Quantum Mechanics and the Philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead

Quantum Mechanics and the Philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead

Quantum Mechanics and the Philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead

Quantum Mechanics and the Philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead

Synopsis

In Process and Reality and other works, Alfred North Whitehead struggled to come to terms with the impact the new science of quantum mechanics would have on metaphysics. This ambitious book is the first extended analysis of the intricate relationships between relativity theory, quantum mechanics, and Whitehead's cosmology. Michael Epperson illuminates the intersection of science and philosophy in Whitehead's work-and details Whitehead's attempts to fashion an ontology coherent with quantum anomalies. Including a nonspecialist introduction to quantum mechanics, Epperson adds an essential new dimension to our understanding of Whitehead-and of the constantly enriching encounter between science and philosophy in our century.

Excerpt

Whatever one may say about the unsurpassed predictive power of quantum mechanics, few would argue that it is a more comfortable or intuitive theory than the classical mechanics of Newton and Galileo, which its innovators intended to replace as die endgültige Physik. For while we have for the past several hundred years enjoyed classical mechanics both in application of its predictive power and in contemplation of its descriptive power, quantum mechanics, though certainly providing vast improvements in the accurate prediction of phenomena, does so only in deficit of its ability to describe these phenomena intuitively.

A coherent and intuitive characterization of nature, such as that given us in classical mechanics and its underlying ontology of mechanistic materialism, has been sorely lacking in quantum mechanics. One reason is that many of its earliest innovators, Einstein, Planck, and Bohr among them, had presumed that quantum mechanics could be accommodated by the same classical ontology of fundamental materialism, with perhaps a few minor modifications, such that efforts toward a novel ontology were for many years thought unnecessary. But such an accommodation has, after several decades of work, proven to be an infamously uneasy one as evinced by the many notorious quantum-classical incompatibilities and "paradoxes" that have unfortunately become the defining characteristic of quantum mechanics for many.

One need look no further than the familiar problem of wave-particle duality to glimpse the difficulty. Quantum mechanics seems to entail two competing and incompatible fundamental descriptions of nature, and this leaves one with three alternatives: (i) to characterize nature as fundamentally particulate wherein wave-like properties are an abstraction; (ii) to characterize nature as fundamentally wave-like wherein particulate properties are an abstraction; (iii) to pass through these two horns and deny that nature is capable of fundamental characterization at all (apart from this sanction itself, of . . .

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