In a related manner, Heisenberg’s uncertainty turns into a ‘scientific’

explanation about why one apparently can’t be an objective observer, and so

becomes a permanent ‘get-out-of-jail-free’card: "Don’t blame me for

distorting the story, it’s the uncertainty principle!" As author Susan Orlean

told the Minneapolis Star Tribune on Jan. 27, "I hate the pretend objectivity

of some journalism - that omniscient, third-person voice. I spend so much

time with my subjects that I'm bound to have an effect on anything I observe.

It's a bit like the Heisenberg Principle in physics - so why not acknowledge it

by putting myself in the story?"

Trouble is, none of this relates to Heisenberg, or quantum mechanics or the

uncertainty principle at all. At its most basic, the uncertainty principle states

that you cannot precisely measure the dynamic attributes of a sub-atomic

particle (notably, its position and velocity) at the same time. The more

accurate the measurement of position, the less accurate the determination of

velocity, and vice versa. Step back a little from this demand for absolute

exactitude, and there is the appearance of definite position and definite

velocity. Step back further into the realm of Newtonian physics and cars and

trucks, and measurement can yield definite results (at least for all practical


The mere fact of uncertainty in the real world is not predicated upon the

existence of uncertainty at the quantum level; and what’s more, even

uncertainty at the quantum level is limited to a series of calculable

probabilities. That’s why Heisenberg himself noted the fascinating distinction

between a quantum world of potentialities and a very real observable world

of phenomenal facts. And that’s why scientists and philosophers are still

arguing seventy years on about what it all really means, and how can these

two world views be reconciled.