Heisenberg, Observation & Growth

Wednesday 19 October, 2011

On my homepage I write that personal development is a tough but rewarding journey. And so it is. The hard work and application necessary to work on ourselves is balanced out by a number of benefits:

  • The satisfaction of progress.
  • The realisation that we can influence and shape our lives to a greater degree than we thought possible.
  • The opportunity to encourage and empower others.
  • The fact that all we need for change to occur is a little self-awareness (essentially, observation).

In this post I draw upon examples from quantum theory and meditation to examine the most intriguing of the above points: that observation is enough to initiate change. In quantum theory, Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle states:

It is impossible to determine accurately both the position and the velocity
of a particle at the same instant.

What is most interesting about this conclusion – and relevant to this post – is the reason behind it: at the quantum level the act of observation changes that which is being observed. That is why it is impossible to measure, simultaneously, a particle’s velocity and position accurately. Merely looking at the particle changes precisely those qualities we had intended to measure. (Here is my favourite joke on the subject.)

It is the same in meditation when we focus on our breathing. All the time you have been reading this, your breathing has been going on unnoticed in the background. Now, if you focus solely on your breathing you will notice how it changes. It may become deeper or more shallow, more irregular or more deliberate. Whatever has happened to it, has happened because you have focused on it.

Indeed, it is one of the goals of meditation to observe our breathing without affecting it: to be both the observer and the observed, without exerting any influence. That takes discipline and practice because change always occurs when we observe ourselves.

And so it is with every other aspect of who we are. As soon as we begin to observe our behaviour, change takes place. As soon as we become conscious of our interactions with others, we begin to evolve. That means there is no need to ‘try’ to do anything and there is no need for unnecessary effort. We need only to become aware of what is happening.

The effects of this are most evident with people who have been introduced to this work for the first time. Last month I gave a presentation on Personal Development and TA (referred to in the post Tough, Challenging & Beautiful). Even before the end of the presentation a number of people had already begun to examine their behavior and to question how they interact with others.

Within just a few hours one participant was reacting differently to familiar stimuli; responding with greater awareness and a more considered approach. In doing so he created calmness in a situation which usually contained escalating tension. At least for himself. The other person was too accustomed to playing out the familiar interaction to notice much difference. But in time, that too will shift. When we see for ourselves, change occurs.

A previous entry, Awareness is the Key, refers to the same phenomenon. As stated in that post, we are still reliant on those around us to give us feedback on our behaviour because without it our observations remain incomplete. We cannot do this work in isolation.

Only when we enlist the support of others are we able build a complete picture of who we are. Further assistance is provided as soon as we begin our self-reflection, as we are met halfway by a process which, once set in motion, makes transformation inevitable and often effortless. All we have to do is observe and relax.


2 Responses to “Heisenberg, Observation & Growth”

  1. Chuhr Says:

    Jonathan
    Really been enjoying your blogs, giving me inspiration as well as activating memories, particularly the Liverpool trip.
    Recently started vipassana meditation again after a long long time and been listening to Goenka Ji discourses where he talks about the need to have awareness to make changes within oneself and also adds that you need to remain equanimous to whatever you observe as it is our reactions either aversion or attachment which continue our old habits.

    Keep up the good work.
    Chuhr

  2. Jonathan Lewis Says:

    Hi Chuhr,
    Great to hear from you and thanks for your encouraging words. Also for the reminder about equanimity. Good to hear about the vipassana too.
    I was thinking about you today. The entries from my journal over the next few days are about the Wales trip.

    Take it easy
    Jonathan

Leave a Reply