If we’re to have any shot at understanding the Uncertainty Principle, we must start by exploring particles and waves.
To illustrate the difference, I’ve made a few simple diagrams.
Particles and Waves
This is a particle:
And this is a wave:
Now I want you to try something.
Using your finger, point to the exact location of the particle:
Easy, right? Now point to the exact location of the wave:
Not so easy, huh? That’s because a wave isn’t in one exact location. It’s spread out, with no clearly-defined beginning or end.
Lest you think waves superior, let’s try one other test.
Looking once again at the wave, point in the direction that the wave is moving (the diagram isn’t ideal for this example, so also try looking at the photo at the top of this page):
And, lastly, try doing the same with the particle:
Whereas determining the direction of the wave was possible, the direction of the particle is entirely unclear.
The difference between a wave and a particle is simple enough.
But here’s the problem: at the scale of quantum mechanics, things can be (and often are) both particles and waves.
And that is where we begin to run into some real trouble.
We’ll delve a bit deeper in tomorrow’s post. In the meantime, here’s a good video I found about the Uncertainty Principle in general:
*Photo Credit: Wendell (Creative Commons)