Mind and Nature: Selected Writings on Philosophy, Mathematics, and Physics

Mind and Nature: Selected Writings on Philosophy, Mathematics, and Physics

Mind and Nature: Selected Writings on Philosophy, Mathematics, and Physics

Mind and Nature: Selected Writings on Philosophy, Mathematics, and Physics


Hermann Weyl (1885-1955) was one of the twentieth century's most important mathematicians, as well as a seminal figure in the development of quantum physics and general relativity. He was also an eloquent writer with a lifelong interest in the philosophical implications of the startling new scientific developments with which he was so involved. Mind and Nature is a collection of Weyl's most important general writings on philosophy, mathematics, and physics, including pieces that have never before been published in any language or translated into English, or that have long been out of print. Complete with Peter Pesic's introduction, notes, and bibliography, these writings reveal an unjustly neglected dimension of a complex and fascinating thinker. In addition, the book includes more than twenty photographs of Weyl and his family and colleagues, many of which are previously unpublished.

Included here are Weyl's exposition of his important synthesis of electromagnetism and gravitation, which Einstein at first hailed as "a first-class stroke of genius"; two little-known letters by Weyl and Einstein from 1922 that give their contrasting views on the philosophical implications of modern physics; and an essay on time that contains Weyl's argument that the past is never completed and the present is not a point. Also included are two book-length series of lectures, The Open World (1932) and Mind and Nature (1934), each a masterly exposition of Weyl's views on a range of topics from modern physics and mathematics. Finally, four retrospective essays from Weyl's last decade give his final thoughts on the interrelations among mathematics, philosophy, and physics, intertwined with reflections on the course of his rich life.


“It’s a crying shame that Weyl is leaving Zurich. He is a great master.” Thus Albert Einstein described Hermann Weyl (1885–1955), who remains a legendary figure, “one of the greatest mathematicians of the first half of the twentieth century…. No other mathematician could claim to have initiated more of the theories that are now being explored,” as Michael Atiyah put it. Weyl deserves far wider renown not only for his importance in mathematics and physics but also because of his deep philosophical concerns and thoughtful writing. To that end, this anthology gathers together some of Weyl’s most important general writings, especially those that have become unavailable, have not previously been translated into English, or were unpublished. Together, they form a portrait of a complex and fascinating man, poetic and insightful, whose “vision has stood the test of time.”

This vision has deeply affected contemporary physics, though Weyl always considered himself a mathematician, not a physicist. The present volume emphasizes his treatment of philosophy and physics, but another complete anthology could be made of Weyl’s general writings oriented more directly toward mathematics. Here, I have chosen those writings that most accessibly show how Weyl synthesized philosophy, physics, and mathematics.

Weyl’s philosophical reflections began in early youth. He recollects vividly the worn copy of a book about Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason he found in the family attic and read avidly at age fifteen. “Kant’s teaching on the ‘ideality of space and time’ immediately took powerful hold of me; with a jolt I was awakened from my ‘dogmatic slumber,’ and the mind of the boy . . .

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