23 February 1927
On this day in 1927 Werner Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle is first mentioned in a letter from Heisenberg to physicist Wolfgang Pauli.
Published by Werner Heisenberg in 1927, the uncertainty principle was a key discovery in the early development of quantum theory. It states that it is impossible to measure both the present position and also the momentum or speed of a particle, or of any system small enough to require quantum mechanical treatment.
His work in the field of theoretical physics earned him the Nobel Prize for physics in 1932 ‘for the creation of quantum mechanics.‘
“We have also arranged things so that almost no one understands science and technology. This is a prescription for disaster. We might get away with it for a while, but sooner or later this combustible mixture of ignorance and power is going to blow up in our faces.”
Carl Sagan was a planetary astronomer, astrophysicist and science educator who was a driving force behind the SETI program. He was also the writer of one of the most influential books in my life. That book ‘Cosmos‘ and the television series hosted by him based upon that book awakened in me a love of learning and knowing and inquiry which have served me well through my teenage years, through my university days and into my professional life. If you can get a hold of the series do not delay. Do it immediately. You will not regret it, not for a moment. Alternatively, or rather additionally, get hold of the book and read it and re-read it and read it to your children and let them read it too.
Sagan is gone but his legacy lives on in the light his work in science and science education has shone on the subjects he has touched for the generations privileged to be touched by his genius during his lifetime and through this illumination for generations to come.
The quote I have extracted above is indicative of the concern he had for the state of the balance of power and understanding in the world. Where politics is a cult of personality where those in power are not versed in the technology behind the power at their disposal and where vested interests have interests in keeping the method and mechanism behind the technology and science which is the engine of their success mysterious, esoteric and the exclusive province of the narrowly focussed. The powder keg is primed and the fuse is lit and unless someone has the will and the power to shine an illuminating light on the way in which the wheels that power the engines of industry, society and innovation turn then someone is going to press the button marked ‘idiot‘ and let the genie out of the bottle. Once the bottle is unstoppered and the genie is out then there’s no way to get it to return to the bottle.