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Physics and Philosophy: The Revolution in Modern Science (Great Minds Series) Paperback – May, 1999
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"Philosophically, the implications of quantum mechanics are psychedelic. . . . [a] mind-expanding discovery."--Gary Zukav, author of "The Seat of the Soul" --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
About the Author
Werner Karl Heisenberg was born in Wrzburg, Germany, on Decmeber 5, 1901. After recieving his doctorate in theoretical physics from the University of Munich in 1923, he traveled to Gttingen to study under Max Born and from there traveled to Copenhagen to work with Niels Bohr. Heisenberg became famous for his uncertainty (or indeterminacy) principle, published in 1927, according to which behavior of subatomic particles can be predicted only on the basis of probability. The effect of this principle was to turn the laws of physics into statements about relative, not absolute, certainties. For his work on quantum mechanics, Heisenberg was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1932.
From 1927 to 1941 Heisenberg taught theoretical physics, at the University of Leipzig. During World War II he joined with Otto Hahn at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Physics in Berlin to develop a nuclear reactor. Heisenberg secretly opposed the Nazis, however, and worked to prevent Germany from developing and deploying nuclear weapons. Following the war he was made director of the Max Planck Institute for Physics in Berlin. Werner Heisenberg died in Munich on February 1, 1976.
Top customer reviews
The nice thing about the book is that it has an easy to follow flow to it. As you read, you feel as if you are sitting inside of a lecture hall as Dr. Heisenberg delivers his remarks. This adds to greater accessibility to the material as it is presented. As you read, you must keep in mind that at the time period that Heisenberg was reflecting upon turned the old Newtonian approach to physics upon its head. This is the objective of the book. To show what has changed and what has stayed the same and how the old model will graft itself into this new understanding.
Heisenberg attempts to show from the time of preSocratic thought that humanity has hypothesized about the origins of the things that make up our world. The treatment of the preSocratics to the ancients and then the modern philosophers is worth picking up the book alone. After he discusses this material he then moves on to show the reader just how much physics at the quantum level as changed the nomenclature of scientific thought as much as it did through the progress of natural philosophy.
One of the nice things about the book is that even though it is a little dated, you feel as if you have been transported back to this time period where a lot of this stuff was just starting to happen. For instance, he mentions the beginning of the building of what is now the Cern reactor that helped to discover the Higgs Boson.
Lastly, his explanations of quantum physics are clear and more approachable than some other writers. One thing to keep in mind, quantum physics is not playing Scrabble on a Sunday afternoon. This is difficult material for everyone. This is what makes Heisenberg helpful, it is a bit easier to ascertain what it is that this discipline is all about.
All in all, a great book as a primer for the progress of natural philosophy and clear explanation of things at the quantum level.
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.
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."