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Vlog the Inhaler, or The Occasional Video Blog Musings of Jim Thornton

Heisenberg and the Hand-Timed 25 Freestyle

Rating: 11 votes, 5.00 average.
In [ame=""]quantum mechanics[/ame], the [ame=""]Heisenberg[/ame] uncertainty principle states that certain pairs of physical properties, like position and momentum, cannot both be known to arbitrary precision. That is, the more precisely one property is known, the less precisely the other can be known. When applied to swimming the 25 yard freestyle, especially when such is performed at very high speed, the Heisenberg uncertainty principle suggests that the eyes of observers can be very deceiving indeed. One swimmer may appear to "beat" the other swimmer, sometimes by a full body length. However, because of photon bending quantum effects at very high speeds, appearances are wrong. In such cases, it is critical to go with the respective precison hand chronometers held by qualified teenaged timers.

--top rated Internet encyclopedia written by knowledgeable volunteer experts

In the following film, you will note that I, your narrator, Jim Thornton, am swimming in the end lane. My teammate Mark Cox, known in his youth (which was not very long ago) as a "swimming god", is swimming in one of the other lanes far to my left.

Mark appears to have beaten me by a full body length, at least according to some observers who were evidently duped by a failure to grasp quantum effects at the speed at which I was swimming. Speed at which photons themselves begin to bend and warp and woof and otherwise confuse the eyes like a game of three card Monty dealt by a Cal Tech post-doc.

Take a look for yourselves at this classic "optical illusion":

[ame=""]YouTube - Jimby & Mark C @ 25 Free SCM[/ame]

According to the crack team of high school aged swimmers who had nothing better to do on a Sunday afternoon than hand time us, Mark swam a 12.00 for his 25. I, on the other hand, swam a 11.12.

When converted from short course meters to yards, our times were as follows:

Mark--highly respectable:


Your time of 0:12.00 in short course meters

converts to 0:10.75 in short course yards

Jim--well, I daresay the word great would be an understatement:


Your time of 0:11.12 in short course meters

converts to 0:09.96 in short course yards

In the 55-59 year old age group of the AMYMSA league, I daresay that my
9.96 25 yard freestyle is a record that will never be beat. Ever.

Alas, not everyone is celebrating with me the way I had hoped.

Our swimming coach, the great Bill White, who really should know better, given his study of chemical engineering at the University of Louisville,
did some sort of timing of the YouTube video itself and came up with these two times, which he proceeded to immortalize in a screen capture modes.

Me touching the wall, Bill claiming my time is 13.0

Mark "Swimming God" Cox, top of screen, appearing to beat me by a full body length when quantum Heisenberg effects too difficult for lumpkins to understand are ignored

When Bill emailed us his "evidence" (wait a moment for my choking chortles to die down!), he also wrote:

I went through the 25m video and found out the following using an online

1. Mark's time was pretty much right on. I timed it twice and got 11.9 and

2. Jim's time [his 11.12] was slightly fast. I timed it three times and never got less
than 13 seconds.

I quickly wrote both lads back, trying to explain as best I could in "Quantum Mechanics for Dummies" and "All I Learned about Heisenberg Uncertainty Principles I Learned in Kindergarten" style language, but without wanting to sound patronizing:

I know it is hard for you guys to believe, itís a tiny bit hard for me to believe, too. But I am very confident in my 9.96 25 yard freestyle time, converted from meters, which I think we can all at least agree is so fast as to very probably bend the time-space continuum in mind-altering ways.Yes, it does look like Mark beat me.Yes, it does appear that Billís online stopwatch has unearthed some sort of discrepancy.But once again, the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle is a powerful force that must be reckoned with, and not in a cavalier, dismissive manner.I have thusly reckoned with it.And after reviewing the play...The ruling on the Field stands. New all-time record: Jim Thornton!!!


Bill, to his credit, quickly conceded:

Here! Here! Jim our majestic time-bending hero! We have much yet to learn from the master so don't count out our Jimby out yet Mark. I do have some questions because I was of the impression that the Jim-particle could not be measured (or in this case) timed) without destroying the sample yet he is still here among us.

And Mark has made sounds along these lines, too, though he seems somewhat less sincere, one almost detects a snifter of "humoring me" here.

Jim congratulations on your record. I don't think anyone thought it would be possible to beat Brad Sluss' 25 fr record of 10.05 set at Erie in 10/08. He is my arch nemesis in the 40-44 age group. He goes to every meet and seems to score a lot of points. If I lose high point this season it will be due to him, so I'm glad to see you took him down a peg. I think

his head was in danger of getting too big anyway.

Are we certain that Mark is really talking about Brad Sluss's oversized head (it is, I will concede, irradiated squash-like in its enormity, but still, methinks he had another swollen gourd in mind with his "congratulations" here.)

I am hoping that somewhere in USMS land there is a person with as much knowledge of physics as me, but who is perhaps not burdened by quite so much genius as it is my sad fate to cart around with me, genius that can make it hard to relate to those of more ordinary, wholesome, enviable, pedestrian intellects.

Could you please help explain to my teammates why they should always trust me and my formulae, and not their own eyes and "beliefs", when it comes to the designation of victory status in our little for-fun competitions?

I would appreciate it.

Final unrelated note:

Soon, the complete unexpurgated two hours of video of me in the Wilderness will begin being serialized in 2-5 minute installments.

With luck, we shall all be freed of it by the first warming lights of springtime!

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Updated October 8th, 2009 at 11:52 PM by jim thornton



  1. Chicken of the Sea's Avatar
    Bugger the Heisenberg uncertainty principle. You obviously invoked the AndySeibt paradox to win that race.
    Can't wait for the wilderness adventure.
    Here's some inspiration for your theme song:[ame=""]YouTube - "Ask the Leyland Brothers" Theme Song[/ame]
  2. jim thornton's Avatar
    Thanks, Amanda. I shall ask me some damsels to wear my wet t-shirts to advertise my hypothermic adventures.


    That is your advice, correct? Maybe I could see if some swimmer chicks would male me footage. Dag nab it! I mean mail.
  3. billwhite's Avatar
    That video cracks me up every time I see it! Does the Heisenberg principle also apply to your apparently non-existent timer?
  4. Chicken of the Sea's Avatar
    Just make sure those swimmer chicks are cold water swimmers. I think I saw your anorexic friend flash up in between wet tshirt shots?
  5. jim thornton's Avatar
    Which anorexic friend would that be? Are you calling my, er, unit skinny and emaciated to the point of gaunt starvation and pathos?

    You are, aren't you?

    I should have learned about you Aussies from Flight of the Conchords. Not to be trusted. Not to be trusted at all.

    Brit was right. Germaine should have never tried a Kiwi-Aussie romance.
  6. Chicken of the Sea's Avatar
    I might think it but I would never say such a thing about your unit!
    Accuse me again and I'll duct tape you to the back of a door
  7. Water Rat's Avatar
    Jim, upon reviewing the video for the umpteenth time, I must also concede that the viewing angle is all wrong and that in fact, had it been shot from a more appropriate vantage point, we would have clearly seen you touch at the 11.12 mark. i blame this entire snafu on Mermaid who really needs some videography lessons.
  8. qbrain's Avatar

    Lets not talk about the time bending affect of quantum physics, but the body bend in your finish. WTF was that? You could have got 4 seconds faster if you had lunged for the wall with your FINGERS instead of trying to touch the wall with your TOES over your SHOULDERS. Really Jim, that is a feat I do not wish to see a male perform, but that Jimkham yoga you learned while hallucinating in the wilds of Idaho has done wonders for your flexibility.

    Witness the spineless backbend only possible by a Jimkham yogi master
  9. jim thornton's Avatar
    Amanda, I won't lie to you.

    Your suspicions about my anorectic unit are more than correct. Even with Viagra and the Swedish enlargement vacuum pump, we are talking a scarecrow at best with the hay removed.

    I have kept this secret so long.

    It finally is great to come out of the closet!

    It is amazing I have been able to procreate at all. Which, of course, only raises another round of even more troubling questions...
  10. jim thornton's Avatar
    Bill, you are correct. The reason my timer appears to be absent is that time slows down and, in fact, can actually go backwards when someone swims as fast as I did in the Warren YMCA rheumatism broth pool.

    My timer was 13 years old when the gun sounded, but in the 9.95 seconds it took me to swim the converted 25 yards, time reversed itself to the point where my timer had not yet been born.

    By the time I finished the race and my timer was born and back at the pool deck to time me and he finally clicked the watch to designate my finish, it appears that even more time had elapsed then the 9.95 seconds I "officially" got.

    In other words, I probably swam the race a LOT faster than the "official" time indicates.

    Thanks for pointing out this further befuddling anomaly. You are very, very bright.
  11. jim thornton's Avatar
    Mark, I will work on Mermaid's videography skills, perhaps in some private and secluded spot where I can teach her to really SEE the human form in all its splendors. You are correct, I am pretty sure. She needs to learn to bend and twist and contort and otherwise execute a fuller range of acrobatic maneuvers to stay up with someone as fast and furious as myself.
  12. jim thornton's Avatar
    Finally, Mr. Q. I can only say that it appears I am in the process of turning back into the seal form of a selkie upon touching the wall.

    Excellent observation: my body is as twisted as a fine Persian scimitar!

    If I had touched with my fingers; if the timer had not regressed to infancy and required regrowth to stop the watch; if, if, if--

    well, I daresay this tape reveals the fastest any human being has ever gone in the aquatic environment.

    and it's obvious I can go much, much faster!
  13. bsherm81's Avatar
    While I can't be sure do to the latest restrictions on programming (...uncertainty), I think you are barking (like a selkie) up the wrong principal of physics. the proof of your record mark may well lie in Einstein's theory of relativity: time was bent due to the different bodies in between you, the camera, the apparent leader on the far side of the pool, and the timer.
  14. jim thornton's Avatar

    Are you telling me to get bent?

    I think you are.

    It's probably pretty good advice.
  15. rodent's Avatar
    Jim, 11.12 in SCM is a great time! I would like to hire the guy who timed you, to be my personal and official USMS timer for all championship events and to be my 1HR Swim lap counter!
    Whatever he charges, it is well worth the money.
  16. jim thornton's Avatar
    The great thing, Jack, is I didn't have to pay him anything! A timer that good does it for the pure love of the timing arts!
  17. billwhite's Avatar
    So true Jim, they do do it for the love of timing! They also love it so much that they do it so, oh so well.
  18. jim thornton's Avatar
    You'll find no argument on that from me, Billy boy! No argument at'all!