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All We Need Is a Paradigm

By Samuel Phineas Upham

Simon Saunders has written extensively about quantum mechanics and relativity theory. He wrote a fantastic essay that was published in “All We Need is a Paradigm,” a collection of essays published by the Harvard Review of Philosophy and edited by me. He was Assistant Professor of Philosophy at the university from 1990 to 1995, and Associate Professor from 1995 to 1996.

“What Is the Problem with Measurement?” Simon Saunders asks in his essay on the paradoxes within quantum mechanics. The problem, both physical and philosophical in nature, centers on the finding that in quantum mechanics two states of the atomic world can exist until the moment of the discrete change in the action when ‘the quantum jump’ and ‘the collapse of the wavepacket’ are observed and they then are collapsed into one outcome. Physicists and philosophers have grappled with this problem in various ways. Saunders describes Bohr’s powerful Copenhagen Interpretation where “an objective phenomenon is only defined relative to an observation” and “any observation of atomic phenomena will involve an interaction with the agency of observation . . . with its inherent ‘irrationality’.” The origins, implications, and resolutions of Bohr’s ‘Quantum Postulate’ have not only a philosophy background but as Sanders points out in this essay, they all depend on philosophical arguments “of a metaphysical order that we have not seen since Decartes.”

Here is a little excerpt from his essay:

“What is the problem of measurement? As a first stab, we can say this: there is a difficulty in accounting for the fact that measurements have any outcomes at all. In Heisenberg’s words: “it is the ‘factual’ character of an event describable in terms of the concepts of daily life which is not without further comment contained in the mathematical formalism of quantum theory, and which appears in the Copenhagen interpretation by the introduction of the observer.”

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