Friday, 4 September 2009

A conversation between Einstein and Heisenberg.

Heisenberg: "One cannot observe the electron orbits inside the atom. [...] but since it is reasonable to consider only those quantities in a theory that can be measured, it seemed natural to me to introduce them only as entities, as representatives of electron orbits, so to speak."

Einstein: "But you don't seriously believe that only observable quantities should be considered in a physical theory?"

"I thought this was the very idea that your Relativity Theory is based on?" Heisenberg asked in surprise.

"Perhaps I used this kind of reasoning," replied Einstein, "but it is nonsense nevertheless. [...] In reality the opposite is true: only the theory decides what can be observed."

(translated from "Der Teil und das Ganze" by W. Heisenberg)

We can easily see the rift between Einstein's intuitive and Heisenberg's empirical approach. Although Einstein's argumentation appears tricky, it is clear that he believes in a reality independent of what we can observe, which is in essence the view of realism. Kant's "thing in itself" comes to mind. - In contrast, Heisenberg believes that reality is what can be observed. If there are different observations, there must be different realities, which depend on the observer. Insofar Heisenberg can be regarded as an advocate of philosophical idealism, which states that the objects of perception are identical with the ideas we have about them. The idealist view denies that any particular thing has an independent real essence outside of consciousness.

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