Physics and Philosophy

“We can say that physics is a part of science and as such aims at a description and understanding of nature. Any kind of understanding, scientific or not, depends on our language, on the communication of ideas. Every description of phenomena, of experiments and their results, rests upon language as the only means of communication. The words of this language represent the concepts of daily life, which in the scientific language of physics may be refined to the concepts of classical physics. These concepts are the only tools for an unambiguous communication about events, about the setting up of experiments, and about their results. If therefore the atomic physicist is asked to give a description of what really happens in his experiments, the words “description” and “really” and “happens” can only refer to the concepts of daily life or of classical physics. As soon as the physicist gave up this basis he would lose the means of unambiguous communication and could not continue in his science. Therefore, any statement about what has “actually happened” is a statement in terms of the classical concepts and — because of thermodynamics and of the uncertainty relations — by its very nature incomplete with respect to the details of the atomic events involved. The demand to “describe what happens” in the quantum-theoretical process between two successive observations is a contradiction in adjecto, since the word “describe” refers to the use of the classical concepts, while these concepts cannot be applied in the space between the observations; they can only be applied at the points of observation.”

Werner Heisenberg

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