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Reminiscing with Werner Heisenberg about the evolution of quantum mechanics,
This review is from: Encounters with Einstein: And Other Essays on People, Places, and Particles (Princeton Science Library) (Paperback)
This book is a collection of nine essays/lectures delivered by Werner Heisenberg in the last few years of his illustrious career in the contribution to the understanding of physical reality. This group of essays deals, briefly, with the historical development of quantum mechanics, and how the concept of matter as a particle was replaced by energy and by fundamental symmetry. These essays not only touch of upon one of the most fundamental aspects of physical reality but also some of the most private moments in the lives of the founding fathers of modern physics. The title of the book "Encounters with Einstein" is somewhat misleading since only one essay (chapter 7) deals with this subject and this chapter has the same title as the book.
Heisenberg was a student of Sommerfeld at Munich who was a close friend of Einstein and a supporter of theory of relativity who use to share Einstein's letters with his students, and discuss the physics written in these letters. Heisenberg describes his interest in meeting Einstein as he started working in the developing field of quantum physics. This was during 1920s when quantum mechanics was beginning to take shape. It was also the time when the Third Reich was gaining momentum and anti-Semitism was soaring in Germany. Einstein was most respected in the academic world and obviously he was the target of nationalists. At the 1922 congress of German scientists held at the Leipzig, the students of one of the most respected association of German Experimental Physicists distributed red leaflets suggesting "that the theory of relativity is totally unproved Jewish speculation, and that it had been undeservedly played up through the puffery of Jewish newspapers on behalf of Einstein, a fellow member of the race." Heisenberg recalls this as the poisoning of science by political passions. It is ironic if we recall that Islamic countries and Islamists brand 9/11 terrorist attack to Jews and Israel: This is certainly very saddening.
According to one of the Einstein's work; the requirement that a physical theory should only contain quantities that can be directly observed will guarantee a connection between the mathematical formalism and the phenomena. In one of his discussion with Einstein, Heisenberg argued that the path of the electron within an atom must be abandoned from the theory because no such path is experimentally observed except for the light frequencies radiated by the atom, intensities and transition probabilities. Heisenberg stated that he was astonished to see that Einstein did not agree with him and in fact argued that the theory in fact also contains unobservable quantities. When Heisenberg pointed out that Einstein had made a similar assumption (existence of only observable quantities) in the special theory of relativity, he responded simply by stating; "Perhaps I did use such philosophy earlier, and also wrote it, but it is nonsense all the same." Einstein had revised his philosophical outlook. His vision was that the concept of observation was problematic because it presupposes that there is an unambiguous connection between the observed phenomenon and the sensation that enters consciousness. We can be sure of this connection if we know the natural laws by which it is determined. These laws do not include consciousness in equations. This interaction between the two great physicists illustrates the confusion that existed in making sense out of quantum reality, and Heisenberg recalls that this conversation had deep impact on his development of uncertainty principle. Another point of discussion Heisenberg recalls is that statistical nature of quantum reality arises because of our incomplete knowledge of a system. Einstein was steadfast in his conviction that it is not statistical even though in 1918 he introduced such statistical concepts. There is an interesting routine interaction with Einstein and Bohr during the well known 1927 Solvay conference, and how he use to come up with his little thought experiment and beaten by Bohr. The Einstein's watchword was "God does not play at dice" and the response by Bohr (less-known in literature) was; "But still, it cannot be for us to tell God, how he is to run the world." Heisenberg concludes that physics is a reflection on the divine ideas of creation, therefore physics is divine service.
1. Physics and Philosophy: The Revolution in Modern Science (Penguin Modern Classics)
2. Uncertainty: Life and Science of Werner Heisenberg
3. Copenhagen in Debate: Historical Essays And Documents on the 1941 Meeting Between Niels Bohr And Werner Heisenberg