Idealization and Formalism in Bohr's Approach to Quantum Theory

Philosophy of Science 71 (5):683-695 (2004)
Bohr held that quantum mechanical symbols find meaning only in the context of an experimental setting. Making a measurement requires establishing a correspondence between a property of the quantum object and a property of the measuring system via the introduction of a classical quantity with which the measuring instrument, classically understood, interacts. However, this correspondence is only approximate and involves the use of certain idealizations, and it is the commutation rules that tell us the limitations to this process. In this context I examine the caution by Daumer, et. al. (1996) against taking too seriously the idea of operators as observables. I conclude that Bohr would neither ascribe to such ‘naive realism’ about operators nor dismiss the formalism as unimportant to the understanding of quantum phenomena, although he would agree with the caution that the properties we can attribute to a system depend on the context of the experiment.
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    Shahin Kaveh (forthcoming). The Incongruent Correspondence: Seven Non-Classical Years of Old Quantum Theory. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part B: Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics.
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