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 In this previously unpublished study dating back more than a half a century, Heelan brings his background as both a physicist and a philosopher to his reflections on Werner Heisenberg’s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


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Observation and Description in Quantum Mechanics

The principal function of Mind, Spirit or Consciousness is to experience, observe, describe, and situate the new quantum entities in the reality of the world we live in. These are deeper and more fundamental constituents of physical reality than the objects of classical physics that explain the visible and tangible physical objects of the world of everyday human experience. Quantum mechanics raised problems about this deeper level of physical constitution.

Heisenberg in his Chicago lectures of 1929 was the first of the founders of quantum mechanics to make a detailed presentation of the new physics to a group of American physicists. In those lectures he set out to teach American physicists how to think, imagine, understand, and explain the kind of microscopic entities that are objects of the new quantum mechanics. Though too small and exotic to be picked up as individual entities by the unaided human sensibility, quantum entities had to be in principle “observable” as entities distinct from one another and from other kinds of scientific entities, as well as distinct from the scientific ‘observer.’ To be identified and studied as objects of natural scientific research, quantum entities had to be available to scientific ‘observation’ and ‘description.’

Heisenberg took up this challenge at the beginning of his Chicago lectures. We will address the following four questions: (i) What does it mean for a scientific entity to be...

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