Conceptual Foundations of Quantum Mechanics - Bernard D'Espagnat

  1. tom.stoer

    tom.stoer 5,489
    Science Advisor

    Can anyone comment on this book?
  2. jcsd
  3. Demystifier

    Demystifier 5,594
    Science Advisor

    A very good book for people interested in mathematical, physical and philosophical aspects of foundations of quantum mechanics. Often cited, especially for explanation of the physical meaning of the density matrix.
  4. tom.stoer

    tom.stoer 5,489
    Science Advisor

    great, thanks; I studied D'Espagnat's 'On Physics and Philosophy' a couple of times; I still do not understand every aspect - I think this is beyond my philosophical capabilities - but after your statement I will certainly start reading 'Conceptual Foundations of Quantum Mechanics'
  5. I have studied d’Espagnat’s books and writings and learned much from them regarding the nature of our reality in terms of the philosophical standpoint one chooses to adopt. Within his last but one book “Veiled Reality” d'Espagnat gives a very good account of the shortcomings of idealism and realism in properly "explaining" our reality. He uses quantum mechanics extensively to argue for a mind independent reality that is outside of space and time, thus suggesting that dualism is a construct "emanating" from mind independent reality, but we cannot escape from the construct of dualism in which to examine objectively the "something" that constitutes mind independent reality, all we can do is to consider it from the reality that we are trapped within. But the philosophical arguments he gives against idealism forces him to consider that mind independent reality does exist as "something" and therefore realism is for him the proper philosophical standpoint to adopt. But the crucial difference between most who adopt realism and his conception concerns his use of the term "open realism". It implies that from this vantage point, we cannot say something true about mind independent reality (which is considered to be the case by most other versions of realism) rather we can only "glimpse" at it (hence the title of his book “Veiled Reality”) and speculate philosophically about its form - it is simply not possible for us to stand in one corner and examine mind independent reality in the other corner, the separation between subject and object is not a universal separation, it is confined to our reality and is a construct that gives rise to a "whole" that is our reality. Outside of this construct of empirical reality lay "something" that is not accessible via the normal premise of a subject object separation. It implies (uncomfortably for many) that the physical historical time line that we associate with reality is actually only applicable to our reality and that we can only talk about (for example) the existence of stars before humans came on the scene if we hypothetically imagine a human being present at that time. Outside of our "whole" there is no historical time line of physical events.

    D' Espagnat makes use of quantum mechanics to provide a physicists perspective on the nature of our reality and the tenuous nature of the subject object separation we take for granted and assume to be universal and exist independently of our involvement. He emphasises that in his opinion QM is universal in applicability and can account for classical physics - not that he considers QM to have an ontological basis, rather he thinks that the lessons we learn from QM are fundamental to our whole reality, but not forgetting that QM itself is examined through our construct.

    In terms of his books, I think “Veiled reality” is the best account of his physics and philosophy - he deals with the technical aspects of QM but also discusses at length the philosophical questions surrounding physics and its quest to understand nature. His book “Conceptual foundations of QM” is much more technical and was written by d'Espagnat as a technical fore runner to explain his use of the formalism of QM within his overall philosophical framework of open realism. I find the technical aspects of QM quite difficult, so I have gained much more from “Veiled Reality” than "Conceptual foundations of QM" - I would certainly recommend "Veiled Reality" if you are looking for a more technical overview of his use of QM in supporting his philosophical framework than that which is contained within "On Physics and Philosophy".

    I have also found “On Physics and Philosophy” to be very informative and I think it provides a very good account for the non specialist of the role of physics (in terms of idealism and realism) in trying to understand the nature of reality outside and inside of our reality.
  6. tom.stoer

    tom.stoer 5,489
    Science Advisor

    Len M, I agree with most of what you are saying; it's an impressive and well thought out elaboration; I will certainly study the book a couple of times and I am sure that I will alayws find new trains of thought and philosophical aspects.
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