*HUP & Quantum Mechanics
September 4, 2002
Mr. Brand (forgive me, I'm not sure of your exact title):
I received a copy of the email you sent Sandy, and would like to make a few comments about quatnum mechanics (Q.M.), the math involved, and the definition of uncertainty through the eyes of quantum mechanics. As for philosophy, I fall short to both you and Sandy in terms of level of understanding and exposure, so I'm unable to completely discuss those issues.
What is the purpose and idea behind quantum mechanics? It has been shown through experimentation that classical mechanics (C.M.) is inadequate in describing the motion of sub-atomic particles (protons, neutrons, electrons and the like). The famous German physicist Max Planck studied the inconsistencies and concluded that unlike classic motion on the macro scale (ex. throwing a baseball, acceleration of a car), the motion of a sub-atomic particle is not continuous, but in fact quantized. Resulting from his work, Planck's Constant was derived, which is used in a majority of the quantum mechanical equations. My reason for bringing this up is to show that there are indeed constants in the sub-atomic world.
I would also like to discuss a real hazy idea in Q.M. that is the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle (HUP). The accepted high school chemistry book definition of the HUP is that one cannot know the speed and position of a particle at the same time. Close, but doesn't tell the whole story. It is possible to take a measurement of a particle and receive speed and position data concurrently. However, do to the math that describes both position and speed being together in a single equation, there is a level of uncertainty in the exactness of the data received. When a series of experiments are run, the data is combined. Through the combinations, the position becomes exact and the speed becomes zero and vice versa.
Interpreting the HUP and Q.M. is tricky. Sandy mentioned that philosophers will look at the sub-atomic world and draw conclusions into the macro world. I think this is very dangerous, because C.M. is suited for the macro world and Q.M. is suited for the sub-atomic. Particles in the sub-atomic world are not moral agents, obviously. This is important because particles cannot decide to violate the laws of math that govern them. So for a philosopher to apply sub-atomic principles and ideas to us, such as uncertainty is, in my opinion, dangerous territory.
Have a good day.
*The above e-mail was sent to Dave Brand from a professor of quantum mechanics at Virginia Tech on September 4, 2002.