Thursday, October 06, 2005

Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle (HUP)

Who uses it: Quantum physicists
What it means: The more precisely you measure the position of something (specifically, a subatomic particle), the less precise your measurement of the object's momentum.
How you can use it: When you don't want to interfere with something by naming it or measuring it.

Someone first explained the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle to me as the idea that measuring something changes it. This might be true, but it's not the Uncertainty Principle. I don't pretend to understand these things, but I think the Uncertainty Principle says that you can chart motion accurately, or you can measure position accurately, but you can't do both things at the same time.

The idea that we change things by measuring them, though, was very much in my mind last night, when Anna and I saw Grizzly Man. By weird coincidence, today -- or possibly yesterday -- is the second anniversary of the death of Timothy Treadwell, the movie's subject. Timothy Treadwell lived among bears in the Alaskan wilderness for 13 years, until one killed and ate him and his companion, Amie Huguenard.

Grizzly Man is a hard movie to watch. Much of it is Treadwell's own footage, which shows him living out a fantasy of himself as "kind warrior" and protector of the bears, who tolerated him but surely didn't need him. Watching him perform for the camera feels like watching a small child acting out an episode of "Batman." It's an uncomfortable combination of self-consciousness and yearning for significance. Treadwell, who seemed to have serious problems living in the human world, desperately wanted the bears to love him, and convinced himself that they were capable of that.

One of Werner Herzog's points, in this movie, seems to be that Treadwell differs from the rest of us -- and specifically, from Herzog himself -- only in degree. Herzog emphasizes the staginess of his live interview subjects, holding the camera shot long past the natural end point of an interview so that we see how the subjects themselves are posing, are presenting fantasy versions of themselves in their everyday lives. At times, it's downright brutal.

I want to argue with what seems to be Herzog's premise, that we're all just playing out our fantasies of heroism before an audience -- but what's this blog?

1 comment:

Tom Ehrenfeld said...

My limited understanding of the HUP is that at a very subatomic level, when you try to track the movement of a tiny little thing, the amount of energy you expose it to (in the form of light I believe) effects the energy/movement of it. So this would mean that in certain instances, the act of observing something changes it.

I'm not completely sure that this dynamic applies neatly to all blogging, even this. Certain writers make a big show of cannabilizing their life for their art, and I believe Phililp Levine wrote a nice poem on this somewhere (though I can't remember which one it was.) But there's something old-fashioned and rich and deeply satisfying about reading someone reflecting on their life. Give yourself some leeway.