The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle

One of the most peculiar phenomenon uncovered in physics over the past century is known as the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. This states – to the great frustration and irritation of many – that we cannot know with precision both elements of certain pairs of characteristics of an object. Most commonly, position and velocity are used, and the meaning of the principle is that the more precise is our knowledge about an object’s position, the less so is our knowledge of its speed, and vice versa.

There is some debate about what this principle is saying to us at a fundamental level: is our current ability to measure these characteristics simply unable to grasp both at once, or is the inability to simultaneously measure both just inherent in the nature of the physical world? Can it possibly make any sense that if we know precisely the speed of an object, in the very act of attaining that knowledge we have reduced the fact of its location to a mere range of possibilities?

Some argue that that is exactly the case – that it is not merely that the object could be in any one of the places comprehended by the range of possibilities, but that it is at once in none and all of them. It is, they insist, in a suspended state of probability that is only glimpsed at by the probability range, and that will not become concrete until we abandon our precise knowledge of the other characteristic to the hazy realm of probability, and capture a particular location. We cannot know both, because there is no both; at least, not at the same time.

Does that make sense to you? Mind you, while many quantum physicists have a peculiar habit of adopting rather dogmatic attitudes about the oddest features suggested by the most distant, and least understood, corners reached by their meandering logical inquiries, the truth is that they really don’t know either. Even Einstein had difficulty with this one, although other physicists insist it is only the inevitable consequence of some of his own discoveries.

Well, let’s leave them to sort that out. How about us in management? We’ll look at that next. See you soon!

Today’s tip: Canada may not boast only one of the most insightful management thinkers around today (as we will see in the next post), but also the freest economy in North America. Please see this WSJ piece for why – and why there is even more bad news in this for the United States.

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