The point of departure for this article is Werner Heisenberg’s remark, made in 1929: “It is not surprising that our language [or conceptuality] should be incapable of describing processes occurring within atoms, for … it was invented to describe the experiences of daily life, and these consist only of processes involving exceedingly large numbers of atoms. … Fortunately, mathematics is not subject to this limitation, and it has been possible to invent a mathematical scheme—the quantum theory [quantum mechanics]—which seems entirely (...) adequate for the treatment of atomic processes.” The cost of this discovery, at least in Heisenberg’s and related interpretations of quantum mechanics (such as that of Niels Bohr), is that, in contrast to classical mechanics, the mathematical scheme in question no longer offers a description, even an idealized one, of quantum objects and processes. This scheme only enables predictions, in general, probabilistic in character, of the outcomes of quantum experiments. As a result, a new type of the relationships between mathematics and physics is established, which, in the language of Eugene Wigner adopted in my title, indeed makes the effectiveness of mathematics unreasonable in quantum but, as I shall explain, not in classical physics. The article discusses these new relationships between mathematics and physics in quantum theory and their implications for theoretical physics—past, present, and future. (shrink)
Following Asher Peres’s observation that, as in classical physics, in quantum theory, too, a given physical object considered “has a precise position and a precise momentum,” this article examines the question of the definition of quantum variables, and then the new type (as against classical physics) of relationships between mathematics and physics in quantum theory. The article argues that the possibility of the precise definition and determination of quantum variables depends on the particular nature of these relationships.
Reading Bohr: Physics and Philosophy offers a new perspective on Niels Bohr's interpretation of quantum mechanics as complementarity, and on the relationships between physics and philosophy in Bohr's work, which has had momentous significance for our understanding of quantum theory and of the nature of knowledge in general. Philosophically, the book reassesses Bohr's place in the Western philosophical tradition, from Kant and Hegel on. Physically, it reconsiders the main issues at stake in the Bohr-Einstein confrontation and in the ongoing debates (...) concerning quantum physics. It also devotes greater attention than in most commentaries on Bohr to the key developments and transformations of his thinking concerning complementarity. Most significant among them were those that occurred, first, under the impact of Bohr's exchanges with Einstein and, second, under the impact of developments in quantum theory itself, both quantum mechanics and quantum field theory. The importance of quantum field theory for Bohr's thinking has not been adequately addressed in the literature on Bohr, to the considerable detriment to our understanding of the history of quantum physics. Filling this lacuna is one of the main contributions of the book, which also enables us to show why quantum field theory compels us to move beyond Bohr without, however, simply leaving him behind. (shrink)
Following Niels Bohr's interpretation of quantum mechanics as complementarity, this article argues that quantum mechanics may be seen as a theory of, in N. David Mermin's words, “correlations without correlata,” understood here as the correlations between certain physical events in the classical macro world that at the same time disallow us to ascertain their quantum-level correlata.