Werner Heisenberg and Quantum Physics

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In “Physics and philosophy”, after summarizing the familiar developments in the history of science, Werner Heisenberg concludes:

“In this way, finally, the nineteenth century developed an extremely rigid frame for natural science which formed not only science but also the general outlook of great masses of people. This frame was supported by the fundamental concepts of classical physics, space, time, matter and causality; the concept of reality applied to the things or events that we could perceive by our senses or that could be observed by means of the refined tools that technical science has provided. Matter was the primary reality. The progress of science was pictured as a crusade of conquest into the material world. Utility was the watchword of the time. On the other hand, this frame was so narrow and rigid that it was difficult to find a place in it for many concepts of our language that had always belonged to its very substance, for instance, the concepts of mind, of the human soul or of life.”

According to Heisenberg, modern physics has disproved the above worldview: “[O]ne may say that the most important change brought about by [the results of modern physics] consists in the dissolution of the rigid frame of concepts of the nineteenth century. Of course many attempts had been made before to get away from this rigid frame which seemed obviously too narrow for an understanding of the essential parts of reality. But it had not been possible to see what could be wrong with the fundamental concepts like matter, space, time and causality that had been so extremely successful in the history of science. Only experimental research itself, carried out with all the refined equipment that technical science could offer, and its mathematical interpretation, provided the basis for a critical analysis – or, one may say, enforced the critical analysis – of these concepts, and finally resulted in the dissolution of the rigid frame.”

What may the new worldview and new way of thinking that is emerging through quantum physics be like?

Here are some quotations from “Potsdam Denkschrift 2005", co-authored by Hans-Peter Dürr, a former student of Heisenberg who succeeded Heisenberg as the Head of the Max Planck Institute in Munich, where the above question is answered:

We have to learn to think in a new way

"Taking this challenge seriously actually means setting off on a path of learning. The essential orientations are obvious: negative, calling for a turn back, and positive, encouraging different alignments. But thinking in a new way also means becoming familiar with other forms of thought than those of the problematical, still prevailing conventions;"

"[...] The ecological, economic, and cultural crises confronting and seemingly challenging us beyond our capabilities today are the expression of a far-reaching mental crisis in the relationship between us humans and our living world. And this is essentially connected with our refusal to accept – not merely formally, as up to now, but consciously with all its consequences – this discovery of the character of the Wirklichkeit in the scientific context, which has been revolutionarily expanded in comparison with the accustomed thing-filled reality. This forces upon us a modesty about what can be known in principle."

Challenges for Our Thinking and Acting: Overcoming the separation between man and nature

"We must learn that, like everything else, we are not only parts of this wonderful earthly geobiosphere, but also participants and partners, inseparably connected with it. This is also true for nature in the usual sense, which we disconnect from us and call our surroundings, materialistically perceiving in it only the provider and disposer of material and energy for human purposes. In the face of this constricted context, we must abandon certain narrow and mechanistic strategies, reductions, and averaging, replacing them with mobility, openness, and empathy, in order to provide space for creativity and action for all. This will open for us a cornucopia of creative vitality, integrated through organismic cooperation. It provides the basis for an ever more vital and more diversely connected, powerfully innovative evolution. It is creativity, genuine in principle, in a temporally essentially open world that here bursts the seemingly indissoluble fetters and opens up an immense variety of successful styles of living. An ever more vibrant being takes the place of a rigidified affluence of possession; and the individual gains growing openness in his intense partnership and his supra-temporal, supra-spatial embeddedness in the living association of the earth. This dynamic interplay between people and their living world creates a true well-being, fostering and challenging the individual in his whole being."

"We should joyfully accept this partnership in the living world and responsibly act upon it in full consciousness, in the sense of “making what lives more alive” (which is ultimately what “sustainability” means)."

How can an evolutionary, nonviolent transition succeed?

"We are confronted with the difficult demand for an evolutionary, nonviolent transition. After having the wrong orientation for so long, we wonder how this is possible. Encouraging models are still to be found in traditional cultures, their wisdom, and their knowledge; but they have to be rethought and adapted to the modern situation."

I am life

"The ground on which this new sustainable, organismic cultural diversity is to grow has been well prepared. For why do political and economic decision-makers invoke freedom and democracy, when most of them seem to have abandoned this trust in a fundamental commonality? Because they secretly know and feel that deeply anchored in people’s hearts is the longing to strengthen their own physical, emotional, and spiritual abilities and to further develop their personalities; and this is possible only in relative freedom. But the great majority of people do not want to use their empowerment against others who are trying to do similar things, but rather, together with them and motivated by the deeper connection, to create a more comprehensive commonality on a higher level. A new, but in truth long-proven view of the human beings is becoming visible, one that assumes a person capable of love and empathy. We should not be misled by the excesses of our modern civilization. The human being is capable of much more than being an aggressive, avaricious “wolf” (in Thomas Hobbes’ sense): freedom to strengthen oneself, not for the sake of victory in struggle against the others, but responsible for strengthening one’s own contribution in favor of the whole. Co-liberality is needed to achieve an optimal, vibrant coexistence in the sense implied by Albert Schweitzer’s remark, ”I am life that wants to live, amid life that wants to live.” All this may sound unachievably utopian. But we should remember: The mere fact of our existence as people today should show us that we are the successful result of a similar development that has already gone on for billions of years. We must continue to create new knowledge that allows more vibrancy to flower. We can trust that this power is effective in us. For omniconnectedness, which we can call love and which germinates from vitality, is inherent in the core of us and of everything else."


See also:

Potsdam Manifesto 2005

Potsdam "Denkschrift" 2005

Film (in German)

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