The observer effect

One of the most fascinating findings of quantum physics is that the act of observation affects the outcome of reality. Basically, it means that – particles and waves in their experiments – will act differently when they’re watched than when they’re not. It makes no great sense to a rational mind, but perhaps that’s because our rationality has yet fully mature. Regardless, this is what happens.

Something like that happens in life also, I reckon. It’s not physics, but it seems to me that when we apply our mind to consider something, the outcome is so often at odds to when we blithely accept it. I think this will become a theme of isolation. When people are given more time and space to think and consider the outcomes will be so often different from what we expected. This is not a bad thing. It’s an unreflective age. We don’t think much beyond immediate choices, and that’s been a part of our problem. Now we have the opportunity to stop and think, and potentially to reset. I feel as if there are many who have come to realise that.

That’s never been a problem for me – I’m an overthinker. Reflection comes naturally, as does enquiry. I could probably get by well by thinking less, but I enjoy figuring at things. In the end, it’s your nature. All the same, I get caught up in the pace of life too, and things slip by me.

A few weeks back, I expressed delight at the chance to show my wares, come the crisis. I’m one of those people who thrive when the odds mount because I come alive. And because I’m a stubborn, contrary bastard. I need the challenge to bring out the best in me.

So, I stepped up to the plate and ultimately we – the team – hit it out of the park. We did great things, gratefully received, and it was satisfying. But only satisfying. It passes soon because the moment passes, but the game’s still going. If it achieved one thing, it was that it reminded me of what I could do and, I suppose, proved it to others.

I anticipated there might be a bit of a crash afterwards. You run so hard for so long, and you hit the finish line out in front, and suddenly it catches up to you. All the pent up stuff collapses in on itself. And when you put your head up, you wonder, what’s next?

There was a crash, but it wasn’t as dramatic as that. I’m worn out, and fair enough, I’ve worked hard. Mentally I’m still hard at it, but it’s in my stomach it sits less well. That’s unfortunate because it makes it harder for me – and if I had never have observed it then maybe I’d never now. But here I am.

How can I put this? In a purely professional, even technical, sense, there’s much to be happy about. It was an amazing achievement, given the timeframe and constraints and mounting obstacles. And it worked! We didn’t just make it happen, it happened successfully. And you can’t really argue the value of it. This was a project integral to the organisation’s immediate future, and I was the only one there capable of doing it. Once in place, a crucial capability gap was bridged. Etc.

I’m dissatisfied though, and part of that is pure ego. I can’t get away from that. I’m the one doing, but I’m inside a machine, and I don’t get to proclaim it. It’s my manager who shares it with the world and attends the crisis meetings. When he speaks of the plans he has in mind next they’re my plans he’s repeating. I’m not having a go at him. He’s doing his job and doing it well. I guess it’s a measure of my lost status that for now, no matter how highly esteemed I am, I’m just a skilled mechanic.

That’s a minor irritation in the scheme of things. Assuming the world recovers and I get back to my job, then I expect my rewards will come, as they were promised even before all this. I may regain my own voice, and in time may end up reclaiming a lot of what I lost before.

I won’t turn my nose up at that, I can’t afford to. And it’s better than nothing. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned through this is that I need to be doing something worthwhile. It’s no good doing a job well, the job needs to be worth doing. What’s the worth of it? And sure, this was pretty big in this here and now, but not so big really. We managed to get done in a couple of weeks what might get done in a couple of months, or more, otherwise. Well done, next. And while the context is greater now, the value of it is much less back in the real world.

You might think I’m hard on myself. Maybe I’m just never pleased. It’s in my gut, though. Maybe it’s because I’m older now and my perspective has shifted, or maybe it’s because I’ve done so many things similar to this in the past, but it feels a shallow achievement in the end. What would change that?

If I’ve been gifted anything in my life, it’s a good brain. This was the trump card I was given. I’ve used it extensively and often used it well (though often it’s led me into trouble), but the question I find myself asking is whether given what I’m capable of, have I used it in the right way?

If I could dial back the clock I might have chosen a more elevated calling as a physicist or astrophysicist – the subject fascinates me. Maybe I’d have been a historian. Or a doctor perhaps – not a GP, but a surgeon or a specialist of some sort, or in clinical research. These are things I know now but just one in a million students are aware of when they come to make that call.

I can’t dial back the clock, and I’m not pining over what might have been. I just want to apply my mind to something that will make a real difference – not a feat of project management, but something of value to us as a people. I don’t want to waste it, and I’m getting old.

I figure we’ve got about 4-6 months in isolation like this. That’s the time I need to figure out what it is and how to do it. I figure many more will set themselves similar challenges in the months ahead.

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