The quantum theory and the schism of physics

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The Quantum Theory and the Schism of Physics (in the original Quantum Theory and the Schism in Physics ) is a book by the science theorist Karl Popper , which was written as the main body of the text between 1951 and 1956 and published in 1982 as the third volume of a postscript on the logic of research .

Publication history

This work by Popper is the third volume of his addendums ( postscript ) to his much revised epistemological main work Logic of Research . This was first published in German in 1934, the English translation in the first edition did not follow until 1959. Numerous ideas that Popper had developed in the meantime and subsequently could no longer be incorporated into new editions and ultimately exceeded their scope. Publication in a supplementary volume was planned for them. However, Popper stopped working on it in the meantime, although various proofs and revisions had already been made, some of which were already in circulation. These works, most of which date from 1951 to 1956 and which he continued to add to and revise until around 1962, were finally published as a three-volume postscript in 1982/83 on the initiative of William Warren Bartley . The third volume contains works by Popper on quantum mechanics , its foundations, interpretations and the criticism of these interpretations, which he treats in the main part under the title "The quantum theory and the schism of physics".

First work parts

→ For an introduction to the underlying problem aspects, see the very short overview in the Philosophy of Physics , the somewhat longer one in the article Quantum Mechanics or the more detailed presentation in Interpretations of Quantum Mechanics .

The first half of the book consists of essays written in the years leading up to publication that illustrate Popper's view of probability theory , research on Bell's inequality, and recent discussions of the Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen paradox . After a diagnosis of current controversies (see the following section on the “Schism of Physics”), further suggestions of our own follow. Above all, Popper is further elaborating various of his far-reaching systematic considerations on the interpretation of quantum mechanics , which were already partially presented, such as his suggestion of a propensity interpretation that is realistic , objectivistic , non-deterministic and requires neither observer dependence nor wave-particle dualism .

The "Schism of Physics"

The term “ schism of physics” describes the contradiction between two families of interpretations of quantum mechanics and the associated background assumptions.

Similar expressions have been found before. For example, Werner Heisenberg spoke in “Changes in the Fundamentals of Exact Science in Recent Times”, a lecture given to the Society of German Natural Scientists and Doctors in 1934 , of the fact that “in our research into atomic processes a peculiar dichotomy is inevitable” between a description in “ descriptive terms of classical physics ”and mathematical objects,“ which do not allow a simple descriptive interpretation. ”The English translation speaks of a“ peculiar schism ”at this point.

Popper sorts the interpretations of quantum theory into two camp-forming parties, the first of which he identifies by the names Faraday , Einstein , and Schrödinger , the second as the Copenhagen interpretation . According to Popper, alternative ontologies that can not be experimentally tested, i.e. systematic assumptions about the basic structures of reality, as well as meta-assumptions about the methodical approach of scientific research are represented; he speaks of " metaphysical research programs" (i.e. framework theories for possible testable theories). Both parties made certain stipulations with regard to aspects relevant to interpretation : typical for the first party was the commitment to determinism , realism and objectivism ; typical of the second indeterminism , instrumentalism and subjectivism . The result is a problematic split in physics.


  • Karl Raimund Popper: The quantum theory and the schism of physics. From the postscript on the logic of research III . Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2001. ISBN 3161475682 . (limited preview on Google Books )
  • Jeffrey Bub, Itamar Pitowsky: Review: Postscript to the Logic of Scientific Discovery by Karl R. Popper . In: Canadian Journal of Philosophy . Volume 15, Number 3, 1985, pp. 539-552, JSTOR 40231432 .
  • ND Mermin: Review: The Great Quantum Muddle . In: Philosophy of Science . Volume 50, number 4, 1983, p. 651, doi : 10.1086 / 289148 .

Individual evidence

  1. According to the editor Bartley, cf. Popper 2001, p. 245.
  2. According to the editor Bartley in the preface to the English first edition 1982, SX
  3. ^ Postscript to the Logic of Scientific Discovery , Rowman and Littlefield, New Jersey 1983, Volume 1: Realism and the Aim of Science , Volume 2: The Open Universe : An Argument for Indeterminism, Volume 3: Quantum Theory and the Schism in Physics .
  4. See Thomas J. Hickey: History of Twentieth-Century Philosophy of Science , Part 5/2, 2005 (Forest Park print edition, Ill. 1995, ISBN 0964466503 ).
  5. Werner Heisenberg: “Changes in the foundations of exact natural science in recent times”, in: Die Naturwissenschaften 22/40 (1934), 669–675, here 670.
  6. ^ Heisenberg: Recent Changes in the Foundations of Exact Sciences , trans. FC Hayes, in: Philosophic Problems in Nuclear Science, Faber and Faber, London 1952, 11–26, here 15.