Uncertainty by David Lindley Book Review
In “Uncertainty”, a book written by David Lindley, Lindsey enunciates the Principle of Uncertainty formulated by Heisenberg, a physicist of the twentieth century, and then draws some conclusions from it. Heisenberg notes that it is difficult to concurrently know two aspects of the same phenomenon and in particular, he refers to the impossibility of simultaneously understanding the position and speed of the same particle. This statement completely overturns the scientific paradigm which argues that a phenomenon can be understood in all its facets, so much so that Lindley describes Heisenberg’s principle as a "revolutionary and esoteric conclusion." Lindley goes on to affirm that the principle can be expressed in different ways, one of which "the act of observing changes what one observes", and this has repercussions on not only the scientific, but also the moral and ethical sphere of reality. In fact, one of the values influenced by Heisenberg's observation is the Truth, as it becomes difficult to distinguish what is the “pure” truth from what comes from the observer's perception. However, what is the origin of the principle itself? Surprisingly, it does not have its roots embedded in the scientific sphere, but in the philosophical one. A first hint of the distinction made by Heisenberg can be found within the ancient Greeks, in particular Democritus, a philosopher of the fourth century BC. He believed in the existence of two types of qualities in objects: Primary qualities which belong to the object, such as its shape or size, and Secondary qualities that derive from the subject who observes the object, such as color or smell. In the seventeenth century, Galileo Galilei will recover this distinction and state that an object has two types of qualities: Objective qualities, previously considered as Primary qualities, and Subjective qualities, previously known as Secondary qualities. However, these individuals only alluded to Heisenberg’s principle. In fact, it was only in the nineteenth century that the principle itself was made explicit by a philosopher named Immanuel Kant. The latter, within one of his works, claimed to have implemented "a copernican revolution within the gnoseological field" as he had made the object depend on the subject, unlike previous philosophers who had done the exact contrary. Yet, what does it mean to make the object depend on the subject? Kant had understood that the same object appeared differently to two people who viewed it simultaneously. He attributed this distinction to the only thing that differed in both cases: the subject. In fact, a sad person in front of a beautiful landscape might not perceive the beauty of the landscape, and, consequently, could see it as something dark and glum, while a happy person, in front of the same landscape, could write a poem about how overly beautiful the landscape was. Kant also influenced both a group of young Germans called the Sturm Und Drang who greatly contributed to the birth of Romanticism and Italian poet Ugo Foscolo, one of the main exponents of the aforementioned movement in Italy. In the “Letter from Ventimiglia,” Jacopo Ortis, the main character, describes the mountains around Ventimiglia, in Italy, and from this description nature appears imposing, wild and home to uncontrollable forces such as tornadoes, earthquakes, and tsunamis. This description only strengthens Heisenberg's principle, especially since the letter itself was written by Ortis in the condition of an exile whose name was on the blacklist, and so his description could not be positive. In this case, making the object dependent on the subject means considering the fact that the subject’s or the observer’s internal psychological condition could influence what the observed object is. In conclusion, Heisenberg did affirm the Principle of Uncertainty, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he was the one who discovered it. Rather, he simply "translated" observations, previously made explicit, in the scientific field. We must give him credit for having formulated the principle, but also remember those who had done so priorly.