Show Less
Restricted access

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 In this previously unpublished study dating back more than a half a century, Heelan brings his background as both a physicist and a philosopher to his reflections on Werner Heisenberg’s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.
Show Summary Details
Restricted access

Chapter Ten: “Observation”


| 83 →



However, in the Chicago lectures, there are several disconcerting ambiguities in Heisenberg’s use of terms related to “observation” (such as “observable,” “observability,” and so on). He attributes one sense to Bohr which I have called “B-observability,” and he uses a different sense when he is expressing his own views, which I have called “E-observability.” Bohr himself commented on the ambiguous meaning of the term “observable” in his Como lecture:

“[Heisenberg’s] Matrix theory has often been called a calculus with directly observable quantities. It must be remembered, however, that the procedure described is limited to just those problems, in which in applying the quantum postulate the space-time description may largely be disregarded and the question of observation in the proper sense therefore placed in the background.”1

The reason for this reserve is that an electron in a stationary atomic energy level cannot be observed in Bohr’s sense while remaining in that energy level. An object is “observed” in Bohr’s sense if and only if it is observed at a localized space-time position.2 But to localize an orbital electron would require a photon with energy at least as great as the binding energy of the electron, and sufficient therefore to ← 83 | 84 → detach the electron from the atom. An orbital electron could thus be observed as part of an atom, but not more than once, since the fact of observation would result in the disintegration...

You are not authenticated to view the full text of this chapter or article.

This site requires a subscription or purchase to access the full text of books or journals.

Do you have any questions? Contact us.

Or login to access all content.