There is a term from Psychology which describes the tendency of a subject (person) to change their behavior in response to being “studied,” called the Hawthorn Effect.
How many first dates have you had where you presented the absolute best of yourself in an effort to have a second date? Or maybe rather than just politely saying, “thanks but we’re better off as friends,” you put on a full tilt circus sideshow to avoid a dreaded second date? LoL. Hopefully you said, “Thanks, but no thanks.”
When when you were a kid misbehaving and noticed your mom staring at you and you immediately straightened up…
Imagine you are walking down the street and notice someone watching you. Now, depending on the judgments you make about them: Are they safe? Are they attractive? Are they shady looking? Do you feel threatened? … Depending on your assessment, your walk, posture, and expression might all change in response. You might smile or furrow your brow, or quicken your steps, or puff up in an effort to make yourself look more intimidating.
This is the Hawthorne Effect in action.
As we are observed, we change.
In quantum physics, this is called the “Observer Effect,” and similarly to the Hawthorn Effect, it holds that a phenomenon or system cannot be measured or “observed” without the observation causing a change to occur within the system being measured.
Now, perhaps the most interesting example of the Observer Effect in quantum physics comes to us from the “Double-Slit Experiment” which cemented the “wave-particle duality” ￼of matter as a fundamental truth of our quantum reality.
Confused? Let’s take a detour.
The “Double-Slit Experiment” proved that sub-atomic particles like photons, and electrons, atoms (which are composed of sub-atomic particles,) all the way up to molecules (which are composed of atoms) all exist as waves of probability-spread out in space and time UNTIL they are observed. The act of observation causes the collapse of the wave of probability (wave function) down into a single probability – a particle, in space and time. For a mind bending (and fun!) explanation of the double-slit experiment click here.
In other words, the object (a photon, atom, or molecule) exists everywhere and in all probable states until it is measured. The measurement of it collapses it’s waveform from all possible states into just one state. And even then, we can only know one of two values for certain: how fast it is moving OR where it is located. We cannot know both for certain. I know it sounds crazy but it’s true!
This, of course, is counterintuitive to our everyday perception of the world. After all, I can reasonably assume that my couch exists in my living room, as I left it, even when no one is home to sit on it. Well, yes. One can reasonably assume that and 99% of the time, our assumption would prove to be correct; however, that 1% gives rise to a near infinite array of probabilities for our couch.
There exists the probability that the electrical plug under the couch malfunctions causing the couch to catch on fire (which has disastrous implications for the rest of the house.) Another probability exists where thieves break in and steal the couch, the entertainment center, etc. Maybe your teenager comes home from school early and spills soda all over it… there also exists the probability that your couch dematerializes and appears floating someplace out in space – sounds crazy, I know, I know – but it is an probability that exists nevertheless.
… So, as you can see, one can never be certain of what state their couch is in until they walk in the house and observe it for themselves.
This is fun for me so here is another example of the Observer Effect in the real world: The pressure of a tire cannot be measured without the measurement affecting the pressure of it. The act of measuring causes the tire to loose pressure thus one is only able to measure it after they have affected it.
Sure, right? That’s easy enough to grasp BUT like our couch, one can never know what state the tire is in until they observe it.
For example, imagine you get a flat tire. You know you have a spare and you know that it was fully pressured when you stowed it but when you pull the spare out you’re astonished to find that it’s also flat! Well, from a quantum perspective, your spare tire exists in a “superposition” of every possible state of: pressure and condition, and in every probable location, until you see it with your own eyes. In this case, it just so happens that, due to whatever quantum fluctuation that occurred-a slow leak, a fast leak, due to whatever reason, our once fully pressured spare tire was suddenly flat!
It’s weird, I know, but reality is really, really weird.
Let’s look at the Double Slit Experiment again. (Hopefully you watched the video.)
When objects like photons, electrons, atoms, etc. strike the collection screen unmeasured i.e. when no one was checking to see which of the twos slits they each traveled through, they created an interference pattern on the collection screen:
Meaning the particles passed through the left slit, right slit, both slits, neither slits, bounced off of one another thus creating the multi-bar distribution on the collection screen shown above.
Our scientists then decided to fire the particles one at a time through the experiment and still an interference pattern emerged. This meant that each particle was interfering with itself as it passed through the experiment.
But when the scientists decided to measure exactly which slit each particle was moving through, the particles behaved exactly as one would expect!
Only a two bar distribution was observed!
The difference between the two outcomes is that a conscious observer with an intention to observe (or measure) any particular probability intervened in the experiment.
The multi-bar distribution should be familiar to you if you ever took a math class. Why?
Because it is a bell curve:
A bell curve is a graphic representation of the distribution of probabilities where the center of the curve represents the average (a collection of probabilities most likely to occur such as our couch being just as we left it,) having soda spilled on it (a move towards the right or left of the taper) and finally, our couch vanishing from the living room and reappearing in outer space (where the taper of the bell curve appears to touch the x axis.)
Note: if you’ll think back to math class you might remember that while the bell curve may appear to touch the x axis it never actually does so the probability of our sofa appearing in outer space is actually dramatically further out along the x axis than it appears in the above graphic.
So, what does any of this have to do with Gandhi? Well, everything actually.
Ghandi recognized that we live in a world of near limitless probabilities and that, in order to experience i.e. observe any particularly probability, we must first consciously align with it.
This is what he means when he says:
If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him.
“As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him.” could be rewritten, “as a man comes into an alignment, so does the attitude of the world align towards him.”
So, how does this work?
Stay turned for Part. 3!
Om, Baby! Om,