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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 In this previously unpublished study dating back more than a half a century, Heelan brings his background as both a physicist and a philosopher to his reflections on Werner Heisenberg’s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 Nine: The Chicago Lectures 1929: Complementarity Adopted


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The Chicago Lectures 1929: Complementarity Adopted

In 1929 Heisenberg delivered a series of lectures in Chicago.1 In the Preface to their publication, he wrote that his aim was to make known the Kopenhagener Geist der Quantentheorie, central to which was “the complete equivalence of the corpuscular and wave concepts.” In the lectures he refers to Bohr’s conclusive studies of 1927. Heisenberg set out to show that every quantum theoretic problem could be worked either with particle concepts in the “particle picture” or with wave concepts in the “wave picture.”2 Such “pictures,” he wrote, belong to the “imaginable” or “visualizable” but represent, however, microscopic objects that are too small to be imagined or visualized by a human sensibility tuned by evolution to macroscopic bodies. Heisenberg says these imaginary “pictures” of the microscopic are “analogues” of what microscopic bodies are. I take him to mean, that these microscopic bodies are represented in LN (or LR), the space-time of macroscopic bodies, but ← 69 | 70 → are too small for humans to imagine or experience.3 Of the wave and particle “pictures,” Heisenberg continues:

“It is a trite saying, that ‘analogies cannot be pushed too far,’ yet they may be justifiably used to describe things for which our language has no words … for [our language] was invented to describe the experience of daily life … words can only describe things of which we can form mental pictures and the ability to do...

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