A Las Vegas hotel is experimenting with a different kind of marriage ceremony: Instead of hiring a justice of the peace, you can now be married by the power of quantum physics.
“Marriage is such an incredibly fraught topic,” says Jonathon Keats, the experimental philosopher behind the project. “So much is invested in it. So much of what people want out of life is put into this legal contract. It seems to me like we really need to investigate other possibilities … in order to think about whether there are other ways we can connect.”
The new ceremony is based on the concept of quantum entanglement–a somewhat magical-sounding phenomenon where two particles remain connected in their physical state even when they’re far apart. Whatever happens to one particle will instantly happen to the other.
“Quantum entanglement is so incredibly romantic, when you think about it,” Keats says. “Two or more particles that become entangled behave as if they’re one and the same, even if they’re a universe apart. To me, it just seemed like what more could you want in a relationship than what those particles share?”
He sees it as a state to aspire to. “I don’t think of it as a metaphor–I think of it very literally,” he says. After studying the science behind it, he tried to come up with a way to bring the phenomena to the masses.
At the Art Motel, a nonlinear crystal–a special type of grown in a lab–will hang in a sunny window, entangling the photons that pass through. Mirrors and prisms will bounce the light through the room, and onto the bodies of anyone who wants to become “entangled” amongst themselves.
It isn’t guaranteed to work, but Keats swears there is a real possibility that as you and your partner (or partners–Keats believes in opening up marriage to multiple forms) are bombarded with entangled photons, some of the electrons in your bodies will also become entangled. And because of the mysterious nature of quantum physics, there’s no way to know if it’s happened.
“The fact that it’s ultimately sort of a black box–that you can’t measure it–makes it so that this very real physical phenomenon becomes a very real psychological phenomenon,” Keats says. “There’s a way in which it transfers from a physical law into a state of being.”
The paradox is that any attempt to measure entangled particles automatically disentangles them, something that Keats sees as fitting for a relationship. “It seemed to sort of contain within it the essence of trust, that really makes a relationship sustainable,” he says.
He and his wife went through the ceremony themselves, because he happened to have a nonlinear crystal and a beam splitter handy. “We’re happily entangled,” he says. “I think it was certainly more meaningful than going down to City Hall and having some kind of contractual arrangement made. … Marriage becomes in some ways a pragmatic thing, and yet there obviously was and remains something much deeper to our relationship than that.”
Because quantum entanglement leaves it up to participants to define meaning for themselves, Keats sees it as a way to help people rethink the institution of marriage. “To have some other means by choice to be able to engage in this crazy experiment of being together with someone, and being together forever, it requires that we think beyond what marriage has become,” he says.
The project, part of the Life is Beautiful festival, will be hosted at Las Vegas’ Art Motel from September 25 to 27. But Keats is hoping it can become a Vegas institution–complete with quantum entanglement suites–and hopes that the idea may start to spread. Now he’s working on a design for wedding bands that can entangle people who can’t travel to an official entanglement site.