Quantum theory is widely held to resist any realist interpretation and to mark the advent of a ‘postmodern’ science characterised by paradox, uncertainty, and the limits of precise measurement. Keeping his own realist position in check, Christopher Norris provides a remarkably detailed and incisive account of the positions adopted by parties on both sides of this complex debate.
James Cushing gives in Bohmian Mechanics and Quantum Theory (1996): An Appraisal, an account of the rise to domination of the Born-Heisenberg-Bohr Copenhagen Interpretation of quantum mechanics:
- Today it is generally assumed that the success of quantum mechanics demands that we accept a world view in which physical processes at the most fundamental level are seen as being irreducibly and ineliminably indeterministic.
- That is, one of the great watersheds in twentieth-century scientific thought is the "Copenhagen" insight that empirical evidence and logic are seen as necessarily implying an indeterministic picture of nature.
- This is in marked contrast to any classical representation of a clockwork universe.
- A causal program would have been a far less radical departure from the then-accepted framework of classical physics than was the so-called Copenhagen version of quantum mechanics that rapidly gained ascendancy by the late 1920s and has been all-but universally accepted ever since.
- How could this happen?
- It has been over twenty years now since the dramatic and controversial "Forman thesis" was advanced that acausality was embraced by German quantum physicists in the Weimar era as a reaction to the hostile intellectual and cultural environment that existed there prior to and during the formulation of modem quantum mechanics.
- The goal was to establish a causal connection between this social intellectual milieu and the content of science, in this case quantum mechanics.
- The general structure of this argument is the following. Causality for physicists in the early twentieth century "meant complete lawfulness of Nature, determinism [(i.e., event-by-event causality)]".
- Such lawfulness was seen by scientists as absolutely essential for science to be a coherent enterprise. A scientific approach was also taken to be necessarily a rational one.
- When, in the aftermath of the German defeat in World War I, science was held responsible (not only by its failure, but even more because of its spirit) for the sorry state of society, there was a reaction against rationalism and a return to a romantic, "irrational" ideal.
But maybe today Germany is less idealistic and anti-realistic (although the Energiewende is romantic anti-realism) and so maybe also a more realistic quantum mechanics can be allowed to develop...without the standard "shut-up and calculate" suppression of discussion...
CONFERENCE: NATURE AND THE PHILOSOPHY OF NATURE IN GERMAN IDEALISM AND ROMANTICISM (SYDNEY, JUNE 15-17, 2015)