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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 In this previously unpublished study dating back more than a half a century, Heelan brings his background as both a physicist and a philosopher to his reflections on Werner Heisenberg’s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 Thirteen: The Gifford Lectures 1955–56 and the New Aristotelianism


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The Gifford Lectures 1955–56 and the New Aristotelianism

The Gifford Lectures1 of 1955–56 marked a turning point in Heisenberg’s philosophy back to the principle of E-observability as the ontological criterion and to a more rationalistic interpretation of complementarity. His conviction remained, however, that ‘reality,’ in the truest sense of actuality, was still conditioned by B-observability, but he found a reduced epistemological role for E-observability. This was a natural development for someone of Heisenberg’s temperament, for he had never repudiated the belief that scientific conceptual frameworks were revisable. The evidence of relativity was before his eyes. The fact that he was not able to support his original contention that quantum mechanics called for such a revolution did not shake his belief that such revolutions were possible and had in fact happened. ← 111 | 112 →

The fruit of his earlier long discussions with Bohr, helped possibly by the later influence of Martin Heidegger,2 led him to realize that the scientific community plays a role in defining what is taken to be ontologically real, and that this was done through language. Ontological reality—in the new Heideggerian sense—is the domain of what can be objectively (i.e., publicly or intersubjectively) observed and described. The objective meanings of the terms ‘reality’ and ‘ontology’ were then as much related to a linguistic community as, say, to scientific theory and observation. Ontological Reality—in Heidegger’s sense of Dasein—being the...

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