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Heisenberg's observability principle

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Heisenberg's observability principle. / Wolff, Johanna Elisabeth.

In: Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part B: Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics, Vol. 45, 02.2014, p. 19-26.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Harvard

Wolff, JE 2014, 'Heisenberg's observability principle', Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part B: Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics, vol. 45, pp. 19-26. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.shpsb.2013.11.006

APA

Wolff, J. E. (2014). Heisenberg's observability principle. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part B: Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics, 45, 19-26. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.shpsb.2013.11.006

Vancouver

Wolff JE. Heisenberg's observability principle. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part B: Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics. 2014 Feb;45:19-26. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.shpsb.2013.11.006

Author

Wolff, Johanna Elisabeth. / Heisenberg's observability principle. In: Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part B: Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics. 2014 ; Vol. 45. pp. 19-26.

Bibtex Download

@article{71306d4916244215ad94672245d4fe2f,
title = "Heisenberg's observability principle",
abstract = "Werner Heisenberg's 1925 paper {\textquoteleft}Quantum-theoretical re-interpretation of kinematic and mechanical relations{\textquoteright} marks the beginning of quantum mechanics. Heisenberg famously claims that the paper is based on the idea that the new quantum mechanics should be {\textquoteleft}founded exclusively upon relationships between quantities which in principle are observable{\textquoteright}. My paper is an attempt to understand this observability principle, and to see whether its employment is philosophically defensible. Against interpretations of {\textquoteleft}observability{\textquoteright} 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.",
keywords = "quantum mechanics, Heisenberg, Observability, positivism, Einstein, history of physics, philosophy of physics",
author = "Wolff, {Johanna Elisabeth}",
year = "2014",
month = feb,
doi = "http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.shpsb.2013.11.006",
language = "English",
volume = "45",
pages = "19--26",
journal = "Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part B: Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics",
issn = "1355-2198",
publisher = "Elsevier Ltd",

}

RIS (suitable for import to EndNote) Download

TY - JOUR

T1 - Heisenberg's observability principle

AU - Wolff, Johanna Elisabeth

PY - 2014/2

Y1 - 2014/2

N2 - Werner 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.

AB - Werner 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.

KW - quantum mechanics

KW - Heisenberg

KW - Observability

KW - positivism

KW - Einstein

KW - history of physics

KW - philosophy of physics

UR - http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S135521981300107X

U2 - http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.shpsb.2013.11.006

DO - http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.shpsb.2013.11.006

M3 - Article

VL - 45

SP - 19

EP - 26

JO - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part B: Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics

JF - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part B: Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics

SN - 1355-2198

ER -

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