Daily Nugget of Gold 1504

The purpose of education is to replace an empty mind with an open one.” – Malcolm Forbes

Daily Nugget of Gold 1504

The Measurement Problem

We’re going to get physical again, and for good reason. Some underlying truths of life are so amazing and surprising, we often choose to ignore them rather than incorporate them into our thinking, our philosophy. We’re going to take a stab at illustrating one of the great scientific discoveries of all time, but we’re going to do it with one of our favorite substances- ice cream.

Suppose you owned an ice cream shop and a manufacturer of ice cream making machinery shows you a machine they made which produces ice cream in soft-serve style in a rainbow of flavors and colors, with each band of flavor touching the next but never mixed together. You figure you could easily sell this wonderful product for twice as much as you normally do, so having this machine may make you some serious money. Just the same, you don’t want to have to pay a royalty every time you make a cone or dish of ice cream and that’s what this manufacturer is demanding. So you decide to be clever. You buy the machine, not to use it, but to figure out how it works so you can duplicate it.

You’ve got a friend in the plastics industry who said he can duplicate any part of the machine in clear plastic so you can observe just how the ice cream is being made in this wonderful way. You take apart the machine and send him the parts to duplicate in clear plastic so you can see what’s going on inside the machine, but no matter what part you attempt to replace with clear plastic, the ice cream comes out of the machine in one homogeneous blob. (all mixed together).

Say you’ve replaced every single outer part with clear plastic, now the entire process should be visible to you. Nothing doing, it still comes out a disgusting brown sludge which you could never sell. You decide, “oh, the heck with it” and throw a tarp over the machine as it will never make you money this way. Your partner comes in and inquires as to what you’re doing and you tell her about the whole idea. She plugs the machine back in, and tries it out without removing the tarp, and behold! The ice cream comes out in that unique rainbow pattern! You and her take turns trying to peek under the tarp, but every time you LOOK under it, the ice cream comes out like sludge.

You try this every which way you can think of to try and “fool the machine” into not knowing you’re observing what’s going on, but whenever you LOOK, the stuff is this horrible, worthless goo. It works every time you cover it up, any time you can’t see how the ice cream is being made. What does all of this mean? This is exactly the sort of problem that has been boggling the minds of scientists for about 100 years. You duplicated their misfortune with your ice cream machine. We’ll (try and) make sense of all of this next time. Try wrapping your mind around this problem for now.

Question of the Day to Ask Ourselves

What does the operation of my mind have to do with the reality I see?”

Copyright 2016 Kevin Littleton, all rights reserved.

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