the uncertainty principle

Walter became unwell and fell over earlier in the week, and the doctors still haven’t been able to find out why. Walter’s in his late eighties, but despite the depredations of old age and this recent bout of ill health, he’s managing to stay pretty stoical. A scientist all his life, his curiosity is bracing.
‘Neutrinos!’ he says, unexpectedly, as I prepare the kit to take some blood. ‘Do you know what a neutrino is?’
‘Absolutely no idea. Isn’t that what they’ve been chasing round the Hadron Collider?’
‘In a way, yes. Of course it’s most famous for the Higgs-Boson, but it’s exploring and testing particle physics generally.’
‘Sharp scratch…’
‘And what is the purpose of this blood test, you say?’
‘It’s a general screen to find out if you’re having any problems with renal or liver function, if you’ve got an infection, that sort of thing.’
‘I see.’
‘You know this Hadron collider?’ I say, drawing off the blood.
‘Didn’t it suffer some catastrophic failure because a bird dropped some baguette in it?’
‘It’s had a few technical problems. I don’t know so much about the bird. But you see, a machine of that size and complexity is quite a proposition.’
‘I bet.’
‘It’s many miles long. Through a mountain.’
‘So you wonder how the bird got close. I mean, don’t they have covers on the vents?’
‘I’m sure they do. The point is, it’s already pushing the boundaries of what we know physically about the world. The very essence of being.’
‘Well – here’s some of your essence.’
I hold up the two phials of blood.
‘Thank you. It will be interesting to see what changes there have been, if any.’
I put them into the pathology envelope and seal it.
‘Did you ever meet anyone famous?’ I ask him, packing away. ‘Did you ever meet Einstein?’
‘Einstein? No. But I did meet Heisenberg. Have you heard of him?’
I want to say ‘Breaking Bad’, but don’t.
‘He was most famous for the Uncertainty Principle.’
‘What’s that?’
‘Basically he postulated that it’s impossible to know both the position and momentum of a particle with any precision. He wasn’t like Newton, you see, who thought that once you knew all the facts the universe would reveal itself to you like some gigantic mechanical clock. It’s much woollier than that. And more interesting.’
‘So what was he like?’
Walter rolls down his sleeve and shrugs.
‘Fat,’ he says. ‘Very fat.’

3 thoughts on “the uncertainty principle

  1. BTW – I googled pics of Heisenberg and he looked pretty trim to me. Maybe he put on later in life. Common amongst particle physicists, I believe. Hell, common amongst health care professionals…er-hem.


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