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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 In this previously unpublished study dating back more than a half a century, Heelan brings his background as both a physicist and a philosopher to his reflections on Werner Heisenberg’s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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Foreword by Michel Bitbol


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This is not an ordinary book on the philosophy of quantum physics. Patrick Heelan started working with Werner Heisenberg in the early 1960’s while he was associated with the Edmund Husserl Archives at the University of Leuven in Belgium, and his research about the meaning of quantum mechanics bears a strong mark of this immersion in the heartland of phenomenology, hermeneutics and transcendental epistemology. Being a member of the Edmund Husserl Archives at the Ecole Normale Supérieure, in Paris, France, I can appreciate with a flavor of complicity the depth and extent of this philosophical influence.

About the latter, it must be said that, irrespective of one’s position in the long-term debate between analytic and “continental” philosophies, and independently of any judgment about which one of these two philosophical strategies is best suited for clarifying the meaning of modern physical theories, the “continental” approach has the advantage of being akin to the one pursued by the creators of quantum mechanics themselves. Even when they disagreed, the physicists who first elaborated the formalism and tentative interpretations of this theory were debating with common philosophical references, and with the shared cultural background of a post-Kantian and neo-Kantian German tradition. Thus, although he criticized the original Kantian orthodoxy, Einstein was quite impressed by the neo-Kantian ← VII | VIII → reading of relativity theories offered by Ernst Cassirer;1 Bohr was exposed to Kierkegaard’s existential philosophy and...

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