Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle: what does it tell us?

Imagine that a fly is constantly flying around us in concentric circles, at such a speed that we cannot follow it with the naked eye. As its buzz disturbs us, we want to know its exact location..

In order to do this, we have to develop some kind of method that allows us to see it. It can happen, for example, to surround the zone of a substance likely to be affected by its passage, so that one can locate its position. But this method has slowed down. In fact, the more we try to figure out where it is, the more we will have to slow down (because it keeps moving). The same thing happens when we take the temperature: the instrument itself has a certain temperature which can cause the alteration of the original temperature of what we want to measure.

These hypothetical situations can be used as an analogy to what happens when we want to observe the motion of a subatomic particle like an electron. And it also serves to explain Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle. In this article, I will briefly explain what this concept is all about.

    Werner Heisenberg: a brief review of his life

    Werner Heisenberg, German scientist born in Würzburg in 1901, he is best known for his involvement in the development of quantum mechanics and for having discovered the principle of uncertainty (and also for having nicknamed the protagonist of Breaking Bad). Although he was initially trained in mathematics, Heisenberg would eventually pursue a doctorate in physics, a field in which he would apply elements of mathematics such as matrix theory.

    As a result, the mechanics of the matrices or the matrix would end up emerging, which would be fundamental when establishing the principle of indeterminacy. This scientist would greatly contribute to the development of quantum mechanics, development of quantum matrix mechanics for which he would finally receive the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1932.

    Heisenberg would also be in charge during the Nazi era the construction of nuclear reactors, While his efforts in this area have proved unsuccessful. After the war, he declared alongside other scientists that the lack of results was premeditated in order to avoid the use of atomic bombs. After the war, he was imprisoned with various other German scientists, but was eventually released. He died in 1976.

    Heisenberg’s principle of indeterminacy

    Heisenberg’s principle of uncertainty or indeterminacy establishes the impossibility at the subatomic level of know both position and time or amount of movement (The speed) of a particle.

    This principle comes from the fact that Heisenberg observed that if we want to locate in space an electron you have to bounce photons on it. However, this produces an alteration in time, so that allowing us to locate the electron makes it difficult to observe precisely the linear moment of it.

    The observer changes the environment

    This impossibility is due to the same process that allows us to measure it, because when performing the position measurement, the same method changes the speed at which the particle moves.

    In fact, it is established that the greater the certainty of the position of the particle, the less it knows its moment or quantity of motion, and vice versa. It is not that the measuring instrument alters the movement itself or that it is inaccurate, it is simply that measuring it produces an alteration.

    In conclusion, this principle supposes that one cannot know exactly all the data in relation to the behavior of the particles, since the precise knowledge of an aspect supposes that one cannot know with the same level of precision the other.

    Relate the principle of uncertainty to psychology

    It may seem that a concept specific to quantum physics has little to do with the scientific discipline that studies the mind and mental processes. However, the general concept behind Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle it is applicable in psychology and even the social sciences.

    Heisenberg’s principle assumes that matter is dynamic and not entirely predictableBut it is in continuous motion and it is not possible to measure a certain aspect without taking into account the fact that measuring it alters others. This implies that we have to consider both what we observe and what we do not observe.

    Tying this to the study of the mind, mental processes, or even social relationships, means that measuring a mental phenomenon or process involves focusing on it ignoring others and also assuming that the fact itself of measuring can alter what we are measuring. Psychological reactance, for example, indicates this effect.

    Influence the subject of the study

    For example, if we are trying to assess a person’s ability to care she may get nervous and distracted thinking that we are evaluating herOr it may be a pressure forcing you to concentrate more than usual in your daily life. Concentrating and focusing only on one specific aspect can make us forget about others, such as the motivation in this case to take the test.

    It is also not only relevant at the research level, but can be related to the perceptual process itself. If we focus our attention on one voice, for example, the others will calm down.

    The same thing happens if we look at something: the rest loses sharpness. We can even observe it at the cognitive level; if we think about one aspect of reality and dive into it, we will put aside other aspects of this reality in which we participate.

    This also happens in social relationships: for example, if we think someone is trying to manipulate us, we will stop paying so much attention to what they are telling us, and the same can happen in the other way. It’s not that we can’t pay attention to the rest, but that the more we focus on something and the more precise we are at saying something, the less able we are to detect something different at the same time.

      Bibliographical references:

      • Esteve, S. and Navarro, R. (2010). General chemistry: volume I, Madrid: Editorial UNED.
      • Galindo, A .; Pascual, P. (1978). Quantum mechanics. Madrid: Alhambra.

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