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  • Writer's pictureDoug Weiss

About the Quantum Bogosort

For those of you who may not be familiar with the word, or anyone needing a cool new Scrabble killer, a Quantum Bogosort is “a hypothetical sorting algorithm based on bogosort.” And what you might ask in heaven and earth is a bogosort? Well, in simple terms it’s a tool for testing permutations of an input. Didn't help did it? Think of it this way. Were you to try a million different ways to solve a problem some are likely to work, some simply won't and possibly some will work better than others. You should be able to sort out the answers based on their success or lack thereof and determine which are likely to give you a desired or best solution.

Still confused? Admittedly it is abstract unless you happen to be a programmer, and even then, it isn’t an everyday sort of thing. In fact, an inside joke among those who enjoy bad puns, esoteric facts and, well, inside jokes, is the invention of a Quantum Bogosort. So, what does a quantum bogosort do? It generates a random permutation of its input using a quantum source of entropy and then checks to see if the resulting list is sorted. Still with me? Here is the fun part. If the list isn’t sorted the algorithm then destroys the universe. I’ll let that sink in for a minute.

But wait, you say, that’s it, in this fantasy the world as we know it ends? Well, there is a ray of hope if you believe that there are many universes in which case at least one universe exists where the solutions were successfully sorted. Now don’t you feel better? That is unless you and I don’t happen to exist in that particular universe.

It should be clear by now that I am having a bit of fun to make a point. While I cannot credibly rule out the possibility that many universes exist, the only one I know and experience is this one. I’d be rather put out should it cease to exist.

All jokes aside, inside or otherwise, the state of our world at present feels like a Quantum Bogosort; as if things are coming apart on nearly every front and the solutions we’ve been expecting to find are not sorting out. I am not given to indulging in apocalyptic fears, but neither do I believe that solutions to the many grave challenges we face are to be found in our current political process. I also do not place my ‘faith in God’, not because I lack faith, but because my experience of the universe tells me that responsibility for fixing what we, humanity, have broken rests with us and not an 11th hour miracle sent in response to prayer. Let me put it more simply, we created the problems and we have the power to solve them though it appears we lack the resolve.

I may offend some who look for a more nuanced, divine answer, or who still believe in what I can only describe as a hopeless stalemate among those whose role was supposed to be governing but have become a mob of self-serving, power grabbing, money and spotlight chasing sycophants. No one, from either of our polarized political parties is able to lead us out of this quagmire they are too busy playing to the emotions, prejudices and ignorance they were intended to rise above..

Not an inside joke, the universe or at least the world as we knew it is ending. It is not what it was yesterday, and will never be the same again. It will only continue to change or cease to be. Much of what we knew and trusted would save us from our errors and omissions, intentional and otherwise, has failed. If we do not recognize the world we are in anymore it is because we are either too preoccupied with political gamesmanship to notice, or too self-absorbed to care.

Our world, our planet and our future existence are in crisis. We seem unwilling to believe it because the crash has been occuring so slowly that up to this point we could obfuscate what science and common sense have told us. We have tilted a fragile economic, social and biological ecosystem too far, and the downward spiral that only now we see and feel will manifest itself shortly in ways that will profoundly affect our ability to sustain life itself, if extreme climate change, famine, nuclear war or an even more deadly pandemic do not wipe us out first. This isn't a jeremiad, the state of affairs is palpable to us all even if we cannot agree on how it came about.

We have politicized everything, our health, the health of our planet and the value of human life to the point that we are no longer in touch with fundamental sensibilities, the sense we were born with that is common to all humans. We are so caught up in proving our point over those of contrary opinion that we have forgotten our first responsibility—to each other—to mankind, to our universe. More or different laws will not fix our problems, even if we could agree on what they should be. We have far too many laws, regulations and rules as it is, so complex and so far from grappling with the underlying issues as to prove a burden far beyond the conditions which they were created to remedy. Sadly, the rule of law has not worked as intended. It will not stop peoples of one country, race or creed from inflicting pain or death upon another. Laws only matter to the law abiding and the pretension of justice is ignored whenever it does not serve those in power or seeking to obtain it. We cannot prevent mass murder, much less any other kind of harm visited upon one another by passing more laws—adding more armies, police forces or more courts to punish miscreants after the fact.

But, we could agree that our children are precious and we should see to it that the very best and brightest teachers should be honored and well compensated so that future generations, if we are fortunate enough to see them, are equipped to address the complex mess we have created. We could agree that poverty, homelessness and starvation are never acceptable and divert our resources to those issues before we spend the first dollar on any other cause. We could ensure that no child went without love and attention, a responsibility that rests with us all and not just its putative parents. We could stand for those who cannot stand for themselves. We could agree that money should not decide who serves in public office and every citizen must make those decisions. We could accept that our way is not the only way—that before we attempt to legislate how others should live, worship, love or behave we accept the sovereign right of all living beings to live a peaceful life free of judgement so long as they inflict no harm upon each other.

There are many more things we could do than not, if we had the will to do so. The alternative is a further descent. We will never all agree on anything and we should stop trying to seek illusory goals. We must accept that total agreement is not a condition for acting on what we know to be true. We can start by doing nothing to others we would not have done to us, that one step would change everything for the better in an instant.

Consider the way forward. To continue on as we have leads only to an end we can predict with absolute clarity. We don’t need a Quantum Bogosort to sort for the answer. As St. Augustine observed, "Hope has two beautiful daughters; their names are anger and courage. Anger at the way things are, and courage to see that they do not remain as they are."

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