What do Werner Heisenberg and Osama bin Laden have in common? Postmodernism, according to Dave Kopel.
It seems to come down to this: much of postmodernism was inspired and supported by Heisenberg's "Uncertainty Principle." If physics was, at the most fundamental level, unable to state what is true, then how could anyone claim to know the "ultimate truth" about anything?
But was Heisenberg right?
The physicist Carver Mead, of the California Institute of Technology, is the author of Collective Electrodynamics: Quantum Foundations of Electromagnetism (MIT Press, 2000) which suggests that much of what Bohr and Heisenberg claimed was wrong. (Bohr, by the way, was always anti-Nazi, was spirited out of Denmark in 1943 by the Danish resistance, and went on to collaborate with Einstein in the Manhattan Project.)
At a famous debate in Copenhagen, Albert Einstein uttered his famous line "God doesn't play dice with the universe" — as Einstein objected to Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle, and to Bohr's vision of the randomness and incomprehensibility of reality.
Carver is attempting to topple Bohr/Heisenberg from their current roles as the ultimate geniuses of physics, just as previous intellectuals shattered the auras of authority and infallibility which once, wrongly, surrounded Karl Marx and Sigmund Freud.
According to Carver, Bohr beat Einstein in the Copenhagen debates, held in 1927 and 1930, simply through the force of Bohr's intimidating, dictatorial personality. What Bohr and Heisenberg pronounced as true for all time turns out simply to be the product of their limited understanding, Carver argues.
The conflicts that Bohr/Heisenberg claimed between their own quantum mechanics and Einstein's theories of relativity turn out to be resolvable into a single unified theory, says Carver. Carver argues that Bohr and Heisenberg were wrong in claiming that the laws of logic do not apply at the subatomic level, and also wrong in claiming that the subatomic world is fundamentally random.
Is postmodernism crumbling? We can only hope.
posted by Roy M. Jacobsen at
8:28 AM | BlogThread