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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 In this previously unpublished study dating back more than a half a century, Heelan brings his background as both a physicist and a philosopher to his reflections on Werner Heisenberg’s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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Chapter One: Observation, Description and Ontology: Strategy


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Observation, Description and Ontology: Strategy

My intention in this book is to study the philosophical aspects of the transition from classical physics to quantum physics—especially those that fall within the domain of ontology. Ontology is concerned with ‘reality’ claims, that is, with the ‘Nature’ that is ‘represented’ by the emergence of quantum mechanics. By ‘reality’ I mean “the world we live in”; by ‘Nature’ I mean “the pre-conditions of human life and society” and by ‘representation’ I mean the mental and other tools— particularly, the means or media of discourse—that we humans have developed to give us access to and control of Nature.

Since scientists of quite different basic philosophical commitments are able to collaborate in research, to communicate with one another and with a more general public on a wide range of scientific questions, it seems that much scientific discourse in fact is carried out on a plane that supposes or alleges to maintain the irrelevance of epistemological or ontological positions to scientific questions. Yet this would deny the relevance of the large body of writings by the founders of quantum mechanics concerned with such questions. The subject matter for this study, then, is less in the public domain of textbook exposition intended for students, than in the papers, letters, and conversations of single authors, especially of those authors who have shared their views on the nature of quantum mechanics in publicly accessible media....

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