Sorensen, T. (2011). QUANTUM DREAMING: THE RELEVANCE OF QUANTUM MECHANICS TO REGIONAL SCIENCE. Australasian Journal Of Regional Studies, 17(1), 81-99.
“Quantum Mechanics (QM) focuses mostly on matter at atomic and subatomic
scales and seeks to explain the interactions of energy and matter, both of
which possess particle and wave-like behaviours. Part of QM focuses on macroscopic
phenomena, but only at very high temperatures (plasmas) or at very cold
temperatures at close to 0oK. We are concerned here not with early formulations
by Planck and Einstein, but with the later Copenhagen interpretation (Bohr,
Heisenberg, and Pauli, mid 1920s) and its subsequent refinement by Dirac and
von Neumann focusing on measurement issues, the nature of statistics and the
role of the observer in about 1930. Although concerned with particle physics,
quantum thinking has extended into many other branches of science (like
chemistry, optics and electronics). We shall examine five key dimensions of
QM: (i) wave-particle duality; (ii) the related uncertainty principle; (iii) quantum
entanglement; (iv) superposition; and (v) decoherence. These are stated roughly
in order of weirdness, and are described briefly before assessing their possible
relevance for regional economics.
1. Wave-Particle Duality holds that all matter exhibits both wave and
particle properties. For example, light comprises particles (photons)
travelling at high speed in wave formation. A photon‟s position in space
at any moment is a combination of forward velocity and position in the
2. Under the Copenhagen interpretation, the Uncertainty Principle asserts
that a phenomenon like light can be viewed accurately in one way or the
other (as wave or particle), but not both simultaneously. The two
dimensions are complementary, but the more accurately we measure say
particle speed the less accurately we can measure its wave function.
3. Quantum Entanglement was described by a sceptical Einstein as spooky
action at a distance and certainly it voids the idea of local realism in
which every event has an immediate cause. Imagine a quantum system
containing two or more distinct objects that are connected such that the
measurement of one immediately alters the properties of the other even at
arbitrary and large distances. QM has circumvented the problem of
conventional causality by pointing out that during the sudden change in
the properties of B following the measurement of A, no information is
passed from A to B. Such events have been observed, but under extraordinary
circumstances. There is one additional problem: if measuring A
appears to affect B immediately and at great distance, the event many
occur several times faster than the speed of light.
4. Superposition is another challenging concept about the nature or
behaviour of matter at the sub-atomic scale. It amounts to the claim that,
while we do not know what the state of any object is, it is actually in all
possible states simultaneously, as long as we don’t look to check.
Measurement itself causes the object to be limited to a single possibility.
This led to Schrödinger‟s famous proof in 1935 that a cat could be
simultaneously alive and dead (for a gentle introduction to the topic, see
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Schr%C3%B6dinger’s_cat). Note also the
well-known two slit experiment in which it appears that a single photon
fired at a screen can go through both vertical slits at the same time and
interfere with itself in the process.
5. Decoherence related to the mystery of apparent wave-function collapse.
A quantum particle is rarely completely isolated from its environment.
Rather, the particle and the environment are bound together as one system
– including any observer as part of the environment. For example, any
measured object affects measuring devices in the environment, and vice
versa. Such interaction with the macro-environment will lead to ebbing
away of quantum states, leading to decoherence. Decoherence is not a
mechanism for wave-function collapse; it provides a mechanism for the
appearance of wave-function collapse.
This weird suite of processes is interconnected and mainly relevant to the
behaviour of atoms and their components (quarks, neutrinos, photons, etc.).
Quantum processes are largely indeterminate, and the related mathematics is
“Far the best part … of every mind is not that which he [or she] knows, but that which hovers in gleams, suggestions, tantalizing unpossessed before [a person]… this dancing chorus of thoughts and hopes … is his possibility, and teaches him that … vast revolutions, migrations, and gyres on gyres in the celestial societies invite him.” by Ralph Waldo Emerson.
For Emerson, at times, at the centre is certainty in a kind of consciousness of self, which, in Emily Dickinson’s words is not much comfort:
“How adequate unto itself
It’s properties shall be
Itself unto itself and None
Shall make discovery-
Adventure most unto itself
The Soul condemned to be-
Attended by a single Hound
It’s own identity.” (817)
Where do you find certainty?
Hey, A. J. G., Walters, P., & Hey, A. J. G. (2003). The new quantum universe.
A philosopher once said, “It is necessary for the very existence of science that the same conditions always produce the same results.” Well, they don’t! – Richard Feynman
THEN: By the 19th Century scientists were using experimental observations under controlled conditions to explain what was happening in the world, from the movement of billiard balls to the existance and movement of the planets. By measuring speeds and conditions of all particles sufficiently accurately, science held that predictions could be made as accurately as required, without limit.
NOW: We know the assumtion- that it is possible to measure both the position and the velocity of a particle as if it were a billiard ball- is wrong. No matter how ingenious or sensitive our measuring instruments become, we will not be able to fully predict what happens to particles such as electrons. This is because light energy interfers in the experiment. It arrives in lumps and necessarily gives a jolt to the object on which we are making the experiments.
What are some of the origins of Uncertainty?
The variability of observed natural phenomena: randomness. When you throw a fair die you cannot be sure which number will appear.
A lack of information: incompleteness. Information is often lacking, knowledge about issues of interest is generally limited. Also, when you measure something you can never be 100% accurate. There are always measurement errors involved.
Conflicting testimonies or reports: inconsistency. The more sources, the more likely the inconsistency.
CAN YOU THINK OF OTHER SOURCES OF UNCERTAINTY?
HOW DO PEOPLE RESPOND TO UNCERTAINTY? Scientists, psychologists, artists, writers, readers, politicians, parents, children?