Ideas

Quantum Computing

How does quantum computing, and the advantages of existing in a mixed state (as opposed to a binary state), reflect the changes we see in the current social world?

As a female, mixed-race athlete and engineer turned sociologist, I feel as though I exist in multiple states and cross many borders. It has always seemed to me that things that appear so different have many more similarities than we think.

I recently read Ann Oakley’s “Gender, Methodology, and People’s Ways of Knowing,” and I felt as though it was groundbreaking, at least in my own life. She writes about how “methodology is itself gendered” (707), and while I had previously felt this to be true, this was my first time seeing it argued. My preference for positivist science (and masculine or status quo ways of thinking) runs deep. She shattered my truth, but I still hold on to and love the fragments of my old self.

As a former mechanical engineer, it’s hard to see how what I learned before fits into what I do now. I’ve noticed some biology in Durkheim, but where is the physics? When I hear of theories, I think of Newton’s laws of physics--how those enable us to figure out how fast an object will fall due to gravity… Are these so different than the theories of our sociological cannon? Perhaps, but perhaps not as different as we believe.

Back to Ann Oakley. Once I read her piece, I wondered, where does big data fit into the spectrum of gendered methodologies? Then I realized, she did not write about a gender spectrum at all, but in fact, that is what we see in society today. Oakley’s paper may have reflected the state of the world that she lived in, but could her argument be better updated as to what we see today?

To truly push this further, could we take quantum computing and relate it to what is happening in the social world? What most people know about computing is that it relies on zeroes and ones. However, quantum computing takes advantage of the fact that bits have a probability of existing as a zero or a one. Like Schrodinger’s cat, once we observe the bit, it must exist in binary state, but when we do not observe the bit, it has a probability of being one or the other and is in essence neither--or it exists in a mixed state. The advantage of quantum computing is that it can answer probabilistic questions that could not be answered before.

Similarly, we see the binary world being broken down in our social world. Gender and race are more fluid than ever before. In writing a paper about quantum physics and the sociological world, am I demonstrating through the very existence of the paper that we are moving away from the binary, towards a mixed state? Am I showing that these boundaries are more fluid than we ever thought before, and that there could be advantages to this?

Krista SchnellComment