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The Cross of Bethlehem II

The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle and Us

Heisenberg may have been here...



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Most people ignore physics in their normal life. Few understand that it affects more than the way our technology and gadgets operate. I do not attempt to offend; simply most people never studied Measurements’ Theory. The first indication of its importance is the way scientists from exact sciences treat numbers and results. The basic model they use to represent results is “x plus-minus y,” while a normal person would just mention “x.” The difference is that scientists assume uncertainty in any measurement; this is called the error of the measurement. Much scientific work is based on the evaluation and explanation of these errors.

Werner Heisenberg | Uncertainty Principle

Werner Heisenberg | Uncertainty Principle

"Heisenberg may have been here," read a popular sticker in our faculty. For dry-humored chemical-physicists, this sticker was hilarious. It made reference to the Uncertainty Principle developed by Werner Heisenberg in Copenhagen in 1927. This principle determines that it is impossible to determine at the same time both the exact position and exact velocity of a particle. This unexpected phenomenon is a result of the way measurements are taken, and has nothing to do with the means used for the measurements. Uncertainty is the only certain thing in a given system. In our daily life, it is possible to ignore its effects, but nonetheless the uncertainty is there. It means that, by definition, we cannot know everything about a system. In order to measure something, we must change another characteristic of the system.

This principle holds also for the security services monitoring our lives. They are obsessed with our lives, collecting tiny details through any open source (financial institutions, internet, phone systems, social networks, street informants, disguised encounters). These myriad bits of information are then kept in enormous databases. All these are violations of human rights and thus misinforming the violators is allowed and recommended.

Yet, they ignore that they cannot carry out a measurement, in other words an investigation, without causing a myriad of concrete changes to the lives of the innocent people they are measuring. This cannot be justified. Persons are innocent and thus untouchable, unless proven otherwise. Proactively entrapping them—the archetypal tactic of the security services—cannot be accepted. The assumption somebody may commit a crime is to be kept strictly within the boundaries of the sick mind of the security services officer; just an opinion not to be followed in any operational way. Not one of them knows the future for certain; all of us enjoy free will.

There is no better example of these crimes than Yigal Amir. On November 4, 1995, Yigal Amir assassinated the Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. Born to a Jewish-Orthodox family, he served at the IDF as a Hesder soldier, combining a service at the Golani Infantry Brigade with religious studies at the Yavneh Kerem Yeshiva. Afterwards, he became a law and computer science student at the Jewish religious Bar-Ilan University. The assassin had been targeted by the Shin Beth months before the tragic event; the Shin Beth had trained him in the use of arms. Avishai Raviv, a Shin Beth underground agent, was placed next to him. The Shin Beth later claimed he was only an information gathering agent. The most troubling part of this story is that The Jerusalem Post, an English, right-wing newspaper published in Jerusalem, reported witnesses having heard Raviv telling Amir: "Be a man! Kill him already!" Later on, Raviv’s name came out during Amir's trial. It was published that his operational code was "Champagne." This code was perfect for an agitating agent, which is a better definition of the role he performed. There is no way they can claim their information gathering activities are harmless; measurements change reality. They cannot claim they are impartial; after all the Shin Beth did not stop Amir. Observations change social networks. Small changes accumulate into unpredictable changes. Nobody gave the security services the power to do so systematically.

“So what, your observations also change reality,” a perceptive security services officer could throw at me at this point (they won’t, must of them are utterly ignorant). That’s correct, but in the overall reality, the observations of a single human are counterweighted by the observations of the other, bringing them to an overall nullification. However, an entity obsessively collecting information from the general population and proactively using it to promote its political theories can change reality. We all have seen the Weapons of Mass Destruction fiasco; we live in a 1984-type of reality. Moreover, people did not award these powers to the security services; they just took advantage of our weakness in order to advance their personal agenda and deep pockets. "Heisenberg may have been here; in any case, it isn’t the police's business," reads my updated sticker.

This text was adapted from a chapter of the same name in The Cross of Bethlehem II: Back in Bethlehem.

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