22 Apr 2011

Inspired by the uncertainty principle

In case there be any misunderstanding here, I should state at the outset that I have close to no scientific background or culture, but that, although I usually find scientific discoveries and theories hard to grasp on a scale that runs from 0 to maybe 3, full grasp being rated at 20, they often fascinate me by their apparent implications in other fields. This may cause me to over-construe or misinterprate these implications, but so what?  

I read in a book the other day an explanation of the Heisenberg uncertainty principle in quantum mechanics that got me thinking about possible implications in other fields.

Maybe we should start with the definition of this theory that I found in Wikipedia (where else?)

In quantum mechanics, the Heisenberg uncertainty principle states by precise inequalities that certain pairs of physical properties, such as position and momentum, cannot be simultaneously known to arbitrarily high precision. That is, the more precisely one property is measured, the less precisely the other can be measured.

Published by Werner Heisenberg in 1927, the principle implies that it is impossible to determine simultaneously both the position and the momentum of an electron or any other particle with any great degree of accuracy or certainty. This is not a statement about researchers' ability to measure the quantities. Rather, it is a statement about the system itself. That is, a system cannot be defined to have simultaneously singular values of these pairs of quantities. The principle states that a minimum exists for the product of the uncertainties in these properties that is equal to or greater than one half of ħ the reduced Planck constant (ħ = h/2π).

Werner Heisenberg

If one applies this principle to other fields than quantum mechanics, the implications are huge. In the section of my profession devoted to tasting and rating wines, for instance, it validates my instinctive feeling (albeit based on years of experience) that any attempt to make the tasting procedure appear to be fully objective is a total illusion. The very fact of observing a smell or a flavour alters that smell or flavour. Added to which, each individual being a separate system, there is no chance that the observations made by two individuals can correspond exactly one with another.

The same would obviously apply to other aesthetic experiences. Take the case of painting for example. When one looks at a painting, one can feel one's own perception changing in time. One can also alter one's impressions of a work by shifting, even slightly, from side to side or by looking at it from closer or further away. This, to me, is something akin to the Uncertainty Principle. And putting two observers in front of the same painting results in two very different systems of observation being created, as each person brings to their system not only their particuler and individual physical and intellectual capacities, but also their separate past experiences and present moods, all of which will influence their way of looking and interpreting what they see. Hence the object observed is NOT quantifiable, and is ever changing.

Does this mean that we should not try to exchange our points of view on aesthetic experiences, since the chances of these being understood or felt by another person are quite slim? I think not, as we need to create common ground to live together, and part of that common ground is built through our exchanging points of view on what we observe in the world around us.


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