With a text of Camille Van Hoffelen
Duration: 6:00 min.
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Subatomic particles are a little mischievous. They love to play hide and seek. They are so good at it, that we can never quite tell where they are and where they are going at the same time. They distract us in one place and shift speeds to another. They flaunt a flash of movement to disguise their whereabouts. This is not a game we will eventually win with new technologies, no, this behavior is fundamental to the nature of matter. It follows the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle.
The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle sets an unbreakable limit to how accurately we can measure these pairs of quantities: position and momentum, where I am and where I am going. Improving our knowledge of one simultaneously weakens our grasp on the other. We are therefore oblivious to the precise existence of all particles. A thick cloud hovers over them, blurring their state and hiding their secrets. Underneath times and places flow.
This ambiguity seems the ruse of an atomic will, casting a veil of mystery over its microscopic life. Yet particles are not animated, they are far weirder than that. Very small bits of matter exhibit wave-particle duality, meaning they are both “packets” and “oscillations” of energy flowing through space. It is hard for us humans to imagine these vibrational atomic hybrids because we live in a macroscopic world; one where events are certain, where cats are either alive or dead, and where position and speed can be determined together. We are blind to the probabilistic nature of the fabric of reality because we are too big to experience all its tricks and quirks with our bare eyes. Next time you find the quantum world exotic or bizarre just remember that you are the strange one …
Camille Van Hoffelen