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Physics and Philosophy: The Revolution in Modern Science (Penguin Modern Classics) Paperback – 3 Aug 2000


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Product details

  • Paperback: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics; New Ed edition (3 Aug. 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0141182156
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141182155
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 1 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 116,415 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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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"

About the Author

Werner Heisenberg's celebrated Uncertainty Principle is one of the cornerstones of modern physics. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1932 and received numerous other awards. As a public figure he actively promoted the peaceful use of atomic power, and in 1957 led other German scientists in opposing a move to equip the West German army with nuclear weapons. He died in 1976.

Paul Davies is the author of many books, including God and the New Physics and The Fifth Miracle.


Inside This Book (Learn More)
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When one speaks today of modern physics, the first thought is of atomic weapons. Read the first page
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40 of 45 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 6 Nov. 2001
Format: Paperback
Heisenberg explains the basics of quantum theory in his own words (rather than by formulas) making it also accessible to people with little knowledge of mathematics or physics. In addition he provides a to-the-point elaboration on the enormous implications his findings have for science in general. The excellent introduction of Paul Davies is the icing on the cake.
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16 of 19 people found the following review helpful By T. Gregory on 13 Oct. 2008
Format: Paperback
I may have read too much into the title of this book, the key words are 'and' and 'revolution'. The book compares the "revolutions" in modern physics to those in ancient philosophy, and does so in a very straightforward and easily digestible manner. My only disappointment really is that I was hoping to read more on the philosophical implications of modern physics, and the book was rather light on that. Still, the physics is handled deftly and well explained, and the philosophy appears to be well understood (although I must admit I'm not that familiar with ancient philosophers).

All in all, a very enlightening short read.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By MLB on 30 Nov. 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
An interesting and useful introduction to the history and theory of modern physics by a leading exponent that can be read by a layman.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful By MR V P CROUCH on 18 Mar. 2014
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I am half way through this book and it is very interesting. I now have a much better understanding of quantum physics. It is also interesting to see scientific developments related to various traditions in western philosophy. However, I have never read a book with so many typos and grammatical errors, this doesn't really seem acceptable considering most of these would be spotted using a computer spell check program. Therefore, minus one star. The writing style of Heisenberg is very clear to understand. I have very little experience of physics but still found it easy enough to read. Good book, bad quality publishing.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 36 reviews
82 of 82 people found the following review helpful
Three Fascinating Works by Werner Heisenberg 7 April 2004
By Michael Wischmeyer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
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.
19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
Heisenberg as literary luminary, with or without physics 13 Aug. 2002
By Earl Dennis - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
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.
26 of 30 people found the following review helpful
A hidden treasure 15 July 1998
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
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.
25 of 31 people found the following review helpful
Quantum mechanics and philosophical theories. 7 Sept. 2002
By Luc REYNAERT - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
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
Fascinating insights from a great physicist. 12 Feb. 2009
By Noumenon - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
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.
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