Posts Tagged ‘Uncertainty Principle’

Relativity Tango

March 25, 2013

When I was in grad school, I stumbled onto an article about Heisenberg and his Uncertainty Principle. In case you’ve forgotten, Heisenberg was pointing out this sticky little physics problem: in trying to measure quantum particles, the presence of the observer (or more precisely his/her tools and procedures) affects the particle being observed.  In other words, it’s (so far) impossible to measure position and velocity of those little buggers because the observer’s presence will cause those qualities to be something different than they would be (we think) if the observer wasn’t there, observing.

The article, as I recall, was densely technical, but they started out with an emphatic statement as to how they were talking sub-atomic realities which had nothing to do with normal humans and no such comparisons, literal or metaphoric, should be drawn.

Now, I’m no physicist, only a mere social scientist, but I understood what they meant, which I might (very) loosely characterize as, “Now don’t all you regular folk get all excited and think that the whole quantum dance stops what it’s doing just because you showed up.  Stupid non-physicist humans, always thinking you’re so special…”

At first I was properly chastised, but on further thought, I decided those Heisenberg proponents were possibly a bit shortsighted themselves.   It certainly seems commonsensical, from a human point of view, that the presence of an observer affects those things being observed, whether those “things” are, so to speak, animal, vegetable or mineral.   And even though we’re talking here about sub-atomic particles, it’s also true, to the best of my understanding, anyway, that those particles aren’t dancing in some galaxy far, far away, but right here, inside me, inside you, inside everything around us.

Like all spectrums (spectra?), this one has two extremes: those huffy Heisenberg proponents on one end saying, “it’s sub-atomic particles, people.  Don’t you dare try to misappropriate our pure physics for some mushy, touchy-feely conclusions.”  On the other end, we have people like the author of “The Secret”, representing exactly that “human application”, the theory that we all have some vast power to command the forces of the universe with our very attention.  Such advocates claim that “it” is all within our grasp and if you’re not rolling in the dough (or the hay?) as much as you’d would like, you just haven’t believed hard enough.  So just practice those affirmations more, and oh, by the way, buy my book!

Is there any bridge between these polarities, some way of resolving or integrating these two extremes: the grumpy pure scientists who say the sub-atomic world can’t be said to affect us regular mortals, and the blindly chipper new-agers, with their equally emphatic mind-over-matter mantras?

Here’s my modest theory as to what might link those apparently non-overlapping circles, the funky quantum realms and our much more recalcitrant, uncooperative day-to-day world; one word –  discipline.

Sorry.  Not what you wanted to hear?

Yeah.  Discipline.  Commitment to the quest.  The development of a serious skill set that starts with actually opening the eyes rather than squinting them closed and constantly muttering, “I believe, I believe, I believe…”

Not to say we haven’t all been in that white-knuckled hanging-on-for-dear-life state from time to time.  Bless your heart if that’s where you are right now.

I’m just saying there really IS more ‘out there’ than meets the eye (you may take that cliché literally), which we all kind of know, because even the most unbelieving among us have had those moments you might brand as ‘numinous’, which means, according to Webster, “supernatural or mysterious”.

Which in turn really just means ‘not understandable, given our current observational and measurement capabilities’.   Think about it.  Magic has a limited shelf life.  Take my iPad.  A century ago it would have been totally magic.  Quite likely you would have been burned at the stake, just for checking your Twitter account.

Come to think of it, would that be so wrong?

But I digress.

These days Magic doesn’t so much go stale on the shelf, as it gets re-branded and re-packaged as Science Fiction.  Think of Captain Kirk in the ‘60’s with his super-cool flip-top communicator.

So pre-iPhone.  Thus Magic morphs into Science Fiction, which itself eventually becomes The New Reality, and the cycle starts all over again, in some other direction.

Back to my point.  Practitioners of any serious endeavor – yoga or meditation or tennis or cupcake baking – will tell you the real secret: the more you do anything, the better you get at it.

And the other piece of the puzzle is the willingness to get better; the –  how shall I put this? – humility to actually study and hold yourself up to some relatively universal standards that have stood the test of time.  Grumpy scientists take note: yes, that sounds a lot like the “scientific method”.

If there is a way for humans to tune in more closely to that quantum boogaloo, we have to start by admitting just how vast and numinous it really is.  There’s no aisle for this at Walgreens.

There are those out there who feel like wisdom really ought to be free, that it ought to fall in one’s lap, or maybe they’ll find someone who’ll just give it to them, if they ask.

A wise man knows what he knows – and how he came to know it.  A wise man also knows there’s always much, much more to know; that there’s always another horizon to move toward.

Only an idiot believes you really ought be able to see with your eyes closed, just because it’s just too darned much work to open them.

Laws of physics, man.  Laws of karma.  There may just be a point in the universe where everything simply is, all of it, all at the same time, some “place” we can – someday – get to, where there is no place, no time.  Quantum mechanics gives us a nice little hint of that ultimately mind-blowing “mystery”.

But from where we are now, shakily poised in our own weird era of impending mayhem and miracles, it’s still a step-by-step journey.  All you metaphysical couch potatoes out there: yep, the cosmic music actually is playing, but what’s it for, if you’re not ready to dance?


As always, I invite you to visit my website and my YouTube channel.



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