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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 In this previously unpublished study dating back more than a half a century, Heelan brings his background as both a physicist and a philosopher to his reflections on Werner Heisenberg’s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 Twelve: Thea Priori Role of Classical Physics


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The a Priori Role of Classical Physics

The effect of all these limitations of viewpoint can be seen in that central thesis of the Copenhagen Interpretation: classical physical concepts play the role of a privileged a priori in quantum physics.

Heisenberg held that it was a necessary condition for objective science, that experimental arrangements and their results should both be describable in everyday language or in LN. But what did he mean by “experimental results”? Bohr, it seems, meant the empirical instrumental readings—the measure-numbers—responsible for the “sensory objects” which are the cognitive terms of a quantum mechanical observation.1

We have already seen that, in the case of Heisenberg, the logic of the principle of implicit definition would oblige him to say that when classical concepts are used for the description of the results of a quantum mechanical experiment, they can do no more than describe the instrumental reading, since the quantum mechanical object is not a classical object. In a quantum mechanical observation, the instrumental reading is the ‘phenomenon’ (in a Kantian sense) relative to the ‘noumenal’ ← 107 | 108 → quantum mechanical object. This interpretation seems to be borne out by his later explicit treatment where the echoes of Bohr are clearly heard.

In a lecture he delivered at the University of Vienna in 1938, Heisenberg said:

“The concepts of classical physics will remain the basis of any exact and...

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