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Did Bohr have a Logical Picture of Wittgenstein?

  1. May 13, 2013 #1
    "As we all know..." (Uh-Oh...), Bohr and those Wacky Copenhageners were adamantly against trying to form "Pictures" of the emerging Quantum theory. Bohr berated Schrodinger (Who had tuberculosis!) while S was suffering in bed at the Institute, harassing S for hours - "Get rid of the pictures!".

    Is it possible that Bohr et.al. had a different focus in mind other than what we have assumed to be the case?

    "2.063 The total reality is the world.
    2.1 We make to ourselves pictures of facts.
    2.11 The picture represents the facts in logical space, the existence and non-existence of atomic facts.
    2.12 The picture is the model of reality."

    Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, retrieved from http://people.umass.edu/phil335-klement-2/tlp/tlp.pdf [Broken] .

    The development of Logical Atomism with Russell, which led to the Tractatus of Wittgenstein, was a major development of 20th Century Philosophy. In starting research on this idea, I came across a number of references to Schrodinger coming in contact with Wittgenstein, Whitehead, Russell and others. Logical Positivism, the Vienna Circle, and the rise of the most radical form of Empiricism since Hume (In opposition to Kantian Sensibilities) could not possibly have been unknown to Bohr at the time.

    Maybe yes and maybe no.

    What leads to this post was a statement I found made in passing, that Bohr possibly never came in contact with Wittgenstein and the Logical Atomism found in the Tractatus. I don't see how this could be true.

    In fact, it may explain Bohr's objection to trying to "Picture Quantum Mechanics". If Bohr was aware of philosophical developments of the British and Continental Empiricist crowd at the time, his statement may be an attempt to repudiate the "Pictures in Logical Space" argument of the Logical Atomists and also the later Logical Positivist movement.

    Does anyone know of Bohr working with any of the leaders of his movement or his views on the Logical Picture ideal given by Wittgenstein?

    Last edited by a moderator: May 6, 2017
  2. jcsd
  3. May 13, 2013 #2
    The early researchers of quantum foundations were well-versed in classical and contemporary philosophy, and you aren't the first to see some parallels between Bohr and Wittgenstein. I don't know if the two ever had any contact; however, here is an interview with Heisenberg who briefly mentions Wittgenstein somewhat favourably in connection with quantum complementarity.

    He doesn't seem to have much liked the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, though.
  4. May 13, 2013 #3


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    Bohr was not against forming pictures. It is just that certain pictures which were combined without restriction in classical physics, i.e. spacetime description and causality (conservation laws) cannot be combined in that way in the description of quantum phenomena. The spacetime and causal descriptions are 'complementary.'

    About philosophers, you can get an idea about his views from the following quote:

  5. May 13, 2013 #4

    I thank you for bringing that interview to our attention. It was one of the sources I had found that led to my question:

    "I should first state my own opinion about Wittgenstein's philosophy. I never could do too much with early Wittgenstein and the philosophy of the Tractatus Logico-philosophicus, but I like very much the later ideas of Wittgenstein and his philosophy about language...
    "I would say that Wittgenstein, in view of his later works, would have realized that when we use such words as position or velocity, for atoms, for example, we cannot know how far these terms take us, to what extent they are applicable. By using these words, we learn their limitations."

    This is Heisenberg from the article referenced above and it is important to see Heisenberg's Kantian Sensibiliites:

    "Kant made the point that our experience has two sources: one source is the outer world (that is, the information received by the senses), and the other is the existence of concepts by which we can talk about these experiences. This idea is also borne out in quantum theory."

    Now, Heisenberg had no problem wading into Philosophical waters. Stapp has summarized H's view in opposition to Bohm. Heisenberg's view cures Bohm's problem of never-ending Branching, "IF memory serves me correctly here". Heisenberg, however, is trapped in a Critique of Pure Solipsism. As Whitehead stated, "Thus for Kant the process whereby there is experience is a process from subjectivity to apparent objectivity."

    Which is why it does not seem possible that Bohr would have been ignorant of the Logical Atomism theory of "Logical Pictures".

    Was Bohr Kantian or Neo-Kantian?

  6. May 13, 2013 #5
    C. Wilson...see this discussion by Roseberg (p. 105) about Bohr relationship to Vienna Circle philosophers. Bohr attended a few meetings of the Vienna Circle in Copenhagen and was well aware of them:

    http://books.google.com/books?id=eO...=0CGsQ6AEwCA#v=onepage&q=bohr schlick&f=false

    In Edit: Here is an excellent summary of association of Bohr and philosophy of Vienna Circle:


    In Edit: And see this book that compares Bohr and Wittgenstein. In the introduction it is mentioned that it is unknown if Bohr and Wittgenstein met each other:


    Concerning Bohr and Kant...see here:
    http://www2.uni-erfurt.de/wissenschaftsphilosophie/Held/Bibliographie/bohr-and-kantien.pdf [Broken]
    Last edited by a moderator: May 6, 2017
  7. May 13, 2013 #6
    Thank you, Salman2.

    At this point, I start to think of Bohr in the same manner as the story about Eisenhower:
    The head of the John Birch Society - Robert Welch, I believe - accused Eisenhower of being a Communist.
    A wag replied, "Eisenhower isn't a Communist. He's a golfer...".

    Bohr is Bohr. From what I've read, he appears to fall into the Kantian Camp. Heisenberg's approving use of "das Noumena/Phenomena" is suggestive and it does appear that Bohr used "phenomena" often enough. Perhaps Bohr DID understand Wittgenstein's use of, "The picture represents the facts in logical space, the existence and non-existence of atomic facts" and pounded Schrodinger about the head with it.

    It would seem that Bohr's view of the Vienna Circle's Program to obtain a Unified Scientific Language (Other than German, of course...) was less than hospitable. Bohr had "Complementarity" and his obsession with Classic Language with its inability to conform to QM strictures.

    All of this could be put in a Kantian file cabinet. Maybe the "Overbearing Kantian Philosophers" file cabinet.

    Last edited: May 13, 2013
  8. May 13, 2013 #7


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    That's not my reading of Bohr - he seems more like a positivist to me. In fact that's how he berated Einstein saying he was merely taking the philosophy Einstein had introduced with Relativity to its logical conclusion ie time is what clocks measure etc. Einstein replied something to the effect you cant do the same joke twice or something like that.

    The real key to Bohr's ideas, which are actually quite subtle, and indeed Einsteins were, is his insistence on knowing via an actual measurement apparatus as it appears here in the classical world and that operates along classical lines. He thus had a fundamental cut between classical and quantum. Of recent times however it has become clear this is untenable and we now have interpretations where everything is quantum - as it really should be.

    The thing with Wittgestein is before being turned to philosophy by Russell while doing his Phd in math was a hard nosed aeronautical scientist so actually understands from a practitioners viewpoint what science is about. His debates with Turing on mathematics were a classic. As a scientist you likely think Turing won that one - but actually Wittgestein had a point - to a large extent it is convention. Personally I believe it tells us TRUTH pure and simple - but he has a point.

    Last edited: May 13, 2013
  9. May 13, 2013 #8


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    A lot of the stuff written by philosophers makes me want to cover my face with my hands - its hopeless - but some modern philosophers clearly understand QM very very well eg David Wallice:
    http://users.ox.ac.uk/~mert0130/ [Broken]

    It helps of course if you also have a Phd in Physics :wink::wink::wink::wink:

    Last edited by a moderator: May 6, 2017
  10. May 13, 2013 #9
  11. May 13, 2013 #10


    Staff: Mentor

    Indeed. There are many fine sources philosophy wise to understand QM - its not they don't exist - but you do require a bit discernment.

  12. Sep 4, 2016 #11
    @Charles Wilson: Could you please let me know "what references to Schroedinger coming in contact with Wittgenstein" you managed to find? I ahve tried hard but was not able to find any evidence. I am writing a paper on Wittgenstein and modern physics and would be very grateful if you kindly gave me your sources. Thank you!

    Kind regards,
    Karl Steinkogler, Austria
  13. Sep 4, 2016 #12


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    Staff: Mentor

    Charles Wilson is no longer with us, as indicated by the line through his name.
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