Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Quantum-like effects on the Web

The article talks about how search engines affect the type of information that's out.
Google, for example, says its mission is "to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful." The way that's written, one thinks perhaps of a satellite orbiting high above the earth, capturing all its information but interfering with nothing.

In fact, search engines are more like a TV camera crew let loose in the middle of a crowd of rowdy fans after a game. Seeing the camera, everyone acts boorishly and jostles to get in front. The act of observing something changes it.

Joel on Software had written a similar article four years ago about trying to manage measuring it, you'll change it. In both cases, the change comes about if there is feedback, or meta-data available to the subjects. If the subjects know what the observations are, and how the observations will affect them, they will change their behavior. It is much like quantum particles on the surface; their behavior changes when they get observed in the two slit experiment.

I seem to remember a similar effect in psychology experiements, but I don't remember the name. In medicine, it's the well-known, but little understood, placebo effect. However, they seemed to have gotten around it by making the experiments double-blind, effectively cutting off feedback to the subject.

This seems to work if the subject does not need to know the results of the observation. However, if the observations are direct tools in use by the subject, I'm not sure if one would be able to disentangle them from each other.

Though it's by analogy, could the quantum weirdness be explained by a feedback mechanism? Could the underlying nature of physics be based on some type of meta-data that all particles have access to? I don't know enough about physics to know where to begin looking, but it certainly makes me curious if any physicist has looked into it.

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