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Heisenberg principle

Anyone that watched Numb3rs last night, and paid attention to it, would remember the Heisenberg principle: the principle that, in short, says that "[the robbers] learn and change". (The main character offered a longer explanation that I didn’t really catch.)

Now, these types of shows — ones to do with solving crimes and the like — tend to be rather unrealistic. Numb3rs, for those that don’t know, is about a mathematical genius who uses statistics and modelling to all sorts of things — including solve crimes.

Knowing that these shows tend to be a little bit strange in concept, I was interested to see if this "Heisenberg" principle was actually real. I thought it was spelt "Haisenberg". Google corrected me and returned a nice list of pages which you can see here.

And it turns out that it does exist. The Heisenberg uncertainty principle is used in quantum mechanics. It says (or at least I think it says) you can never perfectly measure something, say, the position of a particle, because the measurement will have an effect on it itself. Or something on those lines.

If my search was correct, the show put a bit of twist on the principle, though I can’t deny they are fairly similar. They probably put a twist on it so that people would understand it. In the sense that Heisenberg’s principle does exist, that part’s real.

But solving crimes with numbers. More specifically, with statistics and modelling. (Lesson: if you want a career in crime solving, take statistics and modelling.) It seems kind of half feasible, I guess, if you undertook it on a large enough scale. It also seems unrealistic — it is, after all, a TV programme.

What would you say? Using numbers to solve crimes: feasible or unrealisitic?

Related Links

  • TV3 Website, the show screens on Wednesdays
  • Uncertainty principle entry on Wikipedia
  • Uncertainty principle explained on this page I found
  • Googling "Heisenberg".
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    One Comment Post a comment
    1. anna #

      Many TV programmes do thorough research before they decide to use a theory and in most cases the research is actually done quite well. I would be not surprised if it were feasible and I think it probably is. The fact that this Heisenberg Principle appear on the TV show Numb3rs, probably means the producers researched and perhaps twisted it in a way to fit their programme or just changed it in a way for viewers, i.e. to help the American Public understand.

      30 July 2005

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