Quantum Theory and the Flight from Realism: Philosophical Responses to Quantum Mechanics

Quantum Theory and the Flight from Realism: Philosophical Responses to Quantum Mechanics

Quantum Theory and the Flight from Realism: Philosophical Responses to Quantum Mechanics

Quantum Theory and the Flight from Realism: Philosophical Responses to Quantum Mechanics

Synopsis

This book is a critical introduction to the long-standing debate concerning the conceptual foundations of quantum mechanics and the problems it has posed for physicists and philosophers from Einstein to the present. Quantum theory has been a major influence on postmodernism, and presents significant problems for realists. Keeping his own realist position in check, Christopher Norris subjects a wide range of key opponents and supporters of realism to a high and equal level of scrutiny. With a characteristic combination of rigour and intellectual generosity, he draws out the merits and weaknesses from opposing arguments.Putting the case for a realist approach which adheres to well-tried scientific principles of causal reasoning and inference to the best explanation, Christopher Norris clarifies these debates to a non-specialist readership and scholars of philosophy, science studies and the philosophy of science alike. Quantum Theory and the Flight From Realism suggests that philosophical reflection can contribute to a better understanding of these crucial, current issues.

Excerpt

In this book I examine various aspects of the near century-long debate concerning the conceptual foundations of quantum mechanics (QM) and the problems it has posed for physicists and philosophers from Einstein to the present. They include the issue of wave-particle dualism; the uncertainty attaching to measurements of particle location or momentum; the (supposedly) observer-induced ‘collapse of the wave-packet’; and the evidence of remote superluminal (i.e. faster-than-light) interaction between widely separated particles. I also show in some detail how the orthodox ‘Copenhagen’ interpretation of QM has influenced current anti-realist or ontologicalrelativist approaches to philosophy of science, among them the arguments advanced by thinkers such as Michael Dummett, Thomas Kuhn and W.V. Quine. Moreover, there are clear signs that some philosophers—including Hilary Putnam—have retreated from a realist position very largely in response to just these problems with the interpretation of quantum mechanics. So it is important to grasp exactly how the problems arose and exactly why—on what scientific or philosophical grounds—any alternative (realist) construal should have been so often and routinely ruled out as a matter of orthodox QM wisdom.

Perhaps a few personal reminiscences would not be out of place at this point. Eight years ago I moved from the Department of English to the Department of Philosophy in Cardiff, having previously published several books on literary theory that might be construed—so it struck me now—as going along with the emergent trend towards anti-realism and cultural relativism in various quarters of ‘advanced’ theoretical debate. What brought this home with particular force was the advent of a new postmodernist fashion which seemed to count reality a world well lost for the sake of pursuing its own favoured kinds of hyperreal fantasy projection. The results were evident not only in literary studies—a fairly safe zone for such ideas—but also in other disciplines which had likewise taken the postmodern-textualist turn, among them history, sociology, political theory, and even philosophy of science. So it seemed important to challenge this burgeoning academic trend, especially with regard to its impact on sociology of knowledge and ‘science-studies’ where cultural relativism had by now established a strong disciplinary hold.

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