The Riddle of Reality , Part 2

Regis Nicoll
Regis Nicoll

As we saw in Part 1, the conception of reality underwent a seismic shift when investigators popped the lid on the quantum world. Instead of finding a substructure consisting of orderly, well-defined building blocks, early pioneers peered into a microcosm of wraithlike objects that were fuzzy and erratic. On the forefront was Werner Heisenberg.

Heisenberg discovered that in nature’s deep regions, our investigative probes have a pronounced effect on what we actually observe. For example, if we measure the velocity of an electron, we will disturb its position, and if we measure its position, we will alter its velocity. The result is that we can know where it is, but not what it’s doing, or we can know what it’s doing, but not where it is.

But here’s the real kicker: We can refine our experiment so that the disturbances are reduced, but there is a point beyond which, no matter how skillful and meticulous we are, the precision of our measurement cannot be improved. Indeed, there is an inbuilt limit that is neither the fault of the experiment, the experimenter, or his experimental apparatus, a limit that forms a boundary to what can be known.

This imprecision, popularly known as the “uncertainty principle,” was a main feature of the Copenhagen Interpretation (CI) associated with Werner Heisenberg and Neils Bohr. Wave-particle duality and wave function probability, introduced earlier, were also a part of CI.

All of this was so alien to prevailing understanding that Neils Bohr remarked, “The quantum world cannot be fully understood nor can physical meaning be applied to its wave-function description . . . quantum mechanics only explains the external observations. It tells us nothing about the internal structure.”

Bohr’s sentiment reflected a growing unease with the quantum world, a world whose secrets appeared locked to human investigation, leaving final explanations a mystery never to be solved.

We’ll see just how much a mystery, shortly. But right now, let’s examine some more mind-numbing repercussions of the Copenhagen Interpretation. Continue reading here.

Continue reading here.


Originally published November 19, 2011.

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