My two younger kids were out of school last week. For this post, the importance of that is that they "got" to go on the noonish dog walk with me. "Got" being a relative term. But let me digress for a moment.
Quantum mechanics is a... difficult... field of study. One of the fundamental principles of quantum theory is the Heisenberg uncertainty principle. It is so difficult to understand that many quantum physicists don't fully understand it. In fact, when Heisenberg originated his principle, it was largely intuitive, because they didn't really have the instrumentaion to actually demonstrate what Heisenberg was really saying. At any rate, it was a demonstration of vast intelligence and understanding.
A simple way of stating the uncertainty principle is this:
Oh, wait, there is no simple way. Okay, well, without getting into the actual physics of it, the best way to say it is that the act of observing something changes its behavior. Yeah, I could explain how this pertains to subatomic particles, but it works just as well as I've said it for my purposes here.
The interesting thing is that this doesn't just apply to physics. Think back to the last time you were alone, there was a song playing that you really like, you were belting it out at the top of your lungs, only... Only you weren't alone. You didn't realize, though, until halfway through the song that you were being observed. Your face turned red. Your voice constricted. The sound choked off. The observer probably smiled and told you to carry on, but you couldn't. Not now. You were being watched.
At least, that's the typical response. The alternate response is to sing even louder in an effort not to have the typical response.
Try watching kids play. As long as they don't know you're watching, everything is good. My favorite, though, is when a young child, around 5, falls and gets a scrape. If they think no one is watching, they pretty much shake it off and go about their business. If they know an adult saw, or, sometimes, even another kid, it's time for hysterics and water works.
But how does all of this pertain to my kids being out of school and walking the dog? Well, I'll tell you. And you may get a bit more of the physics with this, too.
Walking with my kids and the dog is rather like being an atom. I suppose that makes me a proton while the kids and the dog are electrons. They really don't orbit like planets do they way they teach you in high school. No, electrons orbit in electron clouds layered around the nucleus of the atom. And that's what it feels like to be walking with my kids. I mean, here I am, a proton, trying to mind my own feet and walk down the path, and I have these electrons bouncing all around me. And it doesn't matter how much I watch them, analyze their movements, as soon as I think I know where one of them is going, BOOM!, their position suddenly changes! As soon as I think I know where one of them is, BAM!, their direction changes!
I don't suggest trying to walk that way, especially when one of the three electrons is physically tethered to your arm. I think I must have looked like a drunk proton, because I certainly couldn't follow a straight line.
So, yeah, these are the thoughts I have when walking with my kids... I had a whole walk dwelling on the uncertainty principle just because I could never figure out which way they were going.
But, wait! There's more!
It also occured to me that writing should be sort of like this. At least, it should look like this from the point of view of the observer. Um, I mean the reader.
Here's the thing, when writing is like the planets, i.e. predictable, it's boring. The reader knows where everything is going, and, after a while, doesn't even need to pay attention anymore. It becomes like watching a clock. Tick tick tick. No one likes sitting and watching a clock. Because the act of observing a clock makes it stop altogether. Right?
However, when we write on a more quantum level, the reader can never quite figure everything out. They can't quite tell what direction one thing is going in or they can't quite figure out what's happening in this other place. It keeps the reader interested and keeps them observing longer.
Now, this doesn't mean be completely crazy. After all, electrons tend to stay with their nuclei. Well, unless some outside force acts upon them. At any rate, the reader wants to be able to get some idea of what is going on; that's why they're watching (reading) in the first place, so it can't be too unpredicatble. I mean, you don't want to be studying a carbon atom and find out that it's spontaneously become an oxygen atom. That would just be weird. Although, if you could duplicate it, you'd probably get a Nobel Prize for it.
So, I guess, I don't mind too much that my kids bounce around so much and the dog takes such sudden tangents. It does help me to work some quantum mechanics into what might be purely classical mechanics writing. And we wouldn't want that.
I urge you to do the same... Let's get quantum!