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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 In this previously unpublished study dating back more than a half a century, Heelan brings his background as both a physicist and a philosopher to his reflections on Werner Heisenberg’s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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Preface (1970)


This work is a philosophical study of the first generation of quantum physicists. From the moment of its appearance in 1925, quantum mechanics (QM) profoundly disturbed the traditional consensus of classical physicists about what Nature is—and how different it appeared to be both in the macrocontext of General Relativity and in the microcontext of quantum mechanics. The classical consensus was that Nature was composed of a network of distinct localized elementary particles joined by determinate and mindless forces in a cosmic Newtonian Space and Time that was represented as flat and objective. Einstein’s General Relativity Theory rejected the Newtonian model of cosmic Space-Time and substituted one in which local energy densities created local curvatures which functionally replaced the Newtonian concept of “gravity.” Heisenberg’s QM showed that the elementary particles were “quantized,” that is, their matter and energy could only have definite discrete values at the most elementary level of observation and description. Schrödinger at the same time showed that matter, energy, and momentum were also governed by wave-motions which interfered with one another in Space-Time; these waves yielded on measurement only quantized matter, energy, and momentum, and in numbers only as governed by probabilities distributions.

I intend this work to be a work of critical reflection on the diversity of philosophical meanings that these terms, central to physics, had for physicists, such as Werner Heisenberg, Niels Bohr, Eugene Wigner, Paul Dirac, Wolfgang Pauli, ← 1 | 2 → Albert Einstein, and others. All of these...

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