Position and Momentum

I’m not a scientist but I have a casual interest in what might be called “popular science.” I subscribe to the science channels on youtube and I learn what I can when I can. Sometimes things go right over my head but other times I end up with an elementary understanding of something.

An example of the former is Heisenberg’s Uncertain Principle which says that the more you know about a particle’s position, the less you know about its momentum – and vice versa. In simple terms, if I know where it is then I know less about where it’s going. If I now more about it’s movement, I know less about it’s position. It’s unintuitive but Derek from Veritasium can explain it better than I can.


I’m not a scientist but I am a poet. So I try to find the links between ideas. It’s hard (but not impossible) to reconcile poetry’s appeal to beauty and science’s appeal to empirical data, but here’s what I think the uncertainty principle teaches us about ourselves.

We’re often so busy, goal-oriented, or career-minded that we forget to think about our surroundings. Where are we? Who are we? What kind of person am I? These go unanswered as we constantly look to where we are going. But sometimes things go wrong. We have some kind of crisis and have to do some soul-searching. We ask ourselves these questions about ourselves but we’re scared because we don’t know where we’re going.

The more we know about where we’re going, the less we know about where we are – and vice versa. We can turn out attention to the present or the future but not both at once.

This means that sometimes we have to get lost to learn about ourselves, and sometimes we have to forget ourselves to pull forward.

Since graduating university, I’ve felt completely lost. I don’t know at all where I’m supposed to be going or how to get there. I know nothing about my momentum. But in a state of having to slow down, I’ve come to learn a lot more about myself.

Now, the uncertainty principle is rather pessimistically named. If my analogy is valid then life is a choice between being uncertain one way or uncertain another way. I want to make this more optimistic and say that my alternative is Aaron’s Certainty Principle – that we will either be certain about our momentum or certain about ourselves. The choice is not between doubt and doubt but between certainty and certainty!

…But I’m not sure about that right now.



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