Is information technology outpacing the brain's ability to process it?Tweet
The death of Osama bin Laden, while a geostrategic event of real importance, is also a prime example of how three principles from quantum physics might explain the reality and the potential of such occurrences in the context of international affairs.
The first principle would suggest this incident--or, more precisely, the news of this incident--is comprised of little more than energy and information, the same two fundamental building blocks that form the universe. The second principle describes how mere observation of an event will influence how it ultimately manifests. The third principle introduces nonlocality, how an event occurring in one physical space has the potential to profoundly alter events unfolding elsewhere. The combination of these principles offers a framework for eliciting more meaningful insights into the event's real import.
As to the first principle, information includes the surface level details: bin Laden was killed during a unilateral raid by U.S. Special Forces at a residence located within Pakistan. Of greater importance are the deeper details: bin Laden was the leader of al Qaeda, the perpetrator of the Sept. 11 attacks, and the figurehead for a movement to restore the Caliphate in the Middle East. It is the emotional energy attached to this that animates it--from the euphoric celebrations in front of the White House to the angry reactions within Pakistan. This combination of energy and information proved sufficient to temporarily move the major stock exchanges, spur anti-terrorist programs into high gear and cue debate within American political circles as to who should rightfully take credit for the killing.
The second principle reminds us that human observation changes the nature of the event. In most of the Western world bin Laden's death was heralded as a major success in the war on terror and evidence to support the intelligence-drives-kinetic-energy approach to counterterrorism. This perspective may also reframe the event as a culminating point of victory in the battle against Islamic extremism (the "cut off the head of the snake" philosophy).
In the Middle East, Horn of Africa and parts of Southeast Asia, human observation characterized it in a far different light. The killing of bin Laden, this perspective argued, provides additional evidence of America's systematic disregard for the sovereign rights of nations with Muslim majorities and his death--at the hands of the crusaders--has turned a man surrounded by myth into a truly mythical icon for the ages.
Finally, there is the nonlocal element. A century ago the death of bin Laden would have been, at best, a regional story; with modern technology, a Jakarta housewife has access to--and is affected by--information rivaling that available to analysts at the National Counterterrorism Center. The rate and volume of information flow surrounding an event of this nature has the potential to inform national policy and alter vacation plans in equal measure. The concern here is that technology continues to evolve far more quickly than the brain's ability to make sense of the flood of data. Hence, an Indonesian housewife's rationale for changing her family's plans for a holiday is as valid as that used to alter a nation's approach to counterterrorism.
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