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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 In this previously unpublished study dating back more than a half a century, Heelan brings his background as both a physicist and a philosopher to his reflections on Werner Heisenberg’s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 Six: The Uncertainty Relations: Paradigm or Ontology of Nature?


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The Uncertainty Relations: Paradigm or Ontology of Nature?

Is it possible to infer which of the elements of Heisenberg’s interpretation he held to belong to the basic descriptive ontology of quantum mechanics and which formed merely a part of a proposed paradigm? According to his own account,1 it was not until some months after the paper on the Uncertainty Relations was written, that he abandoned the belief that the old classical descriptive concepts were inadequate for quantum physics. I surmise then, that in that 1927 paper classical visualizable pictures of quantum phenomena were intended to belong merely to the paradigm and not to the underlying ontology. I conclude then that the underlying descriptive ontology was still controlled by the abstract principle of E (instein)-observability, Heisenberg started out with.

The most important interpretative contribution of this paper is its attempt to explain what is to be understood by the new non-classical quantum mechanical kinematical variables of place, velocity, trajectory, etc. As in the relativistic paradigm, there is a syntactic aspect (of the mathematical model) which escapes sensible intuition and a semantical aspect which reinterprets the variables as constituting an appropriate set of observables. This involves condition Hv of the relativistic model, so far unexploited by Heisenberg. He included reference to an observer (interpreted here as including the measuring instrument) as part of the ← 47 | 48 → re-interpreted definition of the variable, and in so far, an epistemological...

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