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Article: Heisenberg's observability principle

TitleHeisenberg's observability principle
Authors
Issue Date2014
PublisherElsevier. The Journal's web site is located at http://www.elsevier.com/locate/shpsb
Citation
Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part B: Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics, 2014, v. 45, p. 19-26 How to Cite?
AbstractWerner Heisenberg's 1925 paper ‘Quantum-theoretical re-interpretation of kinematic and mechanical relations’ marks the beginning of quantum mechanics. Heisenberg famously claims that the paper is based on the idea that the new quantum mechanics should be ‘founded exclusively upon relationships between quantities which in principle are observable’. My paper is an attempt to understand this observability principle, and to see whether its employment is philosophically defensible. Against interpretations of ‘observability’ along empiricist or positivist lines I argue that such readings are philosophically unsatisfying. Moreover, a careful comparison of Heisenberg's reinterpretation of classical kinematics with Einstein's argument against absolute simultaneity reveals that the positivist reading does not fit with Heisenberg's strategy in the paper. Instead the appeal to observability should be understood as a specific criticism of the causal inefficacy of orbital electron motion in Bohr's atomic model. I conclude that the tacit philosophical principle behind Heisenberg's argument is not a positivistic connection between observability and meaning, but the idea that a theory should not contain causally idle wheels.
Persistent Identifierhttp://hdl.handle.net/10722/198271
ISI Accession Number ID

 

DC FieldValueLanguage
dc.contributor.authorWolff, JEen_US
dc.date.accessioned2014-06-25T02:58:33Z-
dc.date.available2014-06-25T02:58:33Z-
dc.date.issued2014en_US
dc.identifier.citationStudies in History and Philosophy of Science Part B: Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics, 2014, v. 45, p. 19-26en_US
dc.identifier.urihttp://hdl.handle.net/10722/198271-
dc.description.abstractWerner Heisenberg's 1925 paper ‘Quantum-theoretical re-interpretation of kinematic and mechanical relations’ marks the beginning of quantum mechanics. Heisenberg famously claims that the paper is based on the idea that the new quantum mechanics should be ‘founded exclusively upon relationships between quantities which in principle are observable’. My paper is an attempt to understand this observability principle, and to see whether its employment is philosophically defensible. Against interpretations of ‘observability’ along empiricist or positivist lines I argue that such readings are philosophically unsatisfying. Moreover, a careful comparison of Heisenberg's reinterpretation of classical kinematics with Einstein's argument against absolute simultaneity reveals that the positivist reading does not fit with Heisenberg's strategy in the paper. Instead the appeal to observability should be understood as a specific criticism of the causal inefficacy of orbital electron motion in Bohr's atomic model. I conclude that the tacit philosophical principle behind Heisenberg's argument is not a positivistic connection between observability and meaning, but the idea that a theory should not contain causally idle wheels.en_US
dc.languageengen_US
dc.publisherElsevier. The Journal's web site is located at http://www.elsevier.com/locate/shpsben_US
dc.relation.ispartofStudies in History and Philosophy of Science Part B: Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physicsen_US
dc.rightsNOTICE: this is the author’s version of a work that was accepted for publication in Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part B: Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics. Changes resulting from the publishing process, such as peer review, editing, corrections, structural formatting, and other quality control mechanisms may not be reflected in this document. Changes may have been made to this work since it was submitted for publication. A definitive version was subsequently published in Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part B: Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics, 2014, v. 45, p. 19-26. DOI: 10.1016/j.shpsb.2013.11.006en_US
dc.rightsCreative Commons: Attribution 3.0 Hong Kong License-
dc.titleHeisenberg's observability principleen_US
dc.typeArticleen_US
dc.identifier.emailWolff, JE: jwolff@hku.hken_US
dc.identifier.authorityWolff, JE=rp01643en_US
dc.description.naturepostprint-
dc.identifier.doi10.1016/j.shpsb.2013.11.006en_US
dc.identifier.hkuros229332en_US
dc.identifier.volume45en_US
dc.identifier.spage19en_US
dc.identifier.epage26en_US
dc.identifier.isiWOS:000333496900003-

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