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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 In this previously unpublished study dating back more than a half a century, Heelan brings his background as both a physicist and a philosopher to his reflections on Werner Heisenberg’s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 Three: Quantum Mechanics 1925: Revolution


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Quantum Mechanics 1925: Revolution

The master insight that Heisenberg obtained in May-June 1925 and that gave him the key to the new atomic physics came out of his meditations on the scientific revolution that Einstein effected by the introduction of “relativistic” space-time.1 Puzzled by the fact that the orbital frequencies of the electron in an atom were unconnected with the frequencies of the electromagnetic radiation absorbed or emitted by the atom, Heisenberg argued that if the orbital paths and supposed frequencies had no experimental consequences, then, like the “classical” space-time that preceded “relativistic” space-time, the descriptive framework of which they were a part lacked the kind of warrant necessary to qualify as a correct description of the real quantum object. He believed that experiments in atomic physics showed that the orbital trajectories and orbital frequencies had no measurable consequences.2 ← 29 | 30 →

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