Tuesday, November 27, 2012

So What's The Play About?

We're very excited about Copenhagen.

People often ask "what's the play about?" A natural question but for this play I think the simplest answer is a rather esoteric one: uncertainty.  However, when re-reading the post script (this play has a 50 plus page post-script) I was reminded that while Heisenberg's theory is known as the "uncertainty principle" in English, in a way that's not the right word. Heisenberg's original paper referred to Unsicherheit which means "unsureness."  The actual concept is closer to "indefinability" or "unknowableness." The English word "uncertainty" implies the existence of a true value, an objective truth of which you have an incomplete understanding or measure. But that's really not it.

Heisenberg's theory is often misunderstood as a measurement problem. We just don't have instruments sensitive enough to measure things correctly, but if you could some how be a super teeny tiny quantum sized observer you could see what is going on (never mind that you couldn't see anything because you'd be smaller than a photon... but you get the idea as a thought)... that there is a knowable "something going on" but we just can't see it.

What Heisenberg's theory actually implies that there IS NO objective truth. Or perhaps, the thought that there is one isn't useful to us.  It's a fundamental aspect of nature that there is no objective definite answer. In fact, (and this is the cool and strange part) you can quantify and define your inability to quantify and define!

It's weird and a bit mind blowing but the truth is that at a certain degree of specificity there is no objective truth. There's no "there there." Basically to me this is what the play is about, writ large. That is, Heisenberg discovered a fundamental feature of the quantum atom, that some things are not just difficult to know, that they have a certain definable characteristic of unknowableness. The play takes this idea and expands it to our lives. That history, memory, and even our own motivations have some of this element of mystery. The point (as I see it) is that ultimately in a search for truth the greater truth is that there IS no truth; no objective, observable universe; no single correct explanation of a behavior or phenomenon; that knowledge is the collection of possibilities, not the elimination of them.

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