Political Sum-Over-Histories (and a solemn note on the Virginia Tech shootings)

Note: Being a reasonably decent human being, I feel I would be terribly remiss if I did not give my heartfelt condolences to the faculty and staff of Virginia Tech, following yesterday’s terrifying shooting. As a member of the college-going population, I myself was absolutely horrified that such a thing is even possible. As for the killer, who may have fancied that he would render the authorities powerless by killing himself before they could, I say they drag his rotten corpse behind a dump truck for a while. Now, please don’t fault me on this, dear readers, but I feel that the best course of action for me would be to simply go on as normal, as nothing I can do will change the facts.

POLITICAL SUM-OVER-HISTORIES

As I was driving home from my morning classes today, a thought occurred to me: Something like Feynman’s sum-over-histories idea might apply to politics.

To those of you who don’t know, around the 1950’s, Richard Feynman (one of the most famous and probably the most colorful physicists of our time) proposed an idea to simplify quantum mechanics: he discovered that a good way to predict the path of a quantum particle would be to “add up” all the possible paths, multiplied by the probability of those paths. This, of course, includes paths that involve the particle detouring around the entire visible universe, along with their commensurately tiny probabilities. Well, as I was driving home, an insight struck me: why not apply the same sort of thing to politics?

A hypothetical will do well here. Suppose Barack Obama is elected President in 2008. Now, let’s assume a finite probability of any particular presidential history for his term in office (call it $p_n$), where $n$ is some arbitrary index for that particular history. Now, take another probability (call it $p_m$, where $m \notequal n$) that he does something really peculiar, like declaring mayonnaise illegal, or something to that effect. It seems to me, if you could calculate some of the highest probabilities, that you would be able to perform a political sum-over-histories, to predict the most likely presidential path.

In my mind, this is a workable idea. Perhaps someone could even figure out how to incorporate the utility function from game theory, to decide how likely the most-desirable political history (relative to the particular observer, of course) is to occur.

See, this is why we need math majors in the White House! Write your congressperson.