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TODAY FEBRUARY 27, 2020
2008-01-24

Heisenberg and Social Networks

 Heisenberg and Social Networks Heisenberg and Social Networks

By Patti Anklam

Thanks to my friend Jessica's posting about Copenhagen, I was inspired to go see the play at the American Repertory Theatre in Cambridge last night. My cold was getting worse and I was overtired but nonetheless drawn into the complex, multi-level time- and perspective-changing experience. In the play Heisenberg introduces himself by acknowledging that "there are only two things the world remembers about me. One is the uncertainty principle and the other is my mysterious visit to Niels Bohr in Copenhagen in 1941."

Three actors on the set, sometimes speaking directly to one another, sometimes narrating what is occurring in the interactions, always circling back to what was said in 1941, and replaying it, finally seeing that it could have had a different result had the particles (Bohr and Heisenberg) interacted in a slightly different way.

The most common description of the uncertainty principle is that the act of observing a particle (we're talking quantum physics now) changes its behavior. Heisenberg describes the night the uncertainty principle unfolded in his mind. What you might see, if looking at the path of a particle in a cloud chamber, is "Not a continuous track, but a series of glimpses -- a series of collisions between the passing electron and various molecules of cloud vapor... what we see in the cloud chamber are not even the collisions themselves, but the water-droplets that condense around them."

This morning, I read David Lazer's post on the use of sociometric badges at an MIT Media Lab event. Participants wore badges that detected interaction in real time, and over the course of the day a large monitor displayed the changing social network graph.

Given last night's immersion in thinking about what we can see and not see and the impact of observation on interactions, it was impossible to not beg the question of uncertainty. Certainly, people expect to meet and connect with others when they go to conferences or symposia, but to what extent and in what ways does the visibility of the connecting process impact the experience? Are ties made during the excitement of the moment any less or more durable than the ties that are not observed?



Heisenberg and Social Networks

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