88 of 88 people found the following review helpful
on April 6, 2004
Physics and Philosophy: The Revolution in Modern Science (1952) makes good reading, but it is likely to be more appreciated by readers already familiar with the philosophical underpinnings of quantum theory. The scholarly introduction by F. S. C. Northrop of Yale University cautions the reader that a meticulous reading is necessary to follow Werner Heisenberg's discussion of causality, determinism, and complementarity.
For the reader new to Heisenberg I suggest first reading a collection of essays published by Seabury Press in 1983 under the title Tradition in Science. In 1989 this collection, now titled Encounters with Einstein And Other Essays on People, Places, and Particles, was republished by Princeton University Press. A few discussions are a bit technical, but they do not involve mathematics. These essays were written between 1972-1975. Heisenberg died in 1976.
Another good choice is Philosophical Problems of Quantum Physics, a collection of Heisenberg's early lectures that span the turbulent period 1932-1948. Many of the key ideas discussed in his 1952 book Physics and Philosophy will be found in this earlier work.
Heisenberg believed that early Greek philosophy is closer to the ideas underlying modern physics than it was to the deterministic, objective reality defined by Newton. The story of the development of quantum theory is always fascinating, but even more so when told from the viewpoint of a major contributor to this great intellectual triumph. Bohr, Heisenberg, and other founders of the Copenhagen interpretation recognized quite early that quantum theory would have a the profound impact on man's understanding of reality.
All three of these works, Physics and Philosophy, Philosophical Problems of Quantum Physics, and Encounters with Einstein, should appeal to a wide audience. Heisenberg was deeply intrigued with the philosophical implications of quantum physics (and modern particle physics) and enjoyed sharing his enthusiasm and fascination with general audiences. I highly recommend all three works.
23 of 24 people found the following review helpful
on August 13, 2002
Qualitative, descriptive books on physics, I think, are often unsatisfying because nothing suffices like actually doing the math to appreciate the full impact and enjoyement of what physics has to offer. Yet this hasn't prevented the likes of Einstein, Hawking, Feynman, et al, from attempting to do so. Perhaps for the professional physicist such works are interesting by virtue of their historical content, but the lay reader will likely find such works wordy and boring. This book by Heisenberg transcends this milieu however, with the author's shear brilliance and eloquence an admirable spectacle in and of itself. Heisenberg is a terribly smart fellow and that comes through thoughtfully.
This book reads like a collection of essays and, perforce, some chapters could probably be left unread without great harm. Chapter 7, 'the theory of relativity,' being a case in point. No, the real beauty of this book is not in its trenchant reflections on the mechanical behavior of matter, but more on its correlation with physics as a human endeavor, and the evolution of human thought in philosophical terms, as well as language and how it expresses ideas; these themes, philosphy and language, are artfully crafted and make this book significant, not the fact that we can make atom bombs or postulate a universe.
Heisenberg emphasizes the Copenhagen interpretation, which states that the observer effects the outcome of an experiment by the very act of having observed the experiment. This is of course true primarily in terms of atomic physics and not of macro events. For example, if you try to observe an electron you will have to use high energy equipment to do so, which will effect the behavior of the electron. On the other hand, if you observe a sparrow at 100 yards with a pair of binoculars you're not really going to effect the sparrow. By observing it with binoculars you won't break its neck, which is the equivalent of what happens when you observe an electron with x-rays. The idea however, that the observer, or participant, does inject a huge influence by simply participating is significant on a macro scale in linguistic terms; a notion Heisenberg effectively sets out in chapter 10, 'language and reality in modern physics.'
The varying contexts and extensive meanings of concepts and language can and do effect the outcomes of human interactions in myriads of unpredictable ways. Perhaps at a time in humanity's past we could consider language as a logical system where a person either knew what they were talking about or didn't, or was lying or telling the truth based on what they said; a no BS kind of world where wise men judged the testimony of others in courts of reason, much like what occured in witchcraft trials, or in the way the Catholic church judged Galileo for teaching Copernican ideology. We know better now days, and this is, I believe, why Heisenberg makes such a point of the Copenhagen interpretation; not to show that it applies to macro physics, but rather to show how it applies to language and psychology. It's a tough analogy but Heisenberg makes a remarkable effort that engenders contemplation and awe. After all, we still have wise men judging the testimony of others in courts of reason, a sobering thought. This stress on linguistics may seem insignificant today but was probably more germane to the time this book was written, in 1958.
If you like physics, philosophy, and psychology, not necessarily in that order, you'll probably like this book. Chapters 4 and 5 alone, the two chapters that track the birth of quantum physics philosophically, make the price of this book a worthwhile investment.
27 of 31 people found the following review helpful
on July 15, 1998
Heisenberg, the man who removed absolute destiny from science and replaced it with chance, eloquently attempts to unify the philosophies of Kant, Descartes, and Einstein with science in regards to the recent developments of Quantum Theory. From a historical and internal perspective, Heisenberg speaks directly to the the reader without the intellectual ego that often accompanies a man of his renowned stature.
27 of 33 people found the following review helpful
on September 7, 2002
This book is important because Heisenberg clearly explains why quantum mechanics was fatal for great philosophical theories, and more particularly, for logical positivism and Kant.
Logical positivism affirms that all knowledge is ultimately founded in experience. This led to a postulate concerning the logical clarification of any statement about nature. But since quantum theory such a postulate cannot be fulfilled.
Kant's a priori's like space and time are viewed totally differently since quantum theory. His law of causality is no longer true for the elementary particles, because we don't know the foregoing event accurately or this event cannot be found.
Heisenberg states that it will never be possible by pure reason to arrive at some absolute truth.
Naturally this book is not up to date. It doesn't speak about COBE or superstrings. But Heisenbergs explanation of quantum theory is second to none.
Quotable. After someone said that the quantum theory may be proved false, Bohr answered: 'We may hope that it will later turn out that sometimes 2 x 2 = 5, for this would be of great advantage for our finances'.
A great book.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on February 12, 2009
This little book is highly recommended to anyone interested in the philosophical implications of the new paradigms of physics of the twentieth century, ...relativity and quantum theory. It is especially fascinating to hear first hand from, Werner Heisenberg, having been a key player in the development of quantum mechanics and the Copenhagen interpretation.
Heisenberg, very nicely, presents a history of the development of physics, and philosophy as it relates to epistemology, in order to contrast such ideas with the strange reality of quantum theory.
Ancient Philosophy, and especially modern philosophy since Rene Descartes, John Locke, David Hume, George Berkeley, culminating with Immanuel kant, ... has had a close relation with science in the analysis of scientific method indirectly through the study of the philosophy of knowledge, and here Heisenberg presents a wonderful overview.
Kant's transcendental deduction, that a-priori cognitive faculties determine the form of experience, and so the conditions of science, is here presented by Heisenberg with his amended argument that such a-priori conditions "can have only a limited range of applicability", something "Kant couldn't have foreseen". Heisenberg implies that this is where Kant "went wrong" in his analysis.
While its true that Kant's a-priori synthetic concepts of space, time, and causality, are inapt prior to the wave function collapse of quantum mechanics, and yet science is still able to make predictions about phenomenal reality, ... the fact is, no one 'understands' quantum mechanics apart from these conceptual forms!! That is after all the point of the Copenhagen interpretation, just do the math and never mind (visualize) what's going on in 'reality' in between observations.
This is already the essence of Kant's argument, that reality as it is in-itself, noumenal reality, is unknowable in principal, apart from the a-priori conditions of understanding due to the nature of mind. It seems that Heisenberg's reinterpretation of Kant's philosophy is redundant, and unnecessary.
In any event, this is a classic book which should be read by anyone interested in the modern physical sciences.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on November 22, 2010
On my personal journey reading 'classical' books from the past I have recently read Heisenberg's 'Physics and Philosophy' , originally published 1958. More than 50 years later this seems to be still a very remarkable book, with an easy reading and a scope of thinking which is rare today.
Heisenberg describes in his book the modern findings in physics in a language which does not presuppose any mathematics. And he describes these central findings in a way which is even clearer than written in the complex mathematical machinery of modern physics. The detection of the atomic structure of matter, the discrete structure of the energy levels, the velocity of light as the upper limit of the velocity of all moving bodies, the uncertainty in the description of the behavior of the atomic elements caused by the inevitable interaction between observer and observed object, the equivalence of matter and energy as well as the new structure of the physical space (non-euclidean) compared to the space of our perceptions, imaginations and the everyday space of daily actions. I can not remember any other book about physics which explains these developments in such a clearness and directness.
The book gains even more because Heisenberg compares the concepts of the modern physics with the main concepts of the old Greek philosophy as well as with philosophers like Descartes, Locke, Hume, Berkeley, and Kant. It is interesting to see that human kind was more than 2000 years ago capable to develop conceptual models of matter and nature which logically come very close to the modern concepts of the atom and its parts. At the same time it is interesting to see, that despite of this astonishing conceptual thinking the lack of proper measurement instruments and the lack of a sufficient mathematical language didn't allow better theories. Thus the development of new measurement instruments, new strong languages like modern mathematics as well as the right experiments appear to play a fundamental role in the construction of better world models; they are not 'outside' of the story but a central moment of it.
Heisenberg describes in length the insufficiency of language to describe the new findings in physics, especially those headed under the label of quantum mechanics, not an insufficiency only of the everyday language, but also an insufficiency of the mathematical language as such. While the concrete experiments are described with everyday language expressions and the terms of classical physics do the mathematical expressions describe formal structures like probability fields which encode expectations about the behavior of the quanta which as such are not concrete objects. From the point of theory there is no complete consistent solution conceivable for this problem, only 'practically' by relating concrete experimental data with the abstract mathematical models.
WELTBILD/ WORLD VIEW
Heisenberg describes not only the development of modern physics but considers also the effect of this new world picture on the overall world view of mankind. He suggests that the physical world view before quantum theory was too narrow, not giving satisfying answers to central phenomena like biological life, the human mind or even the concept of human soul. Only quantum theory has -according to Heisenberg-- forced an opening of central concepts, has widened the concept of objectivity, has reinforced the awareness that the observer is a central moment of the observed object; there is no 'real objectivity'. Knowledge is always a construct under certain conditions where we have to 'extrapolate' the 'hidden' structures with some probability. With regard to biology he states explicitly "...we are obviously still very far from such a coherent and closed set of concepts for he description of biological phenomena. The degree of complication in biology is so discouraging that one can at present not imagine any set of concepts in which the connections could be so sharply defined that a mathematical representation could become possible". (PP79f)" If we go beyond biology and include psychology in the discussion then there can scarcely be any doubt but that the concepts of physics, chemistry, and evolution together will not be sufficient to describe the facts ..".(PP80)
If one wants to find weak points in the wonderful book, one can mention some. There is nearly no citation; this makes it difficult to follow the sources (if one wants). The look to philosophy is very narrow; many modern developments have not been cited, especially not the large amount of work in semiotics, philosophy of language, and formal logic. He mentions the limits of mathematical theories without citing the famous results of Goedel (1931) and Turing (1936/7). Or, he mentions the logic of quanta proposed by Weizsäcker which has the format of a type logic; this has been introduced by Whitehead-Russel already in 19010ff. Heisenberg argues for the limits of physics with regard to biology using arguments which resemble those of Schroedinger in his famous book of 1944, without mentioning Schrödinger. Despite all this, for me this is a very remarkable book, extremely clear, and very inspiring.
The book shows that central questions regarding man are not solved. The phenomenon of life is still the big challenge of science.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on February 13, 2009
Quantum science is without any doubt the greatest breakthrough of science in the 20th century. If you want to know what quantum physics is all about, read this fluently written introduction to quantum physics by one of the founders of the theory himself, Nobel Prize winner Dr. Werner Heisenberg. It is very uncommon that a great scientist is capable to transmit his profound knowledge in such an easy to read book, without a single formula. (For the ones interested in the mathematics behind this theory, he has also written another book : "The physical principles of the quantum theory"). In the world of today, Aristotle's deeper understanding that philosophy is the mother of science has been forgotten, something that Heisenberg not only recalls, but actively uses as a guiding principle throughout this book.
Quantum physics is important, since it produced a revolution within the materialistic perspective of classical physics. At elementary level, there is no longer a sharp distinction between matter and energy. Heisenberg says : "The elementary particles are certainly not eternal and indestructible units of matter, they can actually be transformed into each other. As a matter of fact, if two such particles, moving through space with a very high kinetic energy, collide, then many new elementary particles may be created from the available energy and the old particles may have disappeared in the collision. Such events have been frequently observed and offer the best proof that all particles are made of the same substance : energy."
This way he also solves the duality between particles and fields. If energy is the primary substance of the universe, then it will only depend on the experiment how we will observe this energy. "What we observe is not nature in itself but nature exposed to our method of questioning."
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on November 22, 2006
Since the 17th century, philosophers have been struggling with the implications science has for classical philosophical questions. In a way, the relationship between science and philosophy is one that has always occured in Western philosophy; Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, and also the medievals grappled with science and what relation it had to philosophy, but with the apparent triumph of science in the 20th century as mankind's premier way of knowledge, the questions are all the more urgent.
While Heisenberg wrote this book seventy or so years ago, it remains a classic for two reasons. One, Heisenberg himself was one of the pioneers of quantum mechanics, and second, he is widely read in the Western philosophical tradition. He shows an excellent understanding of Aristotle and Kant, and proceeds to argue where he feels philosophers have it right, and wrong, in the light of science. Like many scientists he argues for a more process based approached to the world rather than seeing reality as a static and timeless entity, and that space is not really empty and that the microworld is different from the macroworld and is more a place of potentiality than actuality.
This work remains a beautiful exploration of the relationship between two ways of exploring the world and is essential reading for philosophers and scientists alike.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on April 27, 2005
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Like so many great thinkers, Heisenberg attempts to create a unifying philosophy about the sciences. He seeks to correlate human behavior and beliefs with physics. With scientific breakthroughs theories become more abstract and it makes it more difficult to understand. The lectures that form this book explain the events leading to his famous theory, the relevance of Physics to philosophy and the moral imperatives of scientists.
Werner Heisenberg, the renowned physicist and 1932 Nobelist, is remembered by most of us as the developer of the Theory of Indeterminacy. Simply put, "The more precisely the Position (of a particle) is determined, the less precisely its Momentum is known" This Theory was developed in an intensive "Think Tank" conference that took place in Copenhagen in 1927.
He describes of how the abstruse proofs of Physics (as well as other sciences) must be made comprehensible to lay people. The accelerated changes in the sciences are based on the ever increasing new information and discovery. This creates a cognitive dissonance in the public and a common way to deal with that mental rift is reactionary. The results of scientific thinking may contradict some of our common ideas as those ideas become beliefs rather than science. Through folklore or youthful and innocent experimentation or by other means we often come to understand aspects of the world that have no basis in reality. We want to cling to them in the face of sound theory.
The book is a complicated effort. Heisenberg wants us to be thinking of the impact of scientific advance on our society and values. His is a liberal perspective. This seems to be routine for the leading physicists who worked in early atomic fission. His presentation is not woven together neatly and the book requires rereads and extensive notes in order to make sense of it. The book also contains several different messages. Another reviewer may read the same book and find different aspects of it to be the kernel of Heisenberg's intent.
The fact that it is awkwardly compiled requires intensity on the reader's part. Ultimately it is felt that Heisenberg points are taken, are sincere and that he sought a better future based on scientific breakthrough and design.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on November 17, 2007
I am not sure that anyone truly appreciates the fundamentals of quantum physics. But, for someone who has done a great deal of reading on the topic and possesses an advanced degree in a relatively unrelated field (clinical psychology), this is a very readable book on Heisenberg's thinking related to quantum physics. For those who know anything about quantum physics, however, it cannot be overemphasized that this is, in fact, only one perspective on quantum physics (though, probably, the most accepted). Heisenberg was one of the originators (along with Wolfgang Pauli and, particulary, Niels Bohr) of the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum physics. For anyone interested in a more deep analysis of the thought that went along with the development of this incredibly groundbreaking thoery, I recommend this book highly!