Majorana in superposition

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

2 responses to “Majorana in superposition”

  1. David avatar

    Is there a way to find out the name of the moderator that approved this? It’s hard to believe that anyone would have trouble posting after a glance at this. I wish the control committee would clarify the process about who can post what on the arXiv and exactly how these decisions are made. I’m certainly not clear on it.

  2. Pier Stefano Corasaniti avatar
    Pier Stefano Corasaniti

    If the abstract of this paper leaves the reader rather puzzled, a rapid glimpse to the text would suggest a summary of historical investigation on the Ettore Majorana case. Instead a more detailed reading leads the amused reader to a very deep question: “What drug is this guy in?”
    The dissapearance of Majorana has always made people very curious, particularly for a number of circumstances which added mistery to the case. Historians have been left with very few clues and the lack of information allowed many people (novelists and physicists) to speculate quite a lot. Certainly some of the hypothesis that have been suggested, such as Majorana being still alive (at least 10-30 yrs ago) retired in a cloister (Sciascia in “Il caso Majorana” 1975), or living in Argentina (Recami in “Il caso Majorana” 1987) remain very “romantic”. (By the way Majorana would turn 100 on next August 5th). Unfortunately these conclusions do not seem to have strong ground.
    An interesting study has been presented by Bruno Russo in his book “Ettore Maiorana (Un giorno di Marzo)”. A book extremely well written that offers a reliable historical and psycological analysis of the context in which Majorana’s life took place. It provides an insight on the existential drama of Majorana as man and scientist. Russo particularly emphasizes Majorana’s interest for Schopenhauer’s philosophy. In this perspective his decision to isolate himself from the rest of the Panisperna group and eventually of taking his life may suggest a more plausible explanation than previous speculations.
    It is unfortunate that most of these studies are limited to Italian readers, surely broader audiences remain interested on the case. Nevertheless we should always remember that Majorana’s legacy goes very much beyond the vicissitudes of his life. His contributions to Physics remains relevant even today and it is really unfortunate that in the centenary of his birth few have remembered him.