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Joseph Cramer, M.D.: A thought experiment to envision peace

Published: Monday, April 8 2013 6:44 p.m. MDT

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Let’s perform a thought experiment. The Germans call them Gedankenexperiment. It does not involve dissection of any brain material. Instead, our thought experiment will permit us to think through a problem even if the actual events could not be reproduced in reality. Einstein did it with relativity, and Schrodinger used a cat to teach quantum indeterminability.

Imagine a large room. There are no chairs. The setting is pleasant and spacious. Picture a ballroom of a convention center. At first, the space is empty. Gradually people singularly start entering the room.

In the beginning, we do not notice anything unusual. There is plenty of elbow room, so the people slowly, somewhat hesitantly, come in and look around. We are in the center of it all. There are now several men; women are there in equal numbers and growing.

As more fill up the ballroom, they appear a bit hesitant or even nervous. Who are these people and why are they there? It is only then we notice that if the guests turn around there is pinned to their back a note. When we look closer, there is a brief description of the person.

One might say, “I am Chinese.” Another says, “I am Armenian” or a “Turk” or a “Kurd.” The ones from Africa announce, “I am from the Congo” or “Rwanda” or “Burundi.”

Similar-looking Caucasians in indistinguishable attire have back posters that report, “I am a Catholic from Ireland.” Right next to him is another who can’t read the other fellow’s sign, but we can see, “I am a Protestant from Northern Ireland.” Right below that in smaller print, “God Save the Queen.”

More people keep coming. We freely walk around looking at the labels while the folks don’t seem to notice, or they can’t turn around and have others reveal what is on the note card. It starts to be interesting as we pick up our pace and examine more. In a small group chatting with each other were men and women. Their signs say, “I don’t believe,” “I am a Mormon.” “I am a Methodist.” “I am a Muslim.” “I am Sunni.” “I am Shia.”

The gathering starts to make sense. The people are in conflict or at war with each other. There is a Pakistani and an Indian Hindi from Kashmir. There are Latinos from Mexico or Bolivia who are identified as living in the U.S. without papers. Representatives from Hamas, Hezbollah and Israelis mill near each other. They look the same until we walk around and see more details. The two from Lebanon and the Gaza Strip have more words than they are just Palestinian. The room hosts representatives of every conflict on earth. The people are archenemies back in the homelands.

There are Koreans from the same peninsula but one hails from the North and the other lives in Seoul. Bosnians and Serbs, Croats and Albanians all look alike and even speak the same language. We notice there are children playing with each other without being able to speak a common tongue, but they enjoy running around playing hide and seek between and amongst all the legs of the grownups.

It is our thought experiment so we can stir together all the conflicting parties of the world: Falklanders and an Argentine, Christians and Jews, Japanese and Filipino, Republican and Democrat all mingling together. Tibetans and Chinese are together.

The oppressed and the oppressors have to figure out what to do when they are all together. Does anything change?

Every person comes to this thought experiment with a unique point of view.

Now our task is to run the experiment. Like in a chemistry lab, we mix all the ingredients into a flask. We wait. What happens next: An explosion or a new substance never before seen on Earth? Peace. That is an interesting thought.

Joseph Cramer, M.D., is a fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics, practicing pediatrician for 30 years, and an associate professor of pediatrics and hospitalist at the University of Utah. He can be reached at jgcramermd@yahoo.com.

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