Thursday, June 18, 2015

The quantum theory of road racing

There are still some anti-quantum zealots who believe that it's an objective fact as to whether a road-racing cyclist is 'clean' or is using drugs. Thankfully those anti-science crackpots are in a small minority: the modern view is that no cyclist can be determined to be using drugs until some measurement determines that fact.

Most theorists agree that the professional cyclist exists in a superposition of drug states. The cyclist (or team, or peloton) is represented as an abstract vector in Armstrong space (named after a notable leader in the field who pioneered the modern view, noting that he had never tested positive for drugs).

Lance Armstrong - quantum pioneer

The basis vectors for Armstrong space are normally chosen to represent the cocktail of possible drugs in use thus:
|epo>, |testosterone>, |methylhexaneamine>, |blood-doping> and so on.
The observables for each vector are discrete: 0 = 'clean' or 1 = 'doping'.

Example: the state vector for a Sky rider (and indeed for the team) is claimed to be the eigenstate ψ = |0000000 ...>  whereas Lance Armstrong, amongst many others, turned out to be in a superposition of states like |nnnnnn ...> where quite a few of the 'n's were 1. This was only ascertained by enhanced observable operators late in his career.

Students sometimes ask whether cyclists are bosons or fermions. Some mistakenly believe that the bunching seen in the peloton indicates that cyclists are bosons. Indeed they are, but not for that reason - we are not operating in the position basis here. In the doping basis, the bosonic character of cyclists is largely due to the known performance advantages, the institutional influence of team doping policy and those shady doctors.

Can we move cycling into a stationary state, a 'clean' eigenstate? Sadly not, the 'clean' eigenstate is metastable and rapidly decays to the reality we see today. This is called  'spanish tunnelling'.


Note: it is generally held to be a hallmark of quantum theories that the observables don't commute. Pro cycling is certainly a quantum theory on this criterion. This may cast doubt on Sky's claims, but I refer you to the example of angular momentum in the s-orbital, where the components do in fact commute.