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The Observable

Heisenberg’s Philosophy of Quantum Mechanics


Patrick Aidan Heelan

Edited By Babette Babich

Patrick Aidan Heelan’s The Observable offers the reader a completely articulated development of his 1965 philosophy of quantum physics, Quantum Mechanics and Objectivity. In this previously unpublished study dating back more than a half a century, Heelan brings his background as both a physicist and a philosopher to his reflections on Werner Heisenberg’s physical philosophy. Including considerably broader connections to the contributions of Niels Bohr, Wolfgang Pauli, and Albert Einstein, this study also reflects Heelan’s experience in Eugene Wigner’s laboratory at Princeton along with his reflections on working with Erwin Schrödinger dating from Heelan’s years at the Institute for Advanced Cosmology in Dublin.
A contribution to continental philosophy of science, the phenomenological and hermeneutic resources applied in this book to the physical and ontological paradoxes of quantum physics, especially in connection with laboratory science and measurement, theory and model making, will enrich students of the history of science as well as those interested in different approaches to the historiography of science. University courses in the philosophy of physics will find this book indispensable as a resource and invaluable for courses in the history of science.
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Author’s Foreword


My intention in this book is to probe a bit more deeply into the philosophical dilemmas posed by quantum mechanics, by tracing the path Werner Heisenberg took to make sense of what he and his contemporaries in 1927 saw as the paradoxical consequence of the Uncertainty Principle of Quantum Mechanics: it seems to require that micro-entities such as electrons, when measured, are ‘observable’ even though they have no precise position or kinematic trajectory in the classical space and time of mathematical intuition.1

But why write about Heisenberg’s philosophy of science in the first place?

I initially became interested in Heisenberg because he had a philosophical concern about the role of human consciousness in the new physics of quantum and relativity. I wrote a book. Quantum Mechanics and Objectivity, and several essays on this theme. And in my personal exchanges with Heisenberg over the years, I found a man well read in the history of philosophy and interested in probing into the philosophy of science. Moreover, his focus on the role of human consciousness in quantum mechanics was clear, explicit, and well announced in the titles of two famous papers written by him, which were foundational for quantum mechanics, ← XXXI | XXXII → a paper published in 1925,2 in which he introduced quantum mechanics itself, and a second paper, published in 1927,3 in which he deduced the Uncertainty Principles. The theme of the first paper, taken from its title, was the “quantum- theoretical...

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