Feb 26, 2009

symplectic camels and quantum uncertainty

I'll let the science writer explain a potential challenge to the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle:
Maurice de Gosson at the University of Vienna in Austria thinks that the inability to pin a particle down is due to something called symplectic geometry, not quantum weirdness.

De Gosson realised that a theorem in symplectic geometry had parallels with the uncertainty principle. The concept is known as the symplectic camel after the biblical suggestion that it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to get into heaven.

De Gosson imagined that a ball represents a cloud of possible positions for a quantum particle. He found that such a ball cannot be squeezed down to the size of one particle to fit through a hole in a plane, because its geometry resists this in some way. The inability to squeeze the ball is analogous to singling out one particle and measuring its position and momentum exactly. De Gosson reckons this geometrical resistance creates the uncertainty in measurement, not quantum fuzziness (Foundations of Physics, vol 39 p 194).
I just wanted to point out the word: symplectic. In my imagination, it is a super-adjective combining the meanings of sympathy and apoplexy.

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