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LostInParadise's avatar

Could someone explain the Heisenberg uncertainty principle from a layman's point of view?

Asked by LostInParadise (18069 points ) February 3rd, 2014

One popular explanation is that the act of measuring a particle’s location and momentum changes the location and momentum, so that there is uncertainty as to the particle’s current state. I have seen this elaborated by saying that if we use long wavelength light to view the particle, the length of the wave creates uncertainty as to the particle’s position. If we use a smaller wavelength, the greater frequency means extra energy when the light hits the particle, changing how well we can measure the momentum.

The problem, according to what I have read, is that this explanation is completely wrong. Supposedly, the wavelike nature of a particle means that it is in some sense meaningless to speak of the simultaneous position and momentum of a particle. If this is so, then how can we say anything about a particle’s position and momentum? The uncertainty principle does not preclude simultaneous information about these two quantities. It only says that the precision of our knowledge of one limits the precision of how well we know the other.

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