6 Contemporary Science and the History and Philosophy of Science
A reader of Structure of Scientific Revolutions (Kuhn 1970) is surely struck by Max Planck
Furthermore I am particularly interested in the enduring controversy over the interpretation and foundations of quantum theory and Kuhn’s own views on it. The debates on these issues first arose at the time of the theory’s inception, lasting until the early 1930s. Subsequently, they were revived during Kuhn’s lifetime in the 1950s. Thus, I would like to discuss issues such as: How Kuhn’s works and views were shaped by quantum physics, its first dominant interpretation and the ongoing controversy that followed it. As it is widely acknowledged that Kuhn’s Structure of Scientific Revolutions has had only scant influence on the historiography of science (and the debates at this workshop reflect this), I would like to know if the historiography on the quantum controversy reflects the Kuhnian corpus. Finally, if not through his published works, one wonders how Kuhn, through letters and unpublished material, reacted to the revival of the quantum controversy. This paper attempts to deal with these issues. After a brief review of the attention philosophers paid to quantum theory, I focus on Kuhn’s case, mainly presenting Mara Beller’s
Quantum Debates and Philosophers
Kuhn was not the first philosopher to become interested in the debates on the interpretations and foundations of quantum theory. In the early stage of those debates, philosophers such as Karl Popper, Hans Reichenbach, Gaston Bachelard, Grete Hermann and Alexandre Kojève ventured into the field once the reserve of professional physicists. In the 1950s, with the controversy reheated especially because of the appearance of the causal interpretation suggested by David Bohm
Thomas Kuhn and the Interpretation of Quantum Theory
The case of Kuhn and the quantum debates is not new in the literature. The first to spot the problem was the philosopher and historian of science, Mara Beller
Kuhn was the head of the AHQP project (Kuhn et.al. 1967) and in this capacity he became familiar with the quantum controversy, but only with the initial controversy until the early 1930s. According to the project report, “to reduce preparation time and also the number of men to be interviewed, the period to be covered systematically by interviews was terminated in the very early thirties rather than at the end of that decade as originally planned” (Kuhn n.d.). Thus, the revival of the hidden variables in the early 1950s, to use
Beyond Beller’s Criticism – What Kuhn Missed from the Quantum Controversy
Kuhn lived to see the quantum controversy play a role in the development of our own understanding of quantum theory as well as receive the attention of historians and philosophers. I am mainly speaking of the whole work—both theoretical and experimental—related to Bell’s theorem, which led to the acknowledgment of entanglement as an irreducible quantum feature. Bell’s theorem contrasted quantum theory with any attempt to complete quantum theory having local realism as an assumption. It was published in 1965 and from the early 1970s to the early 1980s there was a rush to perform experiments to decide on the disjunction carried out by Bell’s theorem (Freire Jr. 2006). Experiments were resumed in the late 1980s exploiting technical advances (taking as sources of photon pairs photons from parametric down conversion in non-linear crystals) and merging these experiments with the then burgeoning field of quantum information. The experiments confirmed the quantum predictions, thus confirming much of the strangeness of quantum theory but they also helped to direct attention beyond physics to the debates on the foundations and interpretation of the quantum theory.
It is noticeable that the interest in foundations of quantum physics triggered by activities related to Bell’s theorem did not pass unnoticed by historians, sociologists and philosophers of science. One of the most remarkable cases is the writing and publication of The Philosophy of Quantum Mechanics – The Interpretations of Quantum Mechanics in Historical Perspective, in 1974, by the historian of physics Max Jammer
In fact, Max Jammer
As stated in the preface to the first edition in 1966, I had hoped to continue this line of research with a sequel volume on the conceptual development of relativistic quantum mechanics and quantum field theory. However, John Stewart Bell’s
paper on hidden variables which appeared in the July 1966 issue of the “Reviews of Modern Physics”, together with his paper on the Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen paradox, threw new light on the interpretations of quantum mechanics. They initiated a development in which, among many others, the experimentalist John F. Clauser , who at that time attended my lectures at Columbia University in New York, and the theoretician Jeffrey Bub , with whom I had long discussions at the Minnesota Center for the Philosophy of Science in Minneapolis, were actively involved. Prompted by these developments, I wrote “The Philosophy of Quantum Mechanics” (Wiley-Interscience, New York, 1974) [...]
The reader may perhaps wonder why a book on the development of modern physics, dealing with historical issues that apparently are “faits accomplis”, should have to be revised and emended, especially as Werner Heisenberg
and Paul Dirac had approved the final draft. The reason is, of course, that the development of quantum mechanics, said to have reached its apex about sixty years ago, is nevertheless still an unfinished business today.
In fact, the conceptual revolution brought about by quantum mechanics is so radical and penetrating that any theoretical innovation discovered today is apt to produce a re-interpretation and re-evaluation of results obtained in the past. A good example is the 1935 Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen Paradox which was presented at the end of the 1966 edition, but whose real significance became clear only through the above-mentioned work of Bell
and his followers beginning in 1966.
Thus one may ask why Kuhn did not, as far as I am aware, say something on the debates on the foundations of quantum theory. Resuming Beller’s
Philosophers and historians continued to be attracted to the study of the quantum controversy. Directly or indirectly related to it, we may list the following studies, among others, in the last two decades.1 Taking these considerations as backdrop, it is easier to understand why this continued and enlarged scholarly work in the history and philosophy of science did not enter into a dialogue with Kuhn’s works. In brief, Kuhn was silent on the major intellectual events related to the quantum controversy. In the rare cases where there was a dialogue, such as Beller’s
In defense of Kuhn, one can argue that historians and philosophers may be influenced by recent and contemporary science, but they do not necessarily follow contemporary science. I illustrate this point with two cases related to the quantum controversy. The first one is close to Kuhn, as it involves one of his students and enduring correspondents, the historian Paul Forman
Let us conclude by dismissing Beller’s
Beller, M. (1999). Quantum Dialogue – The Making of a Revolution. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.
Benzi, M. (1988). Italian Studies in the Foundations of Quantum Physics – A Bibliography (1965–1985). In: The Nature of Quantum Paradoxes – Italian Studies in the Foundations and Philosophy of Modern Physics Ed. by G. T. A. v. d. Merwe. Dordrecht: Kluwer 403-425
Bernstein, J. (1991). Quantum Profiles. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Bromberg, J. L. (2006). Device Physics vis-à-vis Fundamental Physics in Cold War America: The Case of Quantum Optics. Isis 97(2): 237-259
- (2008). New Instruments and the Meaning of Quantum Mechanics. Historical Studies in the Natural Sciences 38(3): 325-352
Brush, S. G. (1980). The Chimerical Cat: Philosophy of Quantum Mechanics in Historical Perspective. Social Studies of Science 10(4): 393-447
Byrne, P. (2011). The Many Worlds of Hugh Everett III: Multiple Universes, Mutual Assured Destruction, and the Meltdown of a Nuclear Family. Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press.
Camilleri, K. (2009a). Constructing the Myth of the Copenhagen Interpretation. Perspectives on Science 17(1): 26-57
- (2009b). A History of Entanglement: Decoherence and the Interpretation Problem. Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics 40: 290-302
Cross, A. (1991). The Crisis in Physics: Dialectical Materialism and Quantum Theory. Social Studies of Science 21: 735-759
Cushing, J. (1994). Quantum Mechanics – Historical Contingency and the Copenhagen Hegemony. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.
Feyerabend, P. K. (1960). Professor Bohm’s Philosophy of Nature. The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 10(40): 321-338
Forstner, C. (2008). The Early History of David Bohm’s Quantum Mechanics through the Perspective of Ludwik Fleck’s Thought-Collectives. Minerva 46: 215-229
Freire Jr., O. (1999). David Bohm e a controvérsia dos quanta. Campinas [Brazil]: Centro de Lógica, Epistemologia e História da Ciência.
- (2003). A Story without an Ending: The Quantum Physics Controversy 1950–1970. Science & Education 12(5–6): 573-586
- (2004a). Gaston Bachelard et Louis de Broglie, ont-ils toujours été en synthonie?. Cahiers Gaston Bachelard 6: 160-166
- (2004b). The Historical Roots of “Foundations of Quantum Mechanics” as a Field of Research (1950–1970). Foundations of Physics 34(11): 1741-1760
- (2005). Science and Exile: David Bohm, the Cold War, and a New Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics. Historical Studies in the Physical and Biological Sciences 26(1): 1-34
- (2006). Philosophy Enters the Optics Laboratory: Bell’s Theorem and Its First Experimental Tests (1965–1982). Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics 37: 577-616
- (2007). Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy in the Research on the Foundations of Quantum Physics: E. P. Wigner’s Case. In: Cognitive Justice in a Global World: Prudent Knowledges for a Decent Life Ed. by B. d. S. Santos. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books 203-224
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Freire Jr., O., C. Lehner (2010). ‘Dialectical Materialism and Modern Physics’, an Unpublished Text by Max Born. Notes and Records of the Royal Society 64(2): 155-162
Freire Jr., O., O. Pessoa Jr., O. P. (2010). Teoria Quântica: Estudos Históricos e Implicações Culturais. Campina Grande, São Paulo: EDUEPB & Livraria da Física.
Gilder, L. (2008). The Age of Entanglement – When Quantum Physics Was Reborn. New York: Knopf.
Graham, L. (1972). Science and Philosophy in the Soviet Union. New York: Knopf.
Hanson, N. R. (1959). Copenhagen Interpretation of Quantum Theory. American Journal of Physics 27(1): 1-15
Harvey, B. (1980). The Effects of Social Context on the Process of Scientific Investigation: Experimental Tests of Quantum Mechanics. In: The Social Process of Scientific Investigation Ed. by K. D. Knorr, R. Whitley. Dordrecht: Reidel 139-163
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Jammer, M. (1974). The Philosophy of Quantum Mechanics – The Interpretations of Quantum Mechanics in Historical Perspective. New York: John Wiley.
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Kaiser, D. (2007). Turning Physicists into Quantum Mechanics. Physics World
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Kuhn, T. S. (1970). The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.
- (1978). Black-Body Theory and the Quantum Discontinuity 1894–1912. Oxford/New York: Clarendon Press, Oxford University Press.
Kuhn, T. S., J. L. Heilbron, J.L. H., Forman J. L. (1967). Sources for History of Quantum Physics: An Inventory and Report. Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society.
Olwell, R. (1999). Physical Isolation and Marginalization in Physics – David Bohm’s Cold War Exile. Isis 90: 738-756
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Pessoa Jr., O. (1998). Can the Decoherence Approach Help to Solve the Measurement Problem?. Synthese 113: 323-346
Pessoa Jr., O., O. Freire Jr., O. F.J. (2008). The Tausk Contoversy on the Foundations of Quantum Mechanics: Physics, Philosophy and Politics. Physics in Perspective 10(2): 138-162
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