Janet Eniraiyetan, a University of Leeds Laidlaw Scholar, on exploring the nature of reality at the intersection of physics & philosophy and saying yes to chances to learn.
Research title:The metaphysical implications of the double-slit experiment
This research looks at how the double-slit experiment affects our understanding of reality and time. In Quantum Mechanics the double-slit experiment demonstrates the phenomenon of indeterminacy which is the focus of this research. In this experiment, when a single particle of light, a photon, is sent through two very small holes, the light from each hole interferes with each-other to generate a fringe interference pattern over time. For this pattern to be created from a photon, the photon must have passed through both holes simultaneously to allow for interference. However, this contradicts some assumptions we have made about the universe, namely, (i) an object cannot be in two places at once and (ii) that realty is determinate. If we attempt to measure the position of the photon as it passes through the two slits, we find the photon in either slit 1 or slit 2. Further, once this measurement is conducted, the interference pattern breaks down and only a single point of light is detected. Thereby allowing physicists to conclude that the position of the photon before measurement is indeterminate. In physics, this demonstration of indeterminacy is supported by what is known as the Measurement Problem - the notion that there are different dynamics governing the world before and after measurement.
Through qualitative research, I looked at the work of past philosophers and their attempts to understand how this indeterminate understanding materialize in the classical world we live in. Focusing on philosophical theories such as Fragmentalism and Quantum Metaphysical Indeterminacy, I found that on their own, our current physical theories provide an inadequate understanding of the nature of reality. However, Quantum Mechanics illustrates that the notion of real, metaphysical indeterminacy, one which has no semantic or epistemic limitations play a genuine explanatory role in our understanding of reality.
Where did your passion for this research originate?
My passion for my research originates both from my love of knowledge and my displeasure in being confused or not understanding something. And for as long as I can remember, nothing was more confusing to me than the world we live in. This is one of the reasons why I decided to study Philosophy and Physics at university – I wanted to understand as much as I could about the world, scientifically and philosophically. Early on in my degree, I realised that although the two subjects were seen as completely different fields, they are two sides of the same coin. Both subjects aim to answer the same questions about the world, simply in different ways. This realisation was revolutionary to me, and I was passionate about learning and exploring more about the intersection of the two fields, specifically, the area of the philosophy of physics.
I was keen to research the area of uncertainty in physics as it was an area that had puzzled me ever since I learnt about it in secondary school, because it implied that there was a difference between the world we experienced and the ‘real world’. And that idea was one that I could not stop thinking about. I later found that this idea is common in philosophy and is known as the external world scepticism argument in epistemology. From there, I think I had no choice in the matter, I had to learn everything I could about the topic.
Real-life leadership lessons
I recently started a role as a Data Analyst at a Marketing effectiveness consultancy. This is a role that I had no previous experience in, and I was required to learn completely new concepts. This was my first experience leading myself outside of university and the Laidlaw programme. During the first 6 weeks in this new role, we were put through an intense training academy where I was required to be flexible and adapt to a different way of working to accommodate learning about a very different field in a short time
From my experience as a Laidlaw Scholar, I was able to remain confident even when I felt like an imposter at times and was unsure whether I made the right decision. I drew on the leadership workshops I took part in during the programme and sought out opportunities to engage with my new colleagues and learn from them. I asked questions when I was confused without feeling embarrassed, I sought out feedback where I could and worked on using them.
Personally, the insights and lessons I learnt from this experience relate to who I am as a leader right now, and what type of leader I want to work towards becoming. I was able to utilise and reflect on the lessons I learnt as a Laidlaw Scholar, and that is something that I aim to apply to when I am in a position where I can have an impact on others.
One lesson I acquired from my experience is that a leader should always be open to learning from those around them, most importantly, their peers. For example, I was able to learn effectively from colleagues in my new role by reflecting on how much I gained from the amazing conversations I held and the interesting perspectives I saw in my cohort and the wider Laidlaw community.
Top leadership tips
⚡️You can lead without a position - you do not have to be at a certain position or status to be a leader. Starting with yourself and reflecting on your own leadership behaviour is just as important as leading from a position of power as you do not know who you could be inspiring
⚡️ Say yes - as a leader, you should always be open and willing to learn new things or learn more about something you already know about. Saying yes to new opportunities allows you to invest in yourself and ultimately in those you lead.
⚡️ Take care of yourself - you need to show up for yourself in order to show up for others, especially as a leader
⚡️ A tiny step forward is always better than no steps at all.
What does it mean for you to be a Laidlaw Scholar?
Being a Laidlaw Scholar was a privilege. It was an opportunity to be in an environment where you are guided and encouraged to develop at your own pace and in your own way.
And as I move forward in my career, being a Laidlaw Scholar means providing that guidance and encouragement to those around me. Furthermore, it means to never stop learning, to say yes to chances for growth and to always contribute to my community and help pave the way for young future leaders.
Which leaders inspire you and why?
One leader who continues to inspire to this day is Katherine Johnson, a mathematician whose story was depicted in the film “Hidden Figures”. I am inspired by Katherine Johnson because like many other leaders, she did not set out to be one. She simply followed her passion for learning and by doing so, she paved the way for many future black female physicists and mathematicians.
I admire Katherine Johnson because she did not allow herself to be limited by societal standards, nor did she allow others’ opinions to deter her away from her love for learning. Her dedication to stand her ground in uncomfortable rooms to further her education is something that I will always be inspired by. It must not have been easy to be the only black woman in the room countless of times and in the field of philosophy, physics, and many other spaces, that is still the case today. Yet, the memory of Katherine Johnson inspires me to continue learning passionately and to take up those spaces in the rooms even if I may be uncomfortable.
Briefly describe a scene from the future you are striving to create.
I strive to create a future where I can make an impact to those I meet and help them achieve their goal if I am able to do so; provide them with resources if I am not or be a shoulder to lean on if needed. I aim to begin working towards this future by becoming a mentor to the younger generation and encouraging them to embrace change, be enthusiastic about what they are passionate about, and to never be discouraged to ask for help.
Janet is a Laidlaw Undergraduate Leadership and Research Scholar at the University of Leeds. Become a Laidlaw Scholar to conduct a research project of your choice, develop your leadership skills, and join a global community of changemakers from world-leading universities.
You can consent to the use of such technologies by closing this notice.
Customise your preferences for any tracking technology
The following allows you to customize your consent preferences for any tracking technology used
to help us achieve the features and activities described below. To learn more about how these trackers help us
These trackers help us to provide a personalized user experience by improving the quality of your preference management options, and by enabling the interaction with external networks and platforms.
If you are a registered user on Laidlaw Scholars Network, please sign in.
Sign in to Laidlaw Scholars Network
As Lord Laidlaw, our Chairman, and Susanna Kempe, our CEO, met with scholars and alumni from around the world, many requested a way to meet ambitious peers, participate in leadership-in-action initiatives and collaborate on research projects for a better present. We welcome you to the Laidlaw Scholars Network, a social utility tool that allows you to do just this! Be the new generation of passionate, adaptive, ethical leaders.