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 In this previously unpublished study dating back more than a half a century, Heelan brings his background as both a physicist and a philosopher to his reflections on Werner Heisenberg’s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


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Observation, Description, and Ontology: Summary

I have studied a set of philosophical problems central to the understanding of the historical development of quantum mechanics, centered on the reflections of Werner Heisenberg. Why Heisenberg? Because, from an early age, he was well-read both in philosophy and in mathematics, and did in fact express in words his thoughtful reflections on quantum mechanics as they moved through the early critical stages of philosophical critiques by his more senior colleagues. Among these were Einstein, Schrödinger, Bohr, Pauli, Born, Wigner, von Neumann, Rosenfeld, Wheeler—to mention just a few. Since textbook accounts of quantum mechanics generally suppose either the irrelevance of philosophical issues to natural science or mention them only to obscure and often only to trivialize them, I have focused my study on the work of one star young physicist, Werner Heisenberg [1901–†1976]. He is both the architect of quantum mechanics and a colleague of prominent European philosophers, such as M. Heidegger and C. F. von Weizsäcker.1 Heisenberg is the author ← 139 | 140 → of many probing philosophically sophisticated essays about quantum mechanics that should be read with the mind of one who is both a creative scientist but also one who tells us about ourselves and the world we live in.

I also had the privilege of working closely with him while doing research on the philosophy of science while I was associated with the Edmund Husserl Archives...

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