Sunday, July 08, 2007

Surprise! More Bastardization of Quantum Mechanics!

If you have followed this blog for a considerable period of time, you know that one of my pet peeve is the use, either directly or via analogy, of various principle in physics in wrong, hilarious, and even puzzling ways. It ranges from an outright bastardization of quantum mechanics, to the intention of using it in a rather amusing fashion.

This news article tries to be the latter. It is applying the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle to the political campaigning process.

The absurdly early start of this primary season has a lot more to do with entertaining bored political elites than with persuading actual primary voters.

It is reminiscent of the Heisenberg uncertainty principle we all heard about in high school physics class. Professor Werner Heisenberg postulated that “the more precisely the position is determined, the less precisely the momentum is known.”

Applied to the presidential race, this suggests that the more we measure how the candidates stand now, the less we may know about where things are going to end up – because the measurement itself can render the findings inaccurate.

Let's do some nit-picking, shall we? :)

The HUP is about two non-commuting observables. In other words, if you make a well-defined measurement of one observable, the other non-commuting observable cannot be predicted with arbitrarily high accuracy. It has NOTHING to do with the knowledge about ANY measurement later on. This is an issue of TIME EVOLUTION, not HUP. If you have determined the measurement of something, then you have already "collapsed" the system into that state, and any variation later on in that value is dependent on the time evolution property of that system, not the HUP. So for this article to say that just because we know the candidates stand now will make us know about where things are in the end isn't a correct application of the HUP. You need to define, first of all, the pair of non-commuting observables in such a scenario. And unless you have learned QM, you will not no clue on what is meant by "non-commuting" observable.

Besides, who said that QM principles can be extrapolated to human activities in the first place? People who do this don't seem to realize that such extrapolation has never been shown to be valid. So what is the justification of applying such QM description to social/political systems? Zilch.


1 comment:

Kent Leung said...

Wow, you guys learn HUP at high school? Nothing like that here in New Zealand where we are a lot more physics ignorant.

Although I do get pissed off at bastardization of physics/QM in the media, I think that bastardization is better than no physics/QM at all. I guess this is along the lines of "all publicity is good publicity".

Exposure of the general public to more physics/QM, even if distorted, can't always be a bad thing. It might just provide the necessary push to a person with an inquisitive mind to read a textbook or take a university course on the subject. The ones stupid enough to learn QM from a newspaper column we don't really care about anyway...

I guess my point of view is a direct result of living in a science/physics/QM ignorant country .