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Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Why the Conversation Matters or What Heisenberg has to Teach Us about Life

Albert Einstein famously responded to Heisenberg's uncertainty principle with the quip, "God does not play dice with the universe."

Einstein hated the rise of quantum physics even though it was a direct result of his work.

So, what does that have to do with conversation? I'm glad you asked. Heisenberg's uncertainty principle is the quantum application of the observer effect which states that when measuring a system, the observer changes the system. This effect is so pronounced when taking measurements at the quantum level that the observer must be considered as a part of the system being measured.

Make sense?

Okay, let me try again. If you check the pressure of the air in your tire, you have to let some of the air out in order to gauge what's going on inside the tire. You change the system to measure the system. If you wanted to do a quantum measurement of the electrons of the molecules inside the tire, your act of measuring would make you a part of the system.

The same thing happens in conversations. I had a conversation on Facebook recently about gay marriage. It got up to 265 comments over the course of 5 days. Toward the end several people were questioning the point of such a lengthy discussion since no one appeared to be changing opinions on the matter. I don't think anyone did end up changing views, but they all changed. Every person who contributed to the conversation was changed for it.

By measuring your thoughts, you change your thoughts. You cannot state what you think without affecting what you think. So by being forced to type out words, everyone in the conversation was also forced to subtly change their minds. Then, in addition, they were forced to specifically address their thoughts toward opposing views, and since I won't brook abusive, dismissive comments, they had to do it in relationship with others.

That changes people. That changed me.

Even though my opinion on gay marriage isn't substantially different now than it was before, I better understand why those who disagree with me hold their views. They better understand why I hold my views. And, I think, we're all better for it.

How have you benefited from having a conversation in which no one changes their opinion?

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