The Uncertainty Principle

Great breakthroughs in science

I often visit a remote island off the west coast, as you probably know if you’re a regular reader.  The people there are my friends, and I enjoy the peace and the quiet whenever I decide to absent myself from the city.  It’s good.

Of course, I’m not the only one who enjoys the remoteness and solitude of the western islands.  Far from it.  Many have come to visit these wild parts with their soaring cliffs, their silent stone fields and the splendour of the Milky Way splashed across the night sky.


They come from all over the world.  Not only from the mainland but from America and Japan.  From Australia.  From Tierra del Fuego.  From Oresund and from Vladivostok.

But perhaps the strangest of all was an Austrian physicist, a professor in the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies,  a Nobel laureate.  He came to Inis Mór to escape the hurly burly of academic business, and perhaps to rethink his outlook on life.  A modest man, despite his gigantic libido, he settled in well, even buying himself a small herd of Limousins which he hoped to husband until they became lucrative beef on the hoof.  But for all his learning about quantum physics, the Nobel winner knew little of Limousins, the meanest breed of livestock ever known to mankind.

And so it was that eventually he came to join that band of islanders who had bought these beasts and whose only hope was that they might be able to shoot them one by one, or perhaps to plant a landmine and blow them to small pieces, for they were never going to sell them.

One day, as he sat nursing a pint in Joe Mac’s bar, overlooking the pier, waiting for the ferry to pull in, and thinking murderous thoughts, the physicist fell into conversation with the proprietor.

Are you doin’ anythin’ at all with them Limousins, a mhac?

I am not, replied the scientist.  They are all up there on the edge of the cliff.   I do not care if they are dead or alive.

And that was how the world heard about Schrödinger’s cattle.




Schrödinger’s Bank

40 thoughts on “The Uncertainty Principle

  1. Which was all very well until some bugger went out and looked at them.

    I don’t know if you’ve ever seen a bovine wave-function collapse, but it ain’t pretty and needs some serious bucket and shovel work to clear up.

  2. Visions of a Limousin herd falling all lemming-like over a cliff, poisoned by cyanide gas (or not).
    A graphic image representing the Fourier transform comes to mind.

    Wasn’t it Herr Heisenberg that was all uncertain, like?

  3. It was, but that’s a related kettle of fish to the famous feline Gedankenexperiment. Besides, the development of quantum mechanics was a team effort in mind-boggling, and precise authorship should perhaps be left uncertain.

    And I thought of this Dermot Seymour painting.

  4. One of your Limousin appears to have morphed into a Fresian. Herr Schrödinger would be proud of you.

  5. Well spotted Mr Pilot. That’s because there is one Friesian in that bunch, which went native and became as evil as the others.

  6. This place of peace of which you speak, does it still have the magnificent Joe Watty’s at its heart Mr Bock?
    A better night of entertainment enjoyed a few summers ago would rival even the music found within the walls of Durty Nelly’s in Bunratty, where the company is also great and the pints keep flowing. In Joe’s no one cares if your brogue is broad, or your accent as thick as the muck on your boots. A place where music is the international language, not to mention the lyrical waxing of tales fae long ago.

  7. ”If you see thirteen cows lying down in a field, and one of them is standing up, that would be an Irish bull”. Maria Edgeworth was 200 years ahead of ye all, and Herr Schrodinger also. Mind, She knew the Irish character well. The ability to hold two diametrically opposing concepts ideas principles values whatever in one’s head co-equal at the same time. The National Cognitive Dissonance. ”We’re a neutral country/Hell yeah use our airports to murder 1.4mill innocent Iraqis” ”We have laws against torture / hell yeah Uncle Georgie of course you can use our airspace and runways to kidnap and hoist innocent brown people to perdition” ”Suffer the little children / Well begod Father Smyth really knows how to make them suffer say nawthin about it to annybody sure isn’t he a holy preesht?” Etc. &c. ETCETERA.

  8. John — You’re wrecking my head. It’s only a joke, man. Could you give the doom and gloom a rest every now and then?

    Kae — I think it’s caused by moo-ons.

  9. No. Quantum entanglement would be when you knew a cow in Australia was facing DOWN just cos a cow in Ireland was facing UP. And you could know it everytime. Actually, to be accurate, the cow in Australia would have to KNOW the cow in Ireland was facing in Xn dirrection so would itself face X-n direction therefore. MOOky action at a distance as Einstein might call it.

  10. Okey doke Bock I’ll less it with the doom n gloom if YOU stop writing threnodies that spark me off on one.

  11. John – I can only be responsible for what I do. I can’t take on the burden of what someone else does. It’s too much for one man.

  12. True for ya Bock. There hasn’t been anyone could do more than that for quite some time. Bout 2000 years by some accounts. Sorry. Only gettin it off me chest. Used be I could do it at the Irish Times b but they got too scared an windy after the new ‘government’ (if such a word can be used to descrie a crowd of satraps whose only function is to kiss the ukase from Brussels and Waahington an roll over for the Emperor when He or She comes to call) got in. And killed the news poll. So I found meself here. But it’s OK sorry for bein a nuisance I’ll go get it off me chest on the Anglo-Celt’s website or something. If they actually have a website at the Anglo-Celt.

  13. There are plenty of posts here for ranting and there will be plenty more. But just occasionally, we take a break for a bit of silliness.

  14. That picture of cows is really quite calming and relaxing. You’d wonder if you could discern some information in the set of the stones in that old drystone wall. Could those who built them have encrypted some data in the pattern of the stones or is it all just random noise?? I mean like old Aran geansais were woven with stories? Hmm. Sorry just woolgatherin. You should print some more nice piccies like that. Sort of digital Xanax. Or now and then just turn the website pink or something. Apparently painting their cells pink quietens psychotic prisoners in certain US jails. Or just mortifies them into silence maybe. Ok l8er feeling much calmer now Bock thanks. Might set that picture as me desktop background the next while.

  15. Just copped something. Would the ”Mu” in ”muons” be from the Japanese word Mu meaning The Void; Emptiness, No-Thing? Sat in an hotel bar in Swindon one night thinking about existence versus non-existence. Came up with a neat deffo for the former. ”That which is not that which is not.” Put in yer own commas. Wrote about it on the IT newspoll next day and got accused of being a Billy Nomates.

  16. Fair enuf pardon me hignorance and thanks for that. Kind of coincidential I’d have said only I don’t believe in coincidence I think it’s the Machines resetting the tapes or something. Lambda is what the NCT crowd look at when they’re charging me 50 quid to tell me what I know already i.e. that my various oul jammers are perfectly maintained. Sorry I’ve little Latin and less Greek.

  17. I find it strange, that at the same time as he outsourced morality to the Catholic Church, de Valera head-hunted the redoubtable bigamistic, systematically womanising Schrödinger. An eye for the main chance perhaps, and a smart move. I can’t off the top of my head think of a more important scientific innovator to work in Ireland for an extended period in the last century.

    I was told recently that Wittgenstein spent several months in that hotel close to Heuston station (the name escapes me entirely) before moving west.

  18. de Valera’s first interest (like Rommel’s) was mathematics, and I think Schrodinger and Wittgenstein were rare examples of his acknowledgement that there were bigger things than the narrow sectarian bigotry besetting Ireland at the time.

  19. Just looking at your pic there Pope Epopt I wonder did Bacon mean to portray his various pontiffs as suddenly awakening to the reality of what they were presiding over? Didn’t Dante have a few of them stuffed upside down into holes in his Inferno. Maybe we could dig out a Ouija board and ask McQuaid if that turned out to be true. Bastard. I’d say he need hardly have been troubled by Schrodinger’s carryon at least like Bishop Casey he was riding with the consent of his mount who was aged over 18. deV loved quaternions so I suppose that’s why he went after Schrodinger. He did didn’t he?

  20. Something like that J O’D re the Papacy, I suspect, although I’d need several stiff ones before wanting to crawl too far into the mind of Mr. Bacon. More prosaically it portrays me every time I (accidentally) hear the RTE news.

    I’ve found recently that my peace of mind and blood pressure are significantly improved by never listening to RTE radio or Newstalk. A quick 10-minute online perusal of the newspapers suffices to confirm the same old same old and then on to more interesting matters. Like Mr. Schrödinger. Or if you want to blow your synapses further, the holographic principle in cosmology.

    It’s more craic than crack.

  21. Pope, I’d given up watching telly after my fourth year in China seeing how all the nong-ming (peasants) there were so manipulated by the Sons of Heaven in Beijing via their telescreens. Saw the way the authorities too in Taiwan manipulated people’s minds during SARs with gigantic plasma displays on the sides of buildings in Taipei showing these schlocky quasi-Aussie medical dramas with brave Taiwanese doctors and nurses heroically risking their lives to save their dying patients. All very funny it was until REAL doctors started jumping off the roofs of skycrapers so terrified were they, the one or two that did, of this mythical bit of mindcontrol called SARS. If they’re doing that here and it seems so crude and obvious to my western mind they’ll be doin it at home only far more subtly I figured so I gave up the telly and when I came home two years later I didn’t bother with it for five years after that. Only started watching it again lately cos my ladyfriend has a big plasma one at her house and she’s already worried bout my having a stroke I scream at it that much. You’re right. I’ve even almost quit reading the Irish Times that was the only thing kept me sane or half-sane for a long time. It’s just easier not too think about it these days. The rape the cowardice the inhumanity done to my former country by my former countrymen and their controllers and owners foreign and domestic. When it all finally collapses it’ll all finally collapse and there’s nothing thee nor me can do about that by worrying and blowing out our circles of Willis with aneurysms. Now that holographic principle you mention, I wonder is it (cos I’ve not yet looked at yer link) the same one that in quantum physics sez we’re all just projections on a brane of events and beings happening in a far more real reality? That’d make total sense to me. I mean this biz about the eternal nature of souls. IF we have souls and IF they are eternal (and not – as Keats thought – made here on earth in this ‘Vale of Soulmaking’ and moreover as every religious berserker since em Gilgamesh or something has thought destructible in some lake of fire) then ipso facto eternity having no beginning or end ‘we’ are already IN ‘heaven’ even ‘while’ we’re ‘alive’ ‘down’ ‘here’. I.e. the spacesuits we’re pleased to call our bodies that we use to navigate in this 4D Euclidean/Minowski Spacetime are just vehicles into which we can project part of our ‘eternal’ ‘being’ so as to like kind of grow and develop our vibrations or resonancies or something. There being no growth or development in eternity like. By definition. Which would mean that everyone who is dead and everyone who is quick at this particular moment in this particular timension as I call it is also ‘simultaenously’ as it were already in eternity. Shit. And I’m stone cold sober. And it’s spelled ‘crack’ in my book. Not ‘craic’ which is a bastard makeyupy word.

  22. I’m delighted to know that I’m not talking to myself. Let me refer you back to comment #11 where I said you were wrecking my fucking head.


    I’ll ask you one more time. Stop. Please lighten up. I beg you. Just calm down.

  23. (You can delete that waffly stream of consciousness there Bock. The holographic principle as per Pope Epopt’s link has nowt to do with it from the little I can understand of it. I’ll shaddap now. Don’t want to be a Planck or a Bohr.)

  24. Don’t want to be a Planck or a Bohr.

    lol! I love it. I’d raise “ein Stein” to that if I wasn’t taking a break from the beer.

  25. Me head’s Boyled. I’m goin for a Curie. Nobody should take a break from the beer how the hell do you LIVE in this poxy world without beer??!??!

  26. Now you see one now you don’t see the other I think. But then again i’ve had 4 cans of Koppaberg (the 5.3% berries version) 4 cans of Rosie’s Dew and a can of Bulmer’s Perry while watching ”Kippur” on DVD with my lady (who’s just gone off to bed knowing that I’ll be writing to Bock for an hour and fit for shag all else after) so I don’t really know. Can we talk about slit experiments and particles and waves tomorrow?? I’m kinda fucked. Really. Annyway. Sure we’ll soldier on.

  27. ”Tomorrow tomorrow and tomorrow. Leads on this petty pace from day to day to the last syllable of recorded time. And all our yesterdays have lighted fools the way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle. Life’s but a walking shadow. A poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then, no more. ‘Tis a tale told by an idiot. Full of sound and glory and signifying nothing”. Macbeth. Leaving cert 1983. Just came into me head as appropriate. Yirrah I’m gee-eyed up the wooden hill to Bedfordshire methinketh.

  28. (I presume there’s a policy about not writing on this site while half-cut as well as not using multi-handles. OK that’s the last time I break it so. Road to hell being paved with good intentions &c.)

  29. Beautiful writing. Thoroughly intelligently lovely. Jesus I miss being ‘irish’, overcome by a group hug, where a whole nation of zombies think we are alive! There is an awful lot more Schrodlinger in me than Limousin. Foreign feckin’ cows!

    Why do I feel like a schro-anger in my own land?

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