Complementarity and the world: Niels Bohr’s message in a bottle

by Ashutosh Jogalekar

Niels Bohr (Getty Images)

Werner Heisenberg was on a boat with Niels Bohr and a few friends, shortly after he discovered his famous uncertainty principle in 1927. A bedrock of quantum theory, the principle states that one cannot determine both the velocity and the position of particles like electrons with arbitrary accuracy. Heisenberg’s discovery foretold of an intrinsic opposition between these quantities; better knowledge of one necessarily meant worse knowledge of the other. Talk turned to physics, and after Bohr had described Heisenberg’s seminal insight, one of his friends quipped, “But Niels, this is not really new, you said exactly the same thing ten years ago.”

In fact, Bohr had already convinced Heisenberg that his uncertainty principle was a special case of a more general idea that Bohr had been expounding for some time – a thread of Ariadne that would guide travelers lost through the quantum world; a principle of great and general import named the principle of complementarity.

Complementarity arose naturally for Bohr after the strange discoveries of subatomic particles revealed a world that was fundamentally probabilistic. The positions of subatomic particles could not be assigned with definite certainty but only with statistical odds. This was a complete break with Newtonian classical physics where particles had a definite trajectory, a place in the world order that could be predicted with complete certainty if one had the right measurements and mathematics at hand. In 1925, working at Bohr’s theoretical physics institute in Copenhagen, Heisenberg was Bohr’s most important protégé had invented quantum theory when he was only twenty-four. Two years later came uncertainty; Heisenberg grasped that foundational truth about the physical world when Bohr was away on a skiing trip in Norway and Heisenberg was taking a walk at night in the park behind the institute. Read more »

Free Ding Jiaxi!

Editor’s Note: Dear Reader, if you could share this interview on social media, by email, etc., it might be helpful in securing Ding Jiaxi’s release.

by Emrys Westacott

After several weeks of sheltering in place, being holed up in quarantine, or just experiencing a dramatically restricted mode of living due to the ongoing Covid 19 pandemic, it is quite natural to start feeling a little sorry for oneself. A wholesome remedy for such feelings is to think about other people who are also shut up, sometimes extremely isolated, and suffering much more serious kinds of deprivation. They do not have at their fingertips, thanks to the internet, an abundance of literature, music, film, drama, science, social science, news, sport, or funny cat videos. Nor are they casualties of fortune, shipwrecked and marooned by bad luck or the vicissitudes of market economies. Rather, they are the victims of deliberate and unjust oppression by authoritarian governments.

One such person is Ding Jiaxi.

By any standards, Ding is a remarkable individual. Born in 1967 in a remote village in the mountains of Hubei province in central China, he won admission to Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics, one of the top institutions for engineering research in the country. After graduation he conducted research in aircraft engineering, and while doing this simultaneously studied law and passed the bar exam. In 1997 he decided to switch careers and began working as a lawyer. In 2003, with a few partners he started a law firm that under his direction became highly successful over the next ten years, eventually bringing in an annual income of 25 million RMB. Read more »

Politics as Art, Art as Politics: Ai Weiwei and William Kentridge

by Sue Hubbard

Ai Weiwei: Royal Academy, London until 31th December 2015

William Kentridge: Marian Goodman Gallery until 24th October 2015

Key-1The Chinese artist, designer and architect, Ai Weiwei has come to be regarded as a creative figure of global stature, largely because of his personal bravery and strong social conscience in speaking out against the repressive Chinese government. He has been imprisoned for his pains and galvanised a generation of artists. On his return to China in 1993, after twelve years in America, his work began to reflect the dual influences of both his native culture and his exposure to western art. He cites Duchamp as “the most, if not the only, influential figure” in his art practice. As a conceptual artist Ai Weiwei starts with an idea – for example China's relationship to its history – addressed in this major show at the Royal Academy by Table and Pillar, 2002, and made, as part of his Furniture series. A salvaged pillar from a Qing dynasty (1644-1911) temple has been inserted into a chair to form a totemic work. Having spent a month in China in 2000, I can confirm that Ai Weiwei has every reason to be concerned about the destruction of his cultural heritage which, when I was there, was daily being destroyed to make way for ‘modernisation'. Coloured Vases, 2015, further questions notions of value and authenticity by illustrating that fake antiquities are made with exactly the same techniques as authentic vases. In classic postmodernist style Ai Weiwei's objects take on the characteristics of a Barthian ‘text' to be deconstructed by those who are able to ‘read' and decode them.

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Corridor of Opportunity

by Ali Minai

ScreenHunter_1189 May. 10 14.08Two recent events – the visit to Pakistan by Chinese President Xi, and the horrific assassination of Pakistani human rights activist and social entrepreneur, Sabeen Mahmud – have once again put Pakistan's restive province of Balochistan “on the map” – at least for those who pay attention to the affairs of this turbulent region. Balochistan – where the ancestors of whales once grazed on land and through which the armies of Alexander and Queen Victoria passed on their way to unforeseen futures – is once again today a land of boundless opportunity and endless tragedy, depending on who one listens to. Let us begin by listening to the ghosts of history.

For millennia, Balochistan – or Gedrosia as the Greeks called it – has been the land between lands: A vast and arid expanse lying between the West and the East that ambitious conquerors or hardy travelers have occasionally chosen to brave at their own risk. Eight millennia ago, one of Earth's oldest civilizations thrived in the north-central part of the province, leaving their traces in the ruins of Mehrgarh. At some ancient and uncertain date, a great pilgrimage site arose at Hinglaj on Balochistan's Arabian Sea coast. Revered as “Nani ka Mandir“, Hindus hold it sacred to the goddess Durga. Others have suggested that its original association was with the Sumerian goddess Inanna – also known as Ishtar, Nannai, Nana, Naina Devi, and possibly the same as the Persian Anahita – Naheed – and the Greek Athene. It is even reported that a Khariji hyper-Islamist state on the lines of today's ISIS once existed in the heart of this land, though time has erased its memory from the land much as it has largely erased the land of Balochistan from the historical memory of great civilizations. But that may be about to change.

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