This morning I found what is undoubtedly one of the weirdest papers ever to appear on the arXiv, “Ettore Majorana: quantum mechanics of destiny”, by O. B. Zaslavskii. On the one hand, it’s a short retelling of the life of Ettore Majorana, a major figure in the development of mid-20th-Century particle physics. On the other, it’s a weird structural/semiotic analysis of Majorana’s life in the context of his work on quantum mechanics. That is, not an analysis of his work, but an analysis of his life as if it were a quantum-mechanical system!
Majorana is remembered nowadays for his work on the fundamental properties of particles, in particular neutrinos and the equations that can describe them. If neutrinos are their own antiparticles, they are called Majorana neutrinos (otherwise they are Dirac neutrinos, after the British physicist who wrote down another possible set of equations that describe particles like electrons which are different from their antiparticles). But he is also known for having disappeared in the late 1930s under so-called “mysterious circumstances”.
The paper makes the claim that Majorana’s disappearance was an example of his applying the logic of quantum mechanics to his own life (and death) — superposition, probability, uncertainty. If artists live their lives as works of art, why shouldn’t scientists live theirs as if they embodied their scientific ideas? Or at least, why can’t the historian use quantum mechanics as an interpretive structure for understanding the past? (Like, say, Freudian and Marxist literary criticism, or, more recently, the application of Darwinian evolution to literary theory — although “it would be pointless and, indeed, comical to base literary criticism on quantum mechanics, string theory, or general relativity” according to this article on Darwinian criticism.)
Well, I am all for breaking down the barriers between the two cultures…