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Robert Andrew
 
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Living in a Quantum World

22 January 2014, 10:53

One of the strangest ideas of quantum physics is the ‘wave-particle duality’ of light. Photons, which make up light, exist as particles and waves at the same time. They are both particles and waves.

 The characteristics of waves and particles are necessary for a full description of what light is. As observers, however, we cannot measure this duality; we cannot see what light is really like. If we treat photons as particles, we can determine their exact position but not their energy. If we treat them like waves, we can determine their energy but not their position. They are indeterminate and become o0nly what we measure them to be. In the quantum world, both descriptions of light are equally valid and complementary. Neither description is complete in itself. There are circumstances where it is more appropriate to talk of light as particles and circumstances where it is better to think of waves. This schizophrenic personality of light is called ‘complementarity’.

 The ‘both/and’ character of light is far removed from our mechanistic and deterministic world, which has an ‘either/or’ nature about it. In our world, we think of objects as definite things, which we can accurately measure. While the environment might change them, they do not change internally-they do not become something else; they remain what we see them as.

 Quantum theory means uncertainty as first postulated by the German physicist, Werner Heisenberg, as ‘Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle’. Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle sounds difficult to understand; even the name is kind of intimidating. But it's actually easy to comprehend, and once you do, you'll understand the fundamental principle of quantum mechanics. We can never be sure what we are measuring since the act of measurement affects the thing being measured. The more accurate the measurement, the more the item is affected. The measurement defines the thing being measured. The measurer influences the measurement.

 Many ‘new age’ philosophers and alternative holistic medicine practitioners, notably Deepak Chopra, an Indian-American author, have used quantum theory for professing to heal people of a wide range of diseases, including HIV/AIDS, believing that quantum theory can be related to the neurons in the brain and, using ‘mind power’, one has the power to alter them to achieve a better state of being. He has been very successful at selling this concept. He has, however, also been heavily criticised by main stream medical and neuroscientists.

 Although we cannot be sure what will in years to come be discovered in relation to quantum theory and the brain, quantum theory does provide a good basis for making analogies related to human behaviour. A good example is work of authors, Danah Zohar and Ian Marshall, in their book The Quantum Society. Without any proven evidence, they believe that people may also possess complementarity, and even without evidence, this sounds intuitively correct. They can have more than one characteristic: they can be both one thing and another at the same time; it depends on what we measure them as. We cannot, however, measure them completely; we cannot fully describe them. Whatever we describe people as there will always be some indeterminacy about the person-something we can never describe. The way we measure people will define the characteristic we are measuring.

 In quantum theory terms, there is no point in judging people by measuring their intrinsic properties, such as IQ, dexterity, literary comprehension, etc. These measurements will always be incomplete. People should rather be measured by their behaviour in given circumstances. When they are judged on their behaviour alone, the quantum uncertainty of their personality disappears for that set of conditions we place them in.

 Quantum theory also suggests that two people can have different views of the same matter and yet be equally right. It is therefore illogical to judge people on their views. The people doing the judging will influence the views.

Alfred Korzybski, as long ago as 1933, (Science and Sanity) recognised that viewing people in quantum theory terms required a new language, which he called ‘English-Prime’ or ‘E-Prime’. In E-Prime, the word ‘is’ is removed. Instead of saying: “John is lazy”, in E-Prime we would say: “John appears to be lazy in the office today”. “John is a racist” would become “John has some racist ideas which I find offensive” and so forth. One can never be sure exactly what a person is really like and our language should reflect this.

 Quantum theory can also destroy the myth that a company has to be one thing or another. Many companies brutalise themselves by sticking to the seemingly rational policy that they can’t be two things at the same time. One often hears the phrase in business: “we must stick to our knitting” and be wary of venturing into new areas. Stability or progress, conservative fiscal policies or entrepeneurship, home-grown managers or imported skills are the other dilemmas that many companies face. In the quantum world, companies do not have to wrestle with these paradoxes; they do not have to worry about being ‘either/or’, they can think along ‘both/and’ lines. They can seek opportunities in all directions.

The classical ideal of a secure deterministic world, waiting out there to be analysed and exploited, does not fit into quantum theory. Instead, we must regard ourselves as inalienable participants in an indeterminate world. With an understanding of quantum theory, this world is filled with opportunities: filled with ‘both/and’ and not ‘either/or’ scenarios. It should provide a very positive basis for youngsters entering the ‘world of work’ for the first time.

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