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Neils Bohr, famed physicist for describing the atomic structure (electrons revolving around a nucleus of protons and neutrons), was resistant to visualizing and modeling the structure based on Complementarity and what one of his students would end up calling the Uncertainty Principle.  The Uncertainty Principle states that the greater your ability to measure the spatial location of a particle, the lesser your ability to measure its velocity.  The two measurements work against one another, thus creating a visual paradox.

This is cool because that paradox forces a renderer to use abstraction to represent atomic structure.  Obviously drawing an atom is something of an abstraction already, as is any static representation of speed.  Drawing two measurements that work against one another: that is a different kind of challenge.  That could keep you up at night.

My grandfather is a passionate amateur ornithologist who has traveled the world in search of birds large and small.  In classic Indiana Jones fashion, he has a map on the wall displaying the routes he has taken as he has circumnavigated the globe via boat, plain, train, auto and foot.  The trips are all displayed as lines and arcs.  This makes perfect sense as a communication device: the line literally traces his path.  My grandfather is the particle, the arc is a display of closely joined points that the particle intersected with.

What about the live-action mapping going on right in front of you when you ride JetBlue?  Doesn’t the Uncertainty Principle dictate what can and can’t be displayed on that map?  The plane’s speed is shown textually, refreshed every minute or so.  The plane’s location is shown visually, also refreshed every minute or so.  Because there is no way to picture your flights exact location and its velocity with equal accuracy, the communication becomes multimodal: location is represented visually, speed is represented textually.

The Uncertainty Principle forces multimodal communication.  There will be more about this as I wrap my head around it.  With any luck I’ll find a way to relate all of this to public libraries and the means by which they facilitate knowledge sharing as well…


Hey, this isn’t all stated correctly.  I realized this just a minute ago.  I shouldn’t say that the Uncertainty Principle forces multimodal communication, rather that it encourages it.  I’ll also add that the multimodal answer isn’t really a solution to the paradox, instead it is a clever way of disguising an unresolved situation.


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