The Uncertainty Principle

As mentioned before, the “uncertainty principle” of quantum theory stems from the inability to predict both the position and momentum of sub-atomic particles at the same time. When one is known, the other is unknown, and vice versa. Ultimately, the position and momentum of such sub-atomic particles are extraordinary, in the sense that the laws which are supposed to govern and predict the position and momentum of such particles are not really operating. And as David Bohm argued: “It is therefore concluded that the notion of a sub-quantum level would be ‘metaphysical,’ or empty of real experimental content.” 

It follows that there are “limitations on giving a deterministic description of the world.” The limitations on giving a deterministic description of the world are amplified by the fact that individual observation can directly affect quantum phenomena. Thus, our description of quantum phenomena is accurate only up until the point of observation. It has also been argued that uncertainty is also “a direct consequence of the ‘wave nature’ of particles.” Paradoxically, one needs waves in order to describe particles, and in turn, the ‘wave nature’ of particles leads to uncertainty. 

In turn, the momentum of a wave and thus the momentum of a particle is determined by a ‘wavelength.’ But if the momentum of a wave is determined, then the position of a particle is left undetermined. Thus, there is essentially a tradeoff to be made between knowing the position of a particle and knowing its momentum. Essentially, both the concept of ‘wave-particle duality’ and the ‘uncertainty principle’ serve as the two basic pillars of what is known as “quantum theory,” which is essentially the theory that describes and explains sub-atomic or ‘quantum’ phenomena. 

As a result of the “mysterious” nature of quantum phenomena, there is now “pessimism” regarding the “scientific method” which measures and observes reality in a mechanical, procedural, and “objective” manner amongst certain intellectual and scientific circles. It follows that: “Possibly poets and seers who have had religious experiences may be aware in a dim way of what lies behind the mathematical concepts in which we express what little we know of the world around us.” 

In turn, consciousness, aesthetics, and ethics derive their significance and weight from the very basic nature of quantum phenomena. And as Paul Halpern suggested, the “uncertainty principle” ends up creating “loopholes” in natural law, given that natural law can explain reality only in a partial manner due to the degree of inoperability which scientific laws face in regard to quantum phenomena. Also, while position makes momentum unclear and vice versa, energy makes time unclear and vice versa. And in a sense, uncertainty is derived from the fact that multiple quantum ‘observables’ cannot be determined or explained simultaneously. As Paul Levy argued, the inability to know multiple quantum observables at the same time does not stem from a lack of knowledge or a lack of technology. In the end, no amount of knowledge and technology would be able to describe quantum phenomena in their totality, because of the “ontological condition of the quantum entity.” 

Because of quantum theory, our view of reality must shift from one that perceives reality as atomistic, mechanical, and predictable to one that is based on complexity, paradox, and uncertainty. And as a result of the complexity which stems from our dual nature because of ‘wave-particle duality,’ it follows that no two things and no two persons are fully “apart” or fully separate from one another. Moreover, one basic inference made from the dual nature of human beings as a result of “wave-particle duality” is the concept or notion of “quantum entanglement.”

Uncertainty also fosters a “balance” between what is known and what is not known, which in turn guides the questions needed to be asked about reality. And in science, everything is about asking the right questions. Also, the ordering of questions is quite important in rational and scientific inquiry, given that the ordering of questions will determine the kind of outcome one gets from one’s inquiry as a result of the incompatibility of two different questions due to the “uncertainty principle.” Two different questions cannot be ‘definite’ at the same time as a result of the “uncertainty principle.” This means that the “uncertainty principle” applies just as much to the social sciences as it does to the natural sciences. 

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