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The Enigma Of The Universe : Werner Heisenberg

Published: 29.08.2014
Updated: 02.07.2015

One of the most eminent scientists of the present age, Werner Heisenberg, has discussed the "philosophical aspect of science" in his modern work Physics and Philosophy. It seems that he has accepted the objective existence of matter as well as mind.

Heisenberg considers it a necessary aim of scientific investi­gation to describe the objective reality, as he observes: "Practical Realism has always been and will always be an essential part of natural science.......... Every scientist who does research work feels

that he is looking for something that is objectively true."[1] His partiality, favour to objectivism, is found in his interpretation of Quantum Theory. Quoting Alexander, he writes: "We must there­fore understand by "result of measurement" in Quantum Theory only the objective effect of the interaction of the electron with a suitable object. Mention of the observer must be avoided, and we must treat objective conditions and objective effects. A physical quantity is an objective characteristic of the phenomenon, but not the result of an observation. According to Alexander, the wave-function in configuration space characterises the objective state of the electron."[2]

Further, answering to the question as to what extent have we finally come to an objective description of the world, he writes: "In classical physics, science started from the belief-or should one say from the illusion-that we could describe the world or at least parts of the world without any reference to ourselves. This is actually possible to a large extent. We know that the city of London exists whether we see it or not. It may be said that classical physics is just that idealisation in which we can speak about parts of the world without any reference to ourselves. Its success has led to the general ideal for an objective description of the world. Objectivity has become the first criterion for the value of any scientific result."[3]

Again, we find the eminent scientist refuting the subjective nature of reality, Criticizing the idealistic views of Locke, Berkeley and Hume, he writes: "Our perceptions are not primarily bundles of colours or sounds; what we perceive is already perceived as something, the accent here being on the word "thing" and therefore it is doubtful whether we gain anything by taking the perceptions instead of the things as the ultimate elements of reality."[4]

From the above quotations it becomes clear that Heisenberg considers the thing as objective realities.

Heisenberg seems to believe also in an independent existence of mind. He thinks that "mind" is an independent entity different from matter. He thinks that the laws of physics and chemistry may be able to explain the biological phenomena of living beings, but the psychic phenomena cannot be explained by the physico-chemical mechanism. He observes, "If we go beyond biology and include psychology in the discussion, then there can scarely be any doubt that the concepts of physics, chemistry and evolution together will not be sufficient to describe the facts. On this point the existence of Quantum Theory has changed our attitude from what was believed in the nineteenth century. During that period some scientists were inclined to think that the psychological phenomena could ultimately be explained on the basis of physics and chemistry of the brain. From the Quantum-theoretical point of view there is no reason for such an assumption. We would, inspite of the fact that the physical events in the brain belong to the psychic phenomena, not expect that these could be sufficient to explain them. We would never doubt that the brain acts as a physico-chemical mechanism if treated as such, but for an understanding of psychic phenomena we would start from the fact that the human mind enters as object and subject into the scientific process of psychology."[5]

Though he has not precisely defined the concept of mind, he is ready to accept it as it is defined in natural language. He does not find it against the methods of science, as he says: "One sees that - after the experience of modern physics - our attitude toward concepts like mind or the human soul or life or God will be different from that of the nineteenth century, because these concepts belong to the natural language and have therefore immediate connection with reality. It is true that we will also realise that these concepts are not well-defind in the scientific sense and that their application may lead to various contradictions; for the time being we may have to take the concepts, unanalyzed as they are: but still we know that they touch reality. It may be useful in this connection to remember that even in the most precise part of science - in mathe­matics, we cannot avoid using concepts that involve contradictions. For instance, it is well-known that the concept of infinity leads to contradictions that have been analyzed, but it would be practically impossible to construct the main parts of mathematics without this concept."[6]

Thus, Heisenberg has accepted the reality of mind as well as matter; all the same his philosophy is slightly at variance with simple realism. We can call his philosophy "modern positivism", as he has himself indicated. He is of the view that before using the words or concepts which have been formed in the past, it is necessary to define them sharply.[7] This, he believes, is what the modern positivists require us to do.[8] Modern positivists have criticized against the naive use of certain terms like "thing", "perception", "existence". We propose to discuss this point in details in the last chapter.


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Title: The Enigma Of The Universe Publisher: JVB University Ladnun English Edition: 2010 HN4U Online Edition: 2014

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  1. Berkeley
  2. Brain
  3. Heisenberg
  4. Hume
  5. London
  6. Objectivity
  7. Quantum Theory
  8. Science
  9. Soul
  10. Space
  11. Werner Heisenberg
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