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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 In this previously unpublished study dating back more than a half a century, Heelan brings his background as both a physicist and a philosopher to his reflections on Werner Heisenberg’s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 Four: Wave Mechanics 1926: Reaction


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Wave Mechanics 1926: Reaction

The publication in 1926 of Schrödinger’s wave mechanics, a rival form of the quantum theory, was a challenge not merely to the matrix formalism of the new quantum theory but to the philosophy behind it.1 Schrödinger had constructed a theory based upon continuous field variables, like Maxwellian electromagnetic theory, in which the point particle electron was replaced by a wave group. In this, he was following out a line of thought first suggested by L. de Broglie. Schrödinger’s leading notion was the representation of the atomic system by a continuous wave function which satisfied a differential equation of motion that was later called the “Schrödinger’s equation” of the system. It was a wave (or field-) theory of matter. Heisenberg’s was in some sense a particle (or localized) theory of matter that by contrast stressed discontinuity and the isolated character of stationary states, and did so by constructing a matrix representation of the mechanical variables (or “observables”). The matrix formulation was better adapted to the treatment of stationary states, while Schrödinger’s wave formulation was better adapted to the treatment of non-stationary states of a system. Schrödinger wrote to show that an isomorphism existed between the formal mathematical aspects of the two theories.2← 39 | 40 →

From the start, Schrödinger’s theory was highly successful, moreover, it conveyed an intuitive picture of atomic phenomena that was easy to grasp, and...

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