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Sunday, August 5, 2018

Niels Bohr and the philosophy of language


Photo source: Wikimedia Commons, Bain News Service


Niels Bohr (1885-1962) was a Danish physicist best known for his theory that electrons orbit around the nucleus of an atom. John Start Bell said,


"Bohr seemed to think that he had solved this question. I could not find his solution in his writings. But there was no doubt that he was convinced that he had solved the problem and, in so doing, had not only contributed to atomic physics, but to epistemology, to philosophy, to humanity and general." (Quoted in Quantum Profiles by Jeremy Bernstein)


Physicist Werner Heisenberg said,


"I remember discussions with Bohr which went through many hours till very late at night and ended almost in despair; and when at the end of the discussion I went along for a walk in the neighbouring part I repeated to myself again and again the question: Can nature possibly be so absurd as it seemed to us in these atomic experiments."Physics and Philosophy, 1958)


The rest of this post is some quotes from Bohr.


Objective and subjective language


"But I myself find the division of the world into an objective and subjective side much too arbitrary. The fact that religions through the ages have spoken in images and parables and paradoxes means simply that there are no other ways of grasping the reality to which they refer." (Remarks after the Solvay Conference, 1927)


"I consider those developments in physics during the last decades which have shown how problematic such concepts as 'objective' and 'subjective' are, a great liberation of thought." (Remarks after the Solvay Conference, 1927)


"The objective world of 19th century science was, as we know today, an ideal limiting case, but not the whole reality." (Remarks after the Solvay Conference, 1927)


"We are suspended in language in a way that we cannot say what is up and what is down. The word 'reality' is also a word, and a word which we must learn to use correctly." (Quoted in Philosophy of Science, Vol. 37, 1934)


"The great extension of our experience in recent years has brought light to the insufficiency of our simple mechanical conceptions and, as consequence, has shaken the foundation on which the customary interpretation of observation was based." (Atomic Physics and the Description of Nature, 1934)




"...simply by the word 'experiment' we refer to a situation where we can tell others what we have done and what we have learned..." (Quoted in Discussions withe Einstein on Epistemological Problems in Atomic Physics by Albert Schilpp)


"Physics is to be regarded not so much the study of something a priori given, but rather as the development of methods ordering and surveying human experience." (The Unity of Human Knowledge, 1960)