Scientific American: What we can learn about abortion from quantum mechanics

March 28, 2022 • 9:45 am

Scientific American continues to publish dreck, and I’m not sure why anybody who’s enthusiastic about science would want to continue subscribing.

This latest op-ed, to which I shouldn’t devote any attention (but the laws of physics dictate otherwise) is a prime example of the naturalistic fallacy. By looking at quantum mechanics, says author Cara Heuser, we can realize that one can hold two seemingly opposite views in one’s head at the same time. To wit: light can sometimes act as a particle, and sometimes as a wave, depending on the nature of the observation. Similarly, one can care for and about children and yet still be pro-choice.  The author, in fact, holds both views of medical care, and simultaneously saves children’s lives and provides abortion care. As the author’s bio notes:

Cara C. Heuser is a maternal-fetal medicine physician. She provides full-spectrum reproductive care, including prenatal care for high-risk pregnancies and abortion care, in Salt Lake City.

It’s not that I object to Heuser’s views, for I agree with her completely. But I do object to extrapolating from quantum physics to one’s views on abortion. This is the naturalistic fallacy, and a fallacy that could be applied (or rather, misapplied) to other real or apparent instances of cognitive dissonance. (That terms is usually reserved for a conflict of views that causes mental distress, but here I’ll just refer to having two seemingly or actually opposite views). There’s simply no lesson to be learned by extrapolating from how particles behave to how humans behave—or should behave.

Click on the screenshot to read.

My own views on abortion pretty much jibe with Roe v. Wade, but go even further. For example, I think that perhaps the threshold of abortion legality should be the onset of sentience—the ability to actually feel sufferingrather than viability. (One should also realize that if viability outside the womb is the criterion for prohibitng abortion, then this criterion will eventually be pushed back all the way to conception, as eventually we’ll have the ability to rear humans from fertilization to time of normal birth—all in vitro. The onset of sentience, on the other hand, does not change with technological innovation.) But I haven’t settled on my “threshhold” yet, though I still believe with Peter Singer that if a child is born with a defect or disease that will kill them very soon, is incurable, and causes suffering, it should be legal to euthanize them with the agreement of doctors and the parents).

I also bridle when people try to shut down the abortion debate by asserting a simple “right” to abortion. Where does this “right” come from? Granted, there is a Constitutional right to privacy, but instead of seeing abortion as some kind of inherent “right”, or as “moral on the face of it”,  I think abortions should be legal on grounds of pragmatism: society is better off allowing them rather than prohibiting them. (In matters of ethics, I tend to be a consequentialist.)

Indeed, the author, while several times asserting the “right” to an abortion, also argues for the procedure largely on practical grounds:

Perhaps we even have a moral compass that pushes us to provide this care. Perhaps we also value life. Many rights proponents argue that we must speak up because we value life: thousands of women have died from unsafe abortions before they were legal; multiple studies demonstrate that restrictions result in significant harm and confirm that abortion is safe; the oft-cited concern that having an abortion is detrimental to mental health has been demonstrated as false and, in fact, the opposite is truedenial of abortion care has resulted in extreme trauma to families and individuals.’

Here Heuser is arguing for “choice”, not from some abstract “right” or “morality”, but from its practical benefits. And I largely agree with that view. Unfortunately, courts would rather judge abortion from the Constitution, which says nothing relevant—and yet will probably repeal Roe v. Wade on Constitutional grounds—than from what is best for society. Courts are not ethical pragmatists.

But I digress. The author seems to think that for many, being in favor of abortion conflicts with being an ethical person. She realized this when she donated part of her liver to save the life of a sick child, and one of her colleagues was surprised, since this donation showed she cared for the life of children, while at the same time she was providing abortion care.

I don’t see this altruistic act as a fundamental conflict between ethics and a pro-choice view. In fact, I see no hypocrisy in caring for children and favoring abortion at the same time. In deed, in many cases, the best thing for a fetus that’s unwanted may be to abort it. But of course religionists do see a conflict, since they regard a fetus as the equivalent of a sentient human being.

So far so good. But then the author extrapolates the wave/particle duality of quantum mechanics to the issue of abortion. Just like that, she says, so one can be a moral person who cares for children and yet someone who can countenance abortion as well. She is, she says, one of these. Of course she is, and only a Pecksniff would call her out for hypocrisy. Yet one did:

In August of 2020, I had major surgery to donate a part of my liver to a child unrelated to me and whom I had never met. (Did you know you can do that? Find a center and/or register to be a deceased donor at One month later, I petitioned our state medical society to oppose abortion restrictions, describing the harm these laws pose to patients under my care. I had no reason to think that my liver donation and my opposition to abortion restrictions were related until a colleague expressed his astonishment that I was “so pro-abortion but also donated an organ to a kid.”

Learning that I had undertaken an act that many people view as altruistic (a description that causes me discomfort, but I will at least allow it demonstrates a respect for life) presented a direct challenge to his view of abortion providers as morally bereft. My colleague found these two empirical truths difficult to reconcile. In his mind, one cannot be both an abortion provider and an ethical and thoughtful human. Pick one, says this belief system, team particle or team wave.

This is not a good example of hypocrisy; one can, on grounds of societal good as a whole both allow reproductive choice and allow (and applaud) someone who donates part of an organ to save a life. Her colleague is simply muddled.

This apparent conflict still bothers Heuser, however, but she should simply forget about that colleague. And she needn’t try to satisfy “pro-life” religionists, who will never be convinced that abortion can be the right thing to do.

But, apparently, she turns to quantum mechanics—the wave/particle duality—as a way to find solace—or to convince doubters:

Instead of either/or, imagine both/and. We recognize the value placed on a desired and loved pregnancy by families and understand that ending a pregnancy is the right decision for some people some of the time. Individuals may have ethical objections to abortion and recognize that anti-choice laws can harm people. We can value human life and recognize the complexities of reproductive decision making. Attending thousands of births has been a great joy in my career and has cemented my belief that forcing a person to give birth against their will is a fundamental violation of their human rights.

Given that one quarter of women in the U.S. have an abortion, many Americans have benefitted directly or indirectly from abortion care. I implore readers to emulate previous generations of scientists who changed our understanding of the universe by their willingness to consider seemingly opposite empirical truths:

Particle and wave, abortion providers and ethical physicians, pro-life and pro-choice.

Nope, that last sentence is meaningless with those first three words.

You can see the problem here. Any kind of hypocrisy or doublethink or conflicting tendencies can be rationalized via this fallacy, and not all those tendencies are pretty. Think of a celibate priest who is also a pedophile, someone who crusades against alcoholism while drinking on the sly, a diehard atheist who thinks religion is good for others (the “little people” argument) or even, to evoke Godwin’s Law, of Hitler who was a Christian and loved his dogs.

But there’s not even any hypocrisy in Heuser’s view—at least none that I can see. Ergo she doesn’t need to grope for explanations beyond consequentialist ethnics. By trying to do so, she gives people a rationale for all sorts of bad arguments about reconciling opposite or apparently opposite views.

I admire Dr. Heuser, but Scientific American really should not have published her specious analogy.

51 thoughts on “Scientific American: What we can learn about abortion from quantum mechanics

  1. On such issues, arXiv has started accepting pieces such as this one, of no merit and stuffed full of woke ideology, and which starts by totally and unfairly misrepresenting the Yale incident involving Sarah Braasch. (Being “physics”, you can likely guess at least one of the authors.)

    1. The Op Ed section has completely gone off the rails. I find the science articles are still okay. They are science “lite”, but then, that has always been SciAm’s niche. My 11-year old reads one or two every issue, and I consider that a magazine win.

  2. You parsed it nicely. There is no internal conflict in Dr. Heuser’s views and therefore it is specious for her to dress her thinking up in quantum mechanics. It is a short silly step from there to saying Indigenous ways of knowing anticipated quantum mechanics just because they are vague and give different results depending on which eye is used to look.

  3. While I think it’s fine to invoke quantum mechanics metaphorically for stuff like this, I agree that one can’t extrapolate from the micro world to the macro, and especially not for such disparate topics. And the discussion of the weaknesses for both sides in the abortion debate is spot on.

    Thanks as always your cogent analysis of such topics.

  4. The argument for the morality of abortion rights at the level of quantum mechanics is a lame attempt to be clever, but its dumb at different levels.
    One could just as logically argue for pro-life while also being in favor of broad gun rights and capitol punishment. See? a person can hold seemingly contradictory beliefs, and bc of particle duality they can all be right!

    Also, its a complete waste of space-time 🤔 to argue for abortion rights in this not-so-clever way. Far better to use whatever gravitas remains at this magazine to argue for those rights from salient standpoints, like body autonomy, the trauma of rape and incest, the economic and societal cost of forcing unwanted pregnancies to go to term from mothers who can not care for the child.

  5. Yes. She is promoting a naturalistic fallacy. Even more broadly, the two are simply disanalogous. Just as the moon is slowly receding from the earth year by year, I am getting older year by year. The two statements have the same form, but this doesn’t mean there’s a causal connection between them. And, there is simply no connection between an electron behaving as a wave and a particle at the same time and a person being pro-choice and pro-child at the same time.

    Scientific American editors know better—or should know better—and they would have made a better case for their favored position had they expunged the logical fallacy from the piece. They shot themselves in the foot.

    1. I suggest you read the piece yourself. Pay particular attention to this part:

      Generally attributed to Carl Jung, “holding the tension of opposites” is how psychologists describe the ability of the human brain to accept seemingly contradictory concepts. My favorite example is the nature of light: is light a particle or a wave? Quantum mechanics, a discipline within physics, has demonstrated that both are true Sometimes light acts like a particle, sometimes a wave. This duality explains all the characteristics of light that have been observed experimentally, and has allowed scientists to explore the cosmos in previously unimaginable ways. That these two seemingly irreconcilable beliefs could come together gives me hope that similar harmony could be achieved in the discussion of other deeply polarizing topics, including abortion.

      If you think she is claiming that quantum mechanics explains why she can be both pro-choice and a pro-life altruist, then you should read it again.

      1. Neither of those physics examples are a matter of belief, they are demonstrable properties of the physical universe. It is by no means an example of reconciling opposing beliefs, it is where the evidence leads.
        We could just as well use the uncertainty principle to validate procrastinators.

  6. Fully agree PCC; her position is fine, her analogy stinks.

    QM is like a Rorschach test; laypeople regularly seeing what they want in it. The treatment of QM seems to follow a telegraph-game like pattern:
    1. Physicists do actual calculations so see what QM predicts.
    2. Physicists try to explain those predictions to laypeople using words. This translation is necessarily imperfect, because vernacular English isn’t the math.
    3. Layperson imperfectly extrapolates some new prediction or conclusion of their own imagining. Not from the math, but from the imperfect word-description of the physicist.
    4. Suddenly QM is being touted as making some philosophical point it is at least two telegraph-steps removed from actually making, one which has nothing to do with and is not predicted by the actual math that governs it.

    1. This also reminds me of two other math/physics ideas that have been invoked in the social sciences and humanities to support whatever:

      Jordan Ellenberg: Does Gödel Matter? The romantic’s favorite mathematician didn’t prove what you think he did. Slate, March 10, 2005

      Jim Holt: Uncertainty About the Uncertainty Principle. Can’t anybody get Heisenberg’s big idea right? Slate, March 6, 2002

      (both articles are ungated at the source)

      1. Someone once wrote to an advice columnist asking if it was true that every action has an equal and opposite reaction, and if this meant that doing good will always have equally bad consequences.

        1. Entropy is another big target. Lots of grand words about what it means by people who couldn’t tell you what the symbols d, S or Q mean in dS = dQ/T. Heck, half of them would probably guess wrong at T. But to listen to them, they know all the many deepities of entropy!

  7. Maybe it’s just me, but this seems analogous to the Butterfly effect. If a butterfly in Brazil flaps it’s wings just so, and at just the right time, could that be what causes the chain of events leading up to a hurricane a few days later? It seems more likely that a large volcanic eruption or huge calving of an ice shelf would have the energy to affect weather on such a scale. Most folks I know tend to use their brains enough while considering a serious topic like abortion that they’re using more energy and physical resources than what would be nudged any direction by the Quantum Effect.

    1. I think that hypothetical butterfly flaps its wings in Africa rather than Brazil, given that many north Atlantic hurricanes tend to start as low pressure systems off the coast of west Africa in the vicinity of the Cape Verde Islands.

  8. About abortion:
    From a recent obituary in the New York Times:
    Obituary: Judith Jarvis Thomson. March 12, 2020
    [Judith Jarvis Thomson was the author of] “A Defense of Abortion,” a 1971 essay widely regarded as a classic in contemporary American philosophy.
    It began with an insight into the anti-abortion position. “Opponents of abortion commonly spend most of their time establishing that the fetus is a person, and hardly any time explaining the step from there to the impermissibility of abortion,” she wrote. For the sake of argument, she granted that fetuses are people.
    “Now let me ask you to imagine this,” she continued. You wake up one morning and find that the Society of Music Lovers has connected your body to that of a famous violinist, who is sick and using your kidneys because he needs the organ of someone with your rare blood type to survive. Is it morally incumbent on you to remain hooked up to the violinist for nine months, at the end of which he will have recovered?
    “If you do allow him to go on using your kidneys, this is a kindness on your part, and not something he can claim from you as his due,” Professor Thomson wrote. She regarded pregnancy similarly, and considered abortion akin to declining to aid someone — as one might with the violinist — rather than murder.
    “She’s using the violinist case to say that a certain general principle is false, and the general principle is something like: A right to life always trumps a right to decide what happens in and to your own body,” said Elizabeth Harman, a philosophy professor at Princeton who specializes in the ethics of abortion.
    “A lot of the discussion in that time was focused on what was the fetus or embryo,” said Frances Kamm, a professor of moral philosophy at Rutgers University. “She completely shifted the view of the issues.”
    “It is the most important paper about abortion,” Professor Harman said.

    You can find the essay online.

    1. Thanks for that, Peter. It is not an exaggeration for Harman to write that Judith Thompson’s is the most important paper about abortion. It provides a basis for a right to abortion (conditional and not absolute, as Thompson carefully and elegantly lays out) that squares the circle:

      1) It accepts for sake of argument that a fetus is a human being, at least at some early, but not too early, point after conception. (Canadian law does not so regard a fetus, which avoids some of the philosophical heavy lifting for us, but Thompson provides a way to engage with Roman Catholics without merely shouting over them as oppressors), and

      2) It does not require a feminist interpretation of female bodily autonomy. It frames it as a person’s right to choose what demands he or she grants rather than specifically a woman’s right to choose. This has the advantage of not requiring subscription to, or interest in, feminist oppression philosophy to grasp the argument. It rests on a more straightforward formulation of bodily autonomy which underpins medical ethics and popular morality (e.g. with vaccine mandates.). At the time, (1971) I think most of us accepted the feminist position just because you pretty much had to be a feminist to be young and hip. It is good to be reminded that there are alternatives that lead to the same conclusion.

      3) It does not require reading into Constitutions a right to privacy (U.S.) or equal access to the law (Canada) in order to strike down laws restricting abortion. I’m not commenting on the merits of either of these readings, just alluding to what I think I understand to be the basis for challenges to Roe vs. Wade. This is something of a motte-and-bailey, perhaps, since legislatures and Courts do what they do without necessarily adopting a consistent philosophical position.

      It also provides, I think, a rationale for prohibiting abortion for some motives that could be regarded as sociopathic, for the purpose of sex selection, for example. Even in Canada, where such can not be regarded as the murder of girls, legislation against it could still be passed.

        1. I’ve been much into abortion in a previous life. I always approached it from a practical point of view, not a moral one.
          What reduces the numbers of abortions ?(We want as few as possible, even if it were only because it is a not-so-nice experience for the woman). Not making it illegal and crying murder.
          What reduces the numbers is good sexual education and easy accessibility to contraceptives. What reduces back alley abortions? Availability of good medical or surgical abortion.
          As far as morality goes, I’ve always seen a foetus as a ‘project in progress’, the further into pregnancy the closer to be an actual person, the more serious the reasons for termination should be. The Dutch and the Danes started this ‘progression’ idea in the sixties: On demand up to 12 weeks, for severe socio-economical reasons up to 16 or 18 weeks, and after that for rape and incest. For saving the mother’s life or severe malformation after viability (extremely rare and generally heartbreaking) we are leaving the territory of abortion and reach the areas of Cesarean section and euthanasia respectively.
          Although I only heard about Thompson’s essay less than 2 decades ago, I always thought highly ‘precious’ and constructed. Now that I have read it, I realise what a powerful essay it is. Thank you for linking.
          And posthumous kudos to Thompson.

      1. After all those years, the only criticism of her thought experiments that comes close to the mark, in my view, is the one that argues that being compelled to provide kidney function to the violinist, a highly intrusive and un-natural medical procedure, is not analogous to being compelled to acquiesce to the “natural” process of gestation. If the infant was born alive and healthy and there was no infant formula available,* the mother would be compelled to breastfeed the infant even if she would prefer not to, goes the argument. So we can compel her to gestate, also.

        I think this argument fails also, reasoning from the specious differences between natural and artificial means in other areas of medicine as we think of them now. You aren’t obligated to accept or provide against consent any intervention just because it’s “natural”, but this distinction was made more forcefully 50 years ago. (Can it have been that long??) In Canada, of course, the difference between gestation and breastfeeding is the different person-status of the fetus versus the infant. But Thompson’s thesis is to grant the personhood/human-ness of the fetus, so we have to examine it more fully than I can do here.
        *This was 1971, remember, when many more infants in North America were still being bottle-fed, even those born to women in the social class that reads philosophy papers.

    2. I think that this is the most influential paper I’ve read in thinking about abortion (and I note that her metaphor of the attached musician really IS useful in promoting thought). I am sorry to hear that she died. Do read the essay, though!

    3. Excellent…such a subtle argument that cuts through the emotional pearl-clutching of pro-life doctrine. Thanks for citing it, and thanks to Leslie for an excellent break-down of the argument.

      After science has laid bare the fact that so many pregnancies end in natural/spontaneous abortion (miscarriage), why hasn’t this fact “broken through” in the realm of law. There is a line of logic that can be followed that if the zygote or embryo or fetus is a “person” that a woman who has a miscarriage could/should be charged with manslaughter. Misconstrued science, the distortion of science through politics, the religious “frak”, and fear of the media if it exposes an inconvenient truth is difficult to bear. SCOTUS is teetering on the brink of value and legitimacy. The “High” court is not constricted by Washington ethics rules, term limits or funding. But the people’s court of opinion can destroy the current institution as a legitimate governing body, right? What happens when SCOTUS has an approval rating of 25% or less…when only the Trumpists, deep down with Q approve?

  9. Unfortunately, courts would rather judge abortion from the Constitution, which says nothing relevant—and yet will probably repeal Roe v. Wade on Constitutional grounds—than from what is best for society. Courts are not ethical pragmatists.

    The US constitution provides the sole basis on which the federal courts, including SCOTUS, have to weigh in on the issue of abortion. Federal courts are without jurisdiction to determine what is best for society on pragmatic grounds.

    Rightwingers deny that the US constitution provides a non-textual right to privacy. This is the basis on which they seek to have Roe v. Wade invalidated.

  10. There are several principles that operate at a fundamental level but are taken out of their domain to do work where it doesn’t belong. They start as perhaps useful analogies but the author takes it a step too far by claiming that it actually proves their point. Besides wave-particle duality, Gödel’s Incompleteness is used to claim things about systems that aren’t formal. Schrodinger’s Cat is used to claim that something doesn’t exist unless it is observed. Determinism is used to claim we don’t actually make decisions. Unfortunately, it’s a popular mode of thought.

    1. “Determinism is used to claim we don’t actually make decisions.”

      But determinism isn’t just ‘microscopic.’ It clearly permeates the ‘macroscopic’ realms, and all emergent phenomena.

      1. I didn’t say anything about it being only microscopic. My point is that decision-making doesn’t have anything to do with determinism. It’s a process that occurs within brains. The fact is that we really don’t know if the world is deterministic or not. If we knew the answer to that question, how would it affect decision-making? It wouldn’t. I’m not suggesting that the decision-making process is based on non-physical processes, just that it operates at a completely different level of description. Even if we knew the details of all physical processes, we still couldn’t use that knowledge to predict how a decision will be made. It would require knowledge of the state of the universe at the ultimate level of detail, something which cannot be done even in theory.

        1. “I didn’t say anything about it being only microscopic.”

          It was in scare quotes, meaning “principles that operate at a fundamental level.” The point was that there don’t seem to be domains “where it doesn’t belong.”

          “My point is that decision-making doesn’t have anything to do with determinism. It’s a process that occurs within brains.”

          And brains work deterministically.

          “I’m not suggesting that the decision-making process is based on non-physical processes, just that it operates at a completely different level of description.”

          Decisions made by unicellular organisms, by worms, and by machines are all clearly deterministic. How would humans then suddenly be unlike all else that we know?

          “It would require knowledge of the state of the universe…”

          But that still wouldn’t mean that it’s not deterministic.

          “The fact is that we really don’t know if the world is deterministic or not.”

          And if truly random things were happening “at a fundamental level,” would that tell us anything about decision making?

  11. It reads to me as strictly metaphorical. I don’t get any sense at all that the author is extrapolating from wave/particle duality.

    From the article (emphasis mine):

    Generally attributed to Carl Jung, “holding the tension of opposites” is how psychologists describe the ability of the human brain to accept seemingly contradictory concepts. My favorite example is the nature of light: is light a particle or a wave? Quantum mechanics, a discipline within physics, has demonstrated that both are true Sometimes light acts like a particle, sometimes a wave. This duality explains all the characteristics of light that have been observed experimentally, and has allowed scientists to explore the cosmos in previously unimaginable ways. That these two seemingly irreconcilable beliefs could come together gives me hope that similar harmony could be achieved in the discussion of other deeply polarizing topics, including abortion.

    She’s merely saying that because we have found a way to accept the duality of light, despite the non-intuitive and contradictory nature of that idea, perhaps we can learn to hold other contradictory ideas in harmony.

    One can criticize the author for “sciencing up” an opinion piece with a gratuitous reference to quantum mechanics, but to criticize her for claiming quantum mechanics is the cause of her ability to simultaneously be pro-life and pro-choice suggests that one has either not read the entire piece, or has been primed by the headline to see such a claim where it doesn’t exist.

    1. Of course it’s a metaphor, but it’s a very bad one, because the duality of electron behavior neither enlightens us about abortion, has anything to do with abortion, or gives us ONE IOTA of insight into how we can reconcile opposites. For one thing, her two behaviors are NOT opposites. You clearly didn’t read what I was trying to say, which is simply the above. I don’t know what you mean by “extrapolating from wave particle duality”. THe point of her article is that physicists’ ability to accept a strange scientific duality gives us hope for understanding human duality, or at least an example of how to accept it. I find that unenlightening. A metaphor is supposed to enlighten one with the comparison. This one does not.

      Note that she says that physicists reconciliation GIVES US HOPE THAT YOU COULD ACCEPT ABORTION AND AT THE SAME TIME A RESPECT FOR LIFE. It give us no such hope. I would advise you that since you’ve said the same thing three times, you refrain from saying it again.

  12. I don‘t think there‘s a naturalistic fallacy, because nature (here: quantum mechanics) is not used to justify particular views. Rather, it is used as an attention-grabbing analogy for seemingly contradictory views (which, as it turns out, aren‘t actually contradictory). Though I also agree to “pro choice” arguments, this is indeed clickbait dreck, or a cheap way to publish opinion pieces under the guise of science.

    1. I disagree; nature is supposed to serve as a guideline for human behavior here, giving us impetus to reconcile seeming opposite views. The view that “what is natural is good” is in fact the naturalistic fallacy.

  13. There is this charity (Project prevention) that pays drug addicts for getting sterilized/use contraceptives; the founder does what she does because she raised 4 children born to drug addict mothers and is familiar with their problems. Also not a contradiction at all. Some people who are very pro choice about abortion are highly critical about the charity, I presume because it vaguely evokes eugenics associations. Possibly also because children born to such parents are the bread and butter of social workers and similar professions.

  14. I think I’m going to coin a new phrase called the “analogy fallacy”*. This is a fallacy that is arrived at by drawing an analogy. If you have system A and you want to show proposition P is true, suggest an analogous system B and because proposition Q in system B is self evidently true, and Q is analogous to P, therefore P must be true.

    The fallacy arises because almost all analogies are imperfect and break down at some point. In this case, I would say the analogy between the ethics of abortion and quantum mechanics breaks down almost immediately.

    Leaving that aside, I don’t know why we need quantum mechanics to tell us that humans can hold two contradictory statements in their heads and believe them both at the same time. That doesn’t solve the problem of the statements being contradictory (not that that is really the case with the wave-particle duality). Humans have always been capable of holding and believing contradictory statements in their heads. I know Christians who firmly believe both that God loves me and will consign me to eternal torment for not being a Christian.

    Anyway, I’m pro-choice. In all these cases there are two lives to consider, not just that of the foetus in isolation. I also agree with you and Peter Singer on severely handicapped born babies. I also take your point about sentience but the problem is when does that happen? When does a baby become sentient. I know some teenagers who haven’t achieved it yet (ha ha, I’m here all week).

    *I looked up the term to make sure I thought of it first and found the concept is already well known: it’s usually called a false or faulty analogy. However, I think my name for it is much better.

    1. That analogy breaks down almost immediately? It is an analogy that should have been aborted, to spare the author from ridicule. 😁

  15. This is as silly as saying that just as the laws of nature limit speed to the speed of light, freedom of speech should be limited too. And as has been noted, the particle-wave analogy is misguided anyway, because it implies that one of Dr. Heuser’s moral stances (the pro-abortion one) is less morally sound than the other one (her willingness to help others altruistically).

    1. I could see someone writing that. Like:

      “There is no unlimited freedom in the universe. Physics teaches us that even the speed of light has limits to it. Thus freedom of speech naturally also has limits to it. Further, just as the speed of light is different in different mediums, so too are the limits of speech properly different for different topics, according to the potential harms of that medium …”

      [It’s a joke, a joke, please, the above is satire, humor, parody …]

  16. Well, there is no mention of rule 2, the collapse of the wave function due to a measurement being taken! that part is where everything turns to shit.
    Heuser can then pull the ” many worlds interpretation” out of the bag and in one world there is an abortion in the other there is not, problem solved for both camps and we can move on.

  17. I’ll read this horror in full later, but it seems to me anything non-physics (which I, and possibly you DON’T understand) gets “quantum” attached. BECAUSE nobody understands it!
    The nadir of quantum overuse has to be .. well pretty much anything Fraud’s Fearless Leader Deepak Chopra says. Now abortion. (sigh)
    Scientific American’s slide towards twaddle and dumbassery can’t have much further down to go, surely?

    1. It could be worse. At least the argument wasn’t ‘Because Blockchain’. I wonder what the most annoying technobabble buzzword of the coming decade will be.

  18. Quantum mechanics teaches us how people capable of thinking scientifically can nevertheless claim that quantum mechanics can inform or inspire our moral choices with its model of self-contradiction. But they should be careful.

    After all, we learned from the Big Bang that small self-contradictions can expand to the size of a Universe. If the Pro-Lifers see it & make a prettier metaphor, we’re done.

  19. Sam Harris had Caitlin Flanagan on his podcast sometime ago and she made the point that one of the problems with the pro choice vs pro life debate is that both sides have almost cast iron arguments.

    She talked about how she’d always been fairly ardently pro choice, but then saw a 3D ultrasound reconstruct of a fetus around 8 weeks and how undeniably human it was.

    Sam, of course, comes from a neuroscience background and feels that “sentience” begins around the time the reticular formation starts lighting up, somewhere between 12-16 weeks. I think that’s fair and probably tallies with Jerry’s view.

    What that means, for me, is that from a max. of 16 weeks you should need a very good reason to abort and, as medical imaging becomes more attuned to demonstrating “sentient” activity in the brain then that cutoff will become earlier.

    The lack of “sentient” activity is somewhat analogous to brain death in an adult, but with one very important difference…to be declared brain dead the condition must be irreversible. A “brain dead” (ie. “dead”) fetus is not alive before 12 weeks, but it’s clearly not irreversibly so, quite the opposite.

    Back to my original paragraph, abortion arguments are one of a growing number of issues that are never going to have an answer that pleases everybody. Not even close to pleasing everybody in fact. We, the members of the human society, need to get a lot better at giving and taking and accepting that the world is not always going to be made in our perfect image.

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