St. John's Wort Beery Musings And Amusing Beers

Let’s Kill The Cat And See What Happens

Mostly, brewing school tends to deal with biology and chemistry, but one of the major things that I’ve discovered is that there’s a significant amount of quantum physics involved. At least, for me that’s the case.

I don’t know if you’re familiar with the concept of Schrodinger’s cat. Essentially, it’s a thought experiment. The idea is that you’ve got this closed box which has a cat, a decaying radioactive element and a vial of poison in it. Because of the half life of the decaying radioactive element, the element has a 50-50 chance of having decayed during the process of the experiment, which causes the vial of poison to open and the cat to be sacrificed on the altar of science.

It’s called a quantum superposition. Essentially, because what happens in the box is unobservable until you open the box and either feed a slightly annoyed cat or dig a tiny grave, it’s impossible to know which reality exists. The answer must be that both realities exist, layered on top of one another. It’s important to stress that no animals were harmed in the process of the experiment. It’s not like Erich Schrodinger was sitting there in the lab with a plate of tuna trying to coax little fluffy into a box. I mean, if I were him, I would probably have used someone else’s cat for a start.

Let me put it another way:  A cat, a decaying radioactive element and a vial of poison walk into a bar. The bartender does or does not ask whether this is some kind of joke, the waveform of probability collapses and reality continues more or less as normal.

Because of the idea that observation is the crux of the experiment, simply the fact that the experiment is observed changes the outcome.

The same thing happens with journalism. I think the earliest example of this conceit in action is in Don Quixote. Essentially, the book has two sections which were published independently. The conceit is that Don Quixote is an actual person inhabiting the real world and that Cervantes is simply recording his exploits based on stories he’s heard. By the time Cervantes writes the second half, he has to take into account that people have read the first half of it, and since Don Quixote really definitely exists in the real world, the second half has to take into account that all of the people who have read the first half of the book are therefore screwing with him for their own entertainment.

Essentially, what I’m getting at here is that observation alters reality.

So, let’s say that you’ve got a closed system, like a brewing school. It has students, teachers, administrators and things more or less go on as normal. Beer gets made, people go to their math classes, people go to the merchant alehouse on a Thursday night and get loopy on oatmeal stout. It’s a fine existence.

But if you airlift a journalist into the situation, it changes the situation. I’ll give you a for instance. Crystal Luxmore from The Grid popped in to write an article on the school and sat in during part of a lecture Gord Slater was giving on flocculation in yeast. Suddenly, everyone in the class sat up a little straighter and tried to look as though they were paying a considerable amount of attention, despite the fact that there had been oatmeal stout the night before and it’s a 9:30 class.

Same thing happened the next week when The Grid sent their photographers to get some action shots of brewing students taking notes. Everyone was on their best behavior.

That’s fine. It’s good press for the brewing school. Gets the message out there, might drum up enrollment for next year and it’s more or less over in a couple of hours. Useful for all concerned parties; Minimal alteration of reality. On the other hand, if you throw a journalist into the mix on a full time basis, the possibility of that person really screwing with the status quo is rendered increasingly likely, even if he doesn’t do anything.

I’ve become relatively concerned about this and I’m growing a little self conscious about it.

I’ve got profs that I interact with on a professional basis. I’ve known Kevin Somerville, who’s teaching us about brewing ingredients since before there was a brewing program. I may have consulted with him on buying no-iron oxford cloth shirts as professorial wear. Our sensory evaluation prof, Roger Mittag, has a beer tasting certification program called Prud’homme, which I reviewed positively in the Sun before he got the gig at the college.

Here’s the issue: Niagara College, in addition to being a teaching brewery, is also a going concern, selling growlers and cases of beer out of their brewery store. What happens if I review their products, raise awareness of them and increse sales? What happens if I review on negatively and make it harder for one of my profs to sell the product?  Kevin Somerville is heavily involved with the Indie Alehouse in Toronto, which will be opening in the coming months. Sam Corbeil is with Sawdust City brewing.

Eventually, there’s going to come a point where I need to write about the Indie Alehouse or Sawdust City. They’re new, and one of the hallmarks of beer blogging is novelty. It would limit my scope as a beer writer not to write about new things that are happening in the Toronto scene.  There are a number of possibilities here:

1)      Not writing about Indie Alehouse or Sawdust City at all. Which is, let’s face it, a cop-out.

2)      Writing a piece about the Indie Alehouse or Sawdust City on an informational basis only. Boring.

3)      Writing opinion pieces on these breweries, which, while honest , might end up being positive or negative depending on what they do.

All three of the actions have consequences. This is one of the reasons that there haven’t been many blog posts about the educational experience. Reporting on it would alter the experience in ways that are potentially unforeseeable.

Well, I’ve done that for a month and I’ve got to tell you that it’s dull. It’s deadly, deadly dull. It’s mentally constipating as well, because you can’t do anything with the ideas you get from the program. For that reason I’m going to do something interesting and choose option three, confining myself to honest, if comical, reporting on the entire situation.

In other words, let’s kill the cat and see if the waveform collapses.

3 Thoughts on “Let’s Kill The Cat And See What Happens

  1. Ian Coutts on October 19, 2011 at 9:09 am said:

    Option three is definitely the right one. That was my choice. Uh, not for me, of course, for you.

  2. It took me a while to “dig your lick” as Lord Buckley would have said, but when I got it, I GOT it. Number 3 of course and let’s see how it plays out! Loved the logical thought process to arrive at the decision though.

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