Artist Jonathan Keats Explores the Physics of Nuptial Entanglement

Can”™t Hack Marriage? Try Quantum Entanglement Instead
By Scott Thill
May 11, 2011

In his latest science-themed prank, concept artist Jonathon Keats will marry anyone “” or anything “” using quantum entanglement as the tie that binds.

“Unlike conventional weddings, which must meet church or state standards for couples to be married, the nuptial entanglement process is totally open, as nondenominational and nonpartisan as the laws of physics,” experimental philosopher Keats told in an e-mail interview. “As long as people meet the basic criterion of exposure to entangled light, the procedure can be as simple or complex as they wish.”

Monogamy isn”™t mandatory. In fact, spouses need not even be human, said Keats, who will begin his quantum marriage ceremonies Thursday at New York”™s Art Currents Institute.

“Many people already have a more intimate relationship with their iPhones than with their spouses, and perhaps this is another way in which nuptial entanglement is honest,” said Keats. “Technology is neutral. From a technical perspective, you can become entangled with your pet or your plant or your iPhone. You can show the ultimate environmental commitment by becoming entangled with the planet.”

Keats”™ plan, to borrow The Middleman”™s mad scientist catchphrase, is sheer elegance in its simplicity. A couple walks down a long hallway from darkness into sunlight. At hallway”™s end, said couple finds two sets of footprints, on which they stand facing one another.

“Depending on their preference, they may be dressed in full formalwear or stark naked,” said Keats, who has previously created controversial concept art like god porn, depression-proof antimatter currency and a photosynthetic restaurant for plants.

The couple then looks up into a window flush with sunlight, in which is suspended a precisely calibrated entanglement apparatus employing Keats”™ system of adjustable prisms. As the sunlight passes through a nonlinear crystal made of beta-barium borate (viewable in the gallery above), it is divided so that half the light shines on each person”™s face. They stand for about a minute as entangled photons bombard their skin with the photoelectric effect.

Next stop: honeymoon.

“Should three or more people wish to become entangled, they”™ll need to pair up and repeat the process in all pertinent combinations,” Keats said.

For those who can”™t make it to New York or arrange a quantum marriage in their own town, Keats plans to offer two or more wedding bands, depending on the newlyweds”™ proclivities, that have been pre-entangled.

Keats”™ latest undertaking, which runs through June 18, peels some fun onions. It explodes the concept of matrimony, allowing anyone to marry anyone or anything. It demolishes the parameters of social obligations. And it simultaneously demythologizes the sanctity of traditional marriages and the messy divorces that follow approximately 40 percent of the time in the United States.

“˜The quantum marriage will literally be broken up by skepticism about it.”™
“Nuptial entanglement is only as intense as the entangled parties make it,” Keats said. “People who go through the procedure will not know whether they”™ve been entangled, or how much, in any empirical sense. They”™ll have to take their entanglement on faith, as any attempt to measure a quantum system will disturb it: The quantum marriage will literally be broken up by skepticism about it.”

Still, Keats maintains that “quantum physics is much more forgiving than the rules of etiquette, because quantum laws concern probabilities instead of absolutes. Subatomic particles governed by physical laws don”™t have to behave in any particular way.”

Given entanglement”™s seemingly limitless possibility, Keats is prepared to marry more than just humans. Indignant conservatives freaked by gay marriages will most likely condemn the concept of quantum marriage, which welcomes those who want to wed their shiny new iPads or whatever else commands their hearts and minds.

Keats”™ interactive exhibition is a re-examination of the range of human relations, which he argues ought to be as broad as the human imagination. For a species that seems to defy limits with every evolution, we still can”™t help but continually fortify them. And quantum physics is here to help us with that contradiction.

“The great physicist Murray Gell-Mann famously said of quantum physics that “˜Everything not forbidden is compulsory,”™” said Keats, who pens Wired”™s Jargon Watch column and wrote Oxford University Press”™ Virtual Words: Language on the Edge of Science and Technology. “In the quantum realm, even the most improbable events are bound to happen eventually. I can only hope that nuptial entanglement can bring this spirit of possibility to everyday life.”

And for the post-quantum marriage celebration?

“I”™m now undertaking experiments entangling champagne,” Keats said, “which people will be able to drink, absorbing the entangled bubbles to become entangled in their own right.”

Images courtesy Jonathon Keats.

Acclaimed as a “poet of ideas” by the New Yorker, Jonathon Keats is an experimental philosopher, artist, and writer based in the United States and Italy. Recently he opened the first restaurant for plants, serving gourmet sunlight to rose bushes, at the Crocker Art Museum. He has also screened travel documentaries for flora at venues including the AC Institute and the Berkeley Art Museum, exhibited extraterrestrial abstract artwork at the Judah L. Magnes Museum, and attempted to genetically engineer God in collaboration with scientists at the University of California. Exhibited internationally, his projects have been documented by PBS, Reuters, and the BBC World Service, garnering favorable attention in periodicals ranging from The Washington Post to Nature to Flash Art. He has been awarded fellowships by Yaddo, the MacDowell Colony, the Ucross Foundation, and the MacNamara Foundation, and is represented by Modernism Gallery in San Francisco.