The Schrödinger’s McCartney Experiment

Screen Shot 2016-02-19 at 5.05.26 PM

The artist commonly referred to as Paul McCartney is placed in a windowless recording studio along with the entire Beatles discography and a special quantum instrument called a “Geiger clue counter.” If the counter registers enough clues in the records to support the “Paul is Dead” conspiracy theory, then Maxwell’s silver hammer will come down upon the musician’s head.

Until the door to the studio is opened, however, the observer has no way of knowing how many clues the instrument has picked up. The Geiger counter could interpret the words at the end of “Strawberry Fields Forever” as ‘cranberry sauce’ or ‘I buried Paul,’ and it could view John Lennon’s declaration that ‘the Walrus was Paul’ as either a jocular reference to a hoax or an acknowledgement of a conspiracy from an insider; so the fate of the artist commonly referred to as Paul McCartney remains uncertain the whole time the experiment is in progress.

Because the Copenhagen Interpretation of the “Paul is Dead” theory claims that a Beatle exists in all possible states until another human being sees them in the flesh, and because of the quantum nature of the clue counter, it means that the artist commonly referred to as Paul McCartney is simultaneously alive and dead while the door to the studio remains shut. (If “Revolution 9” is played backwards at this point in time, it will say: ‘Turn me on/off, dead/alive man.’)

When we think about the wider implications of this, another paradox arises (referred to as the “Martin’s friend” scenario):

A friend of George Martin is performing the “Schrödinger’s McCartney” experiment after the famous music producer has left the recording studio. It is not until George Martin returns to the studio the following day and speaks to his friend that the outcome of the experiment (from Martin’s perspective) is determined. This leads to the conclusion that both the artist commonly referred to as Paul McCartney and George Martin’s friend are in a superposition of states (dead McCartney/sad friend and living McCartney/happy friend) while “the fifth Beatle” is absent.

This experiment was originally designed to highlight the absurdity of quantum interpretations of conspiracy theories, but if it were actually performed, the truth about “Macca” could finally be known. If the door of the recording studio was opened and a dead musician found, then it would prove once and for all that the man who released “We All Stand Together” and other questionable records was in fact the infamous lookalike called William Shears Campbell. The apparent paradox created by the fact that the Paul McCartney in the studio will only be killed if the Geiger counter concludes Paul McCartney is already dead is actually a good way of testing the musician before he enters the studio (i.e. the real Paul McCartney is less likely to resist taking part in the experiment than an imposter is).

Regardless of any resistance on the part of the musician, the main obstacle to carrying out the experiment would be tracking him down in the first place. This task is made incredibly difficult by something called the “McCartney uncertainty principle,” which states that the position and velocity of the artist commonly referred to as Paul McCartney cannot be measured precisely at the same time. Some researchers believe it may be possible to overcome this by combining data from “weak McCartney measurements” with data from “strong Starr measurements,” but this is yet to be confirmed.

Perhaps we live in a huge recording studio and therefore a superposition of states until someone opens the door of the universe and observes us. A gigantic, macrocosmic George Martin or one of his friends collapsing our wave function into their version of reality is a terrifying idea, but it is one that needs to be considered – a music producer is, after all, the most likely thing to entice “Macca” into a studio, and the “bigger” the producer is, the more likely the experiment is to go ahead.

The price we may have to pay for certainty about something like the life story of Paul McCartney is the loss of independence from other people’s stories because the event that gives us such knowledge is the collapsing of the entire system we are part of into a causal chain leading all the way to the ultimate observer at the end of time; but if we discover in the process that other people are other selves, and that “I” is the one thing that can have no constancy on a journey of self-discovery, then a whole new realm of knowledge becomes available to us…


Stephen Moles is the author of Paul is Dead, an absurdist novella that uses the conspiracy theory about Paul McCartney being secretly deceased as a motif to explore the issues of fame, identity and mortality. The book also depicts the meeting of two “mutually exclusive” alternate selves via a collapse of one timeline (this world) into that of another (the world that could have been) by the inhabitant of the latter being manifested as an observer in the consciousness of the former. It’s more fun than it sounds.

Submit a comment