Wikipedia Uncertainty Principle

September 4th, 2008

Reading this reddit thread today, I found this idea regarding Wikipedia to be most profound.


Thus, the Wikipedia Uncertainty Principle.

One cannot call attention to a wikipedia article without causing that article to be altered.


At any given time a wikipedia article both contains and does not contain any one given fact. Observing it will cause only one of the cases to be true. Calling attention to it will cause the other case to become true for a short time until it resettles on the first.

Obviously, this is a play on the original Uncertainty Principle of quantum physics. This suggests, in simple terms, that the observation of a subatomic particle changes the ability to measure it accurately.

Wikipedia is free-content encyclopedia that anybody (to a limit) can edit. It is one of the most frequently used references on the internet and is generally considered to be a trustworthy source. However, due to it’s open edit policy, controversial topics may contain debatable and frequently changing information. Thus, the wikipedia uncertainty principle comes into play.

When a discussion about a precise piece of information within wikipedia occurs, occasionally somebody will actually be editing that information in wikipedia during the discussion. In fact, the discussion actually increases the chances that people will add, remove, or modify that information. Depending on the edits, the debatable information may or may not be there at any one time.

The bigger the discussion, the more edits that will occur… and the more “uncertain” is that data within wikipedia.