History and Philosophy of Physics


Niels Bohr's Philosophy: The Epistemological Lesson of Quantum Mechanics

Authors: Ian von Hegner

Niels Bohr thought that what quantum mechanics has taught us is not only to understand something new, but also a new meaning of the term “to understand”. Bohr wanted to free himself from ontology by putting emphasis on epistemology; i.e. on certain conditions for observation and description. He believed that the epistemological lesson of quantum mechanics was a crucial one. Basically it has two important aspects. 1. Bohr's philosophy leads to a break with the so-called correspondence theory for truth and meaning. It states that true propositions are descriptions of a world that is independent of our observations; i.e. that on a regular basis one can compare language with reality, that is, in language compare the two areas against each other. Bohr believed that this did not make sense, since in many situations we cannot add meaning to a world that has a "an sich" structure (the thing-in-itself), which in turn can be depicted when observed. 2. All knowledge is attained under certain conditions for description. Bohr thought that the long-lasting criterion for valid knowledge is that we can communicate it unambiguously to each other. When Bohr emphasised that "we are suspended in language" in the sense that all knowledge determines what we can say about the world in an understandable way, and not what the world actually is, this must be understood in the sense that we only know the world as recognised; i.e., structured on the basis of the conditions for description, to which we are, as part of the world, necessarily are subjected to. Bohr's emphasis on conditions for descriptions invalidates the well-known distinction between analytic and synthetic propositions. An important feature of the descriptive use of ordinary language, as well as in classical physics, is that description is based on a dividing line between subject and object. This results in idealism and materialism not being tenable positions. Furthermore, it is such that we cannot use the designation of things independently of the designation of time and space. Logical principles are only meaningfully applied in situations relating to our conditions for observation. So based on inspiration from Bohr, Favrholdt developed a more adequate and comprehensive philosophy, where he, among other things, states that all humans possess a fundamental language, underlying all languages. This constitutes a number of concepts – the core – where the correct use is dictated by the structure of the world, which humans learn through sensory perception and action.

Comments: 44 Pages.

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[v1] 2016-10-07 07:39:37

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