted to “get the scoop” and possibly parlay this coup into a gig at the National Enquirer or a less popular paper like the New York Times. To them, the thumb is ugly, and the whole world must know it.

But this paradox doesn’t have to be resolved for the media at large to do their work and make “controversy” the final outcome.

Now you must pardon me. I may or may not be going off to look at all those Megan Fox pics I may or may not have just received from my friend who may or may not exist. Or maybe I’m off to read more of The Quantum Enigma. Either way, in this case, you probably shouldn’t attempt to discover the “reality” through observation.

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