The Heisenberg Travel Uncertainty Principle
There are places in the world that people have visited since the dawn of time but never settled. These are places like a dense forest, an arid and rocky mountain, a stadium, or a concert hall. The amount of people coming to visit them may grow over time, but with proper respect, their usage, nature and atmosphere will stay the same as they were never meant for anything other than temporary visits, which is all that they continue to offer. Places that have been consistently inhabited by the same heritage and for specific uses, on the other hand, such as actual habitation or worship, are not so lucky.
Some of these places that I visit, like the Imperial Palace in Saigon, have been disbanded entirely of their initial function and converted to a museum when a new building, modernized and better suited for its tasks, was erected. This has now become a tourist landmark, but one that serves the purpose of educating its visitors of the rich history behind the current order. Others, however, are still functioning as they always have, or as close to it as possible.
The Thiên Mụ Pagoda in Huế, for example, still has monks on its grounds who probably do their best to continue with their daily activities, despite the constant tourist turnover among them.
When I enter any such building, I image what it was like when it was in full swing. When only people using it for it’s actual purpose frequented its grounds or rooms. A palace with its royalty and subjects, discussing matters of the realm or basking in their riches, or a market with the goods that actually drive the local economy and that arrive due to the natural supply and demand of the area. Realistically, the best way to get such a vision is on TV, where popular shows like Game of Thrones wow their viewers with depictions of both the epic castles of the time, and the people living in them. Most of us probably put ourselves in those shoes for a few moments, romanticizing what it would be like to live in that era. Actually showing up, however, may not give you a glimpse of the people, but the reality of being there is a dimensions that cannot be replicated through a digital box.
Showing up, however, is often what slowly brings these places down. Like Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle, where he famously noticed that no matter how hard you try to measure a particle’s attributes, the simple act of measurement will affect them and therefore yield a certain degree of error, one’s simple presence when coming to view a site will affect it and it’s people, reducing its similarity to its initial state. Locals in a market will notice outsiders and approach them with useless souvenirs or services that have nothing to do with that area’s supply or its natural demand. Plazas that previously offered a place for locals to gather and deal with their region’s affairs will be pushed to the extremities as these places start to cater to tourists.
Monks in a temple will inevitably act differently with people staring down their activities and relics. Even if they really are devoted enough to take no notice of outsiders, the presence of someone there without the mindset of mediation and prayer will bring down the delicate atmosphere of such a place.
I’m not saying we shouldn’t travel and explore. On the contrary, I believe that that is one of the most important things that one can do with their lives. There are many benefits to seeing other cultures and I truly believe that some can only be preserved with the knowledge and understanding that one can only gain by seeing them first hand and experiencing their place and beauty. If properly done, the total benefits of a visit can often outweigh the negatives. Heisenberg never said don’t measure, he just noticed that there are consequences to it. Consequences that need to be accounted for in every experiment and kept to a minimum.