Alaimo: Measuring the speed of progress when sitting still
Earlier this year we switched from pretzels to popcorn at the Still. A simple switch and one we are happy with but we had to change the way we clean glassware because popcorn leaves so much more oil on people’s hands—an unintended consequence of a simple change.
Back in 1927 Werner Heisenberg stated that uncertainty is, by definition, inherent in that branch of science we call quantum physics. One can know the exact speed of some moving object (say a photon of light) or one can know its exact position—but not both. Heisenberg explained that in order to know the object’s exact position you must catch it and its speed becomes 0. Contrariwise, to know its exact speed the object must remain in motion and so the exact position at a given time cannot be determined.
Confusingly similar but unrelated is the ‘observer effect’ where one’s observation of something changes the observed. The classic example of this is testing the pressure of your car tire. You may have observed that just putting the gauge on the tire lets out some of the air—this changes the pressure (even if only slightly).
In 2004 the film “What the Bleep Do We Know?” made the claim that both the uncertainty principle and the observer effect are evidence that we can control reality with consciousness. To the best of my knowledge, quantum mysticism does not have serious proponents in the world of science nor any experiments to support the idea.
This month Texas-based Defense Distributed created and tested a plastic gun small enough to conceal about a person and which can bypass security metal detectors. The plans for this gun were posted online and can be made with any home 3D printer. For those of you unaware, a 3D printer works by laying down layers of plastic (or other materials) according to a blueprint file. If you imagine taking slices of bread and stacking them up to make a whole loaf, you have a good idea of the process. The printer itself can be purchased for as little as $800. In (an arguable) violation of Defense Distributed’s First Amendment rights, the posts were ordered removed from the website by the State Department but not before they were downloaded and looked at more than a hundred thousand times. Those observers may not all be with good intent and will surely change the observed and the observers.
In March of this year the Higgs Boson was tentatively confirmed to exist by scientists at CERN. When it was first theorized, the boson was mis-nicknamed by the media from a phrase that is similar to “How the heck are we going to find the Gosh Darned particle.” The ‘God’ particle is the force-carrying molecule of the Higgs field (which we think gives particles mass) and validates what scientists call the “Standard Model” of particle physics. The question really is, How will the observation of this particle change the observers? History tells us that changes made or observed can cause unintended consequences. After all, in 1888, the co-discoverers of what we know as radio waves described them as "an interesting laboratory experiment" with "no useful purpose" yet today we use radio waves in everything from communications and entertainment to radar to medical imaging. Also consider Einstein’s theory of relativity, which describes phenomena at very high speeds. Of little use at the time but our modern day GPS only work because of our ability to synchronize clocks here on earth and out in space to within 20 to 30 nanoseconds. This would be impossible without taking into consideration the time dilation effects of relativity on geostationary satellites that surround the earth.
So this month I am thinking about the observer effect, uncertainty and consciousness, and consequences. Not everyone knows but sometime last summer we were approached by an agency who wanted to use our distillery in a reality show—sort of a cross between “Moonshiners” and “Pawn Stars.” I was told there would be a four to 12 month time commitment, during which there would be camera crews here in the distillery. I thought of how “reality” shows don’t seem very real and how people seem to come out of the woodwork looking to get their 15 minutes of fame by doing something weird. Though the money would certainly have been welcome, the change in our lifestyle and customers would not. We turned them down. Finally, coming up this week is a meeting regarding the new proposed Ridgway street-scaping—consciously designed to attract people to town. Attracting more people means more business but possibly more litter, more income but possibly more crime, more friends but possibly more traffic. Consciously we can change reality on TV, on the Internet and on the street. But what will be the consequences? That is uncertain.
Dr. Joe Alaimo is the owner of Ouray Vet and partner of Trail Town Still. The savior of small animals, thirsty people everywhere and a fairly dangerous man with a garlic press.