Schrödinger’s Immigrant

by George Hatjoullis

Those of you unfamiliar with Quantum Mechanics or the TV show The Big Bang Theory may not be familiar with Schrödinger’s Cat. The Copenhagen Interpretation of QM states that a particle exists in all states until observed. Hence, radioactive material can simultaneously have decayed and not decayed in a sealed environment. In 1935 Schrödinger devised an example as a critique of this interpretation. He imagined a cat in a sealed box with a Geiger counter, some radioactive material, and a bottle of poison. If the Geiger counter senses radioactive decay, the bottle is set to smash and kill the cat. Under the Copenhagen interpretation the radioactive material has both decayed and not decayed, and so logically the cat is simultaneously dead and alive, until the box is opened and the contents observed. Once observed the cat is either dead or alive. No cats were harmed in this thought experiment.

It occurs to me that the same thought experiment can be applied to immigration. In the xenophobic interpretation of migration, immigrants can be in all states  at once until observed. Hence, for example, they can simultaneously steal jobs from locals, abuse the welfare system, and be responsible for all crime. Once observed it transpires that each immigrant may not be doing any of these things or at least no more than the host population. Immigrants may be filling rather than stealing jobs. They may be net contributors to government revenue. The percentage of those driven to crime may be less than in the host population. Unfortunately, the host national statistics office rarely keeps adequate data to make these determinations. So xenophobic interpretation holds sway.

Immigrants may be simultaneously integrated and not integrated. Let us call this the Hatjoullis interpretation of social identity. An immigrant arrives as a baby, let us say 12 months old. He (the interpretation applies more to men than to women) grows up immersed in the host community. Friends are from the host community. Education is by the host community. His mind is colonised to the extent that he internalizes the history of the host nation as his own. He is fully integrated as part of the host community.  And yet he is not integrated because the overseas origin cannot be hidden. He appears in the statistics as ‘born overseas’. He must write this on every form. It marks him as ‘not local’, in his mind if nowhere else. He may have a different skin colour, an inflection of speech, or obviously non-local surname. He may even simply have a tendency to see the other point of view. It is not his choice whether he is integrated. It is the choice of the host community and the importance it place on these factors. Links with the point of origin may have been lost completely and he may have little or no knowledge of the original culture or people or language. It is clear what he is not, but it is not clear what he is. He is simultaneously integrated and yet not integrated. He is Schrödinger’s Immigrant.


If you like this read also Where are you from?