Bohr's Philosophy of Physics

I'm sorry to have missed the previous discussion (Cziko & Randall)
regarding Bohr, Einstein and Feynman (it takes so long to sift the
voluminous material for this board that too much gets tossed prematurely).

I'm afraid I don't see how anyone could call Bohr's approach "invoking
magic", when what he was calling for was the primacy of (verifiable)
results of observations and calculations over tacit images of the nature
of an underlying "Reality". At root the problems of quantum mechanics are
arguments over rival epistemologies and conflicting notions of what it
is to make and interpret a scientific model. Murdoch's book, The
Philosophy of Niels Bohr (Cambridge U Press, 1987) is the clearest
treatment of the Bohr-Einstein debate that I have seen, casting
Bohr as a pragmatist (in the style of Wm James, Mach, Schlick) and
Einstein as a realist. If anyone was invoking unexplained supernatural
entities or predilections, it was Einstein.

It is not the case that Bohr's philosophy of science condemns us to give
up on looking for other sets of observables -- it merely forces us to keep
the realm of scientific imagination and theory-construction (and religion
and esthetics and politics and whim) separate from the means
(measurement, computation) by which we evaluate particular models.

This division is necessary for intellectual hygene. It is just too easy to
be seduced by ones' own vision of how "things might really be". The only
strategy that keeps us honest is this verificationist, "show me" approach,
where all elements in a model are either directly measured or computed from
measured initial conditions. The alternative is a "possible worlds" approach,
in which the imagination, liberated from specifics, is free to construct one
ad hoc move after another, whenever an objection is lodged. If we're going to
do that, we might as well become lit-crits and/or psychoanalytics (at least they
get to talk about sex and their psyches while they go around in circles).

So much of contemporary mathematical physics (and the current
wave of pop-physics pulps), having adopted a platonic-realist approach,
no longer seriously attempts to connect theory with observation. One of the
great intellectual tragedies of the late 20th century has been this infusion
of platonic mysticism (following Godel, the later Carnap, and Tarski) into
philosophy, the foundations of mathematics, physics, linguistics,
and the cognitive sciences. We are still dealing with the wreckage.

Enough ranting for now,
Let's get back to the subject (whatever it was).

Peter Cariani

(By now I should know better than to get involved with discussions like this.)