The Philosophical Impact of Contemporary Physics

The Philosophical Impact of Contemporary Physics

The Philosophical Impact of Contemporary Physics

The Philosophical Impact of Contemporary Physics

Excerpt

The present book has grown out of the conviction that no true understanding of contemporary physics and its philosophical implications is possible without first fully realizing in what sense and to what extent modern physical concepts differ from the concepts of classical physics. The classical concepts of space, time, matter, motion, energy, and causality have been radically transformed recently; although the words used by contemporary physicists are the same, their connotations are altogether different from those of their classical counterparts. There is hardly any similarity between the "matter" of modern physics and the traditional material substance of the classical period, and this is true in varying degrees of other concepts as well. The revolutionary character of modern concepts cannot be fully grasped as long as the contrasting background of classical physics is not kept constantly in sight. To bring into full focus an awareness of the contrast between the classical and the modern conceptual frameworks is one of the purposes of this book.

At first such a task may appear superfluous. Nearly everybody now claims to be aware of the contrast between Newtonian physics and the physics of the twentieth century. But the situation is not as simple as it superficially appears to be. The main part of the revolution in modern physics took part in the first three decades of this century. It was then that the theory of relativity, the theory of quanta, and, finally, wave mechanics came into being. It is true that the effect of these theories on the imagination of physicists, philosophers, and even laymen was truly shattering; the contrast between the new theories and the appealing clarity of classical concepts was sharp and shocking. But as the years went by, awareness of this contrast grew dimmer. The intensity of every astonishment gradually wears off; the human mind, by the sheer effect of repetition and habit, gradually becomes accustomed to even the strangest and least familiar ideas.

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