The Uncertainty Principle and Freedom

Say what you will, but my favorite “natural law” (we should all have one) is Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle. There are countless intricate details and esoteric connotations layered within the Principle, but essentially, as my decidedly untrained mind understands it and chooses to explain it, the law is especial apparent in the context of quantum mechanics where physicists deal with incomprehensibly tiny scales that many natural laws, thus disentangled at such an elemental level, are more intensely influential than they can be when speaking of larger scales of perception that we are used to in daily life as witnessed with our 7 senses.

My conception of the Uncertainty Principle is that while all objects, from the smallest quantum particles to the large celestial bodies, can be described at any one moment, in terms of 1) a certain location and 2) moving at a certain momentum. Knowing this, if we wish to simultaneously define both the momentum and location of any object at a single moment, the measure of our ability to accurately measure each with precision is directly proportional to the size of the object. I realize this is a pollution of the understood definition of the Uncertainty Principle, but I’m deferring to a layman’s prerogative in order to convey my point. If you take a photo of a car moving 35 miles per hour through the intersection of Main and Hope, the scale of this, in quantum terms, is so vast that the energy required to observe this measurement (a photograph) is negligible and lacks the expended energy required to deflect the car’s momentum. We can say, with confidence, the car is moving 35 miles per hour and it is at the intersection of Main and Hope and this observation does not carry the interrupting nature necessary to render our observation wrong. However, scale down the events to a small world of quantum particles and suddenly the Uncertainty Principle is a powerful force which dictates our inability to narrow down both the speed and location of such small particles. The energy required to freeze such a “delicate” particle’s location accurately will also prove disruptive to its trajectory and thus alter its momentum. The more accurate one side of the measurement, the more energy required, and thus, the more disruptive the measurement thus rendering a final assessment of location and momentum proportionately useless. If you are happy to not know the exact location of the particle, you can lower the energy expenditure needed to locate it and thus, perhaps deflect some of that spare energy to better gauge its momentum. This is not purely an observational phenomena, it is intrinsic to the physical nature of objects and their existence with the cosmic milieu.

Sometimes I suspect the Uncertainty Priniciple has certain correlations with sociocultural phenomena as well. Our civilization and community is certainly larger than any quantum particle and it only pretends to “obey” the whimsical behavior of its participants in order to pleasantly surprise us at every step, but still, there is a deeper layer of natural law that seems to relax the most capricious of human behavior, even in large masses.

I believe the Uncertainty Principle can be applied to nations and their respective societies. I thought of this because I saw a fledgling debate/discussion on a Facebook wall recently about immigration. Someone opined that the U.S. should be more like certain countries when it comes to an oppressive and absolutist standard of immigration “minimization.” The common denominator with such countries that have strict anti-immigration cultures is that they are typically lacking in the freedom and openness of American culture. This is the Uncertainty Principle at play! The United States relishes its cultural openness and ostensible liberties. Freedom is one aspect of a national identity. However, the drawback of such unbridled freedom are the structural and disciplinary limitations inherent to such an all-embracing mindset which is liberal immigration laws and the ensuing social welfare policies which seek to care for those who live in this country, regardless of background or immigration status. Nativist rights are the other aspect of national identity. Freedom and nativist rights are a fixed combination, and to expose one more keenly sacrifices the other. We are a nation that has come to value bottomless social and cultural freedoms and liberal openness. Within this character framework, nativist rights suffer because freedom in a global environment seeps beyond the national borders. As long as we continue to prize our consumerist and social liberties to the degree we do, we will never find it within our national character to prioritize nativist rights. The more we focus on procuring and maintaining these liberties, the more unstable becomes our valuation of nativist rights. This is the spot the U.S. is in now; conversely, if our Republic begins to favor nativist rights while blockading borders with walls, by nature it must follow that our national character must surrender its grasp of the social and cultural liberties we hold dearly in this cyber age where celebrity debauchery and youthful impetuousness assume the mores of our era.

We can choose one, but we can’t have both with excessive precision.