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What was the deal with Bohr?:P

  1. Feb 16, 2008 #1
    What was the deal with Niels bohr, I've read a lot about quantum interpretations lately and it seems he had childish tantrums towards anyone or anything who said anything but copenhagen, he destroyed everett and made him quit physics, he went into seizures everytime anyone spoke of bohmian and everlasting discussions with einstein into the night...

    Was he... close minded ?:P
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  3. Feb 17, 2008 #2


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    I never read any actual biography of Bohr and I have no information about his personality, but for me Bohr, with some of his famous quotes, sort of symbolises (together with others of course) the start of a new thinking. And regardless of his personality which I can't comment on, his spirit reinterpreted in my view, symbolises something that is anything but close minded. On the contrary.

    Einstein on the contrary, who has clearly made massive contributions to science, nevertheless seem to represent the old thinking.

    Sometimes I wonder what Einstein with his creativity would have come up with, if he was born a little later, after QM was more mature, so that he could have worked out his ideas ontop of QM, rather than ontop of classical mechanics. This is because I think there are in despite of the differences in thinking of realism, interesting similarities between relational information and the type of relativity that exists in GR. Taking both those steps at once was probably too much for anyone in the early 20th century.

    This revolution is seemingly still not completed.

  4. Feb 17, 2008 #3
    Nope, Bohr only cared about the mathematical formalism behind QM. He wanted to focus on this and on how to get real numbers out of it that describe nature. Talking about Copenhagen versus Bohmian versus Multi Worlds etc etc is useless because you are talking about interpretations here. The true numbers do not change at all.

    The discussions with Einstein were not about these different visions but about the probabilistic nature of atomic scaled phenomena. Einstein couldn't accept that and we all know how wrong he was.

  5. Feb 17, 2008 #4


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    I think you should give a source for these claims. Everything I've ever read about Bohr characterized him as being exceptionally polite.
  6. Feb 17, 2008 #5


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    Hmm..what if he was?
    Newton was a misanthropic, mean-spirited closet queen who heaped ad hominems on other scientists like Robert Hooke. Brilliant human trash, that is.

    Apart from his understandable postwar animosity towards Nazi golden boy Heisenberg, the only thing I know about Niels Bohr's private life is that he loved cowboy movies.
  7. Feb 17, 2008 #6


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    Wow, talk about misinformation! First, Bohr had his difficulty with math -- his many, many pages of research notes contain virtually no math. He was almost always trying to figure out what it all meant, mostly with words..

    As Schrodinger put it, " There will hardly again be a man who will achieve such enormous external and internal success, who in his sphere of work is honored almost like a demigod by the whole world, and who yet remains -- I would not say modest and free of conceit -- but rather shy and diffident like a theology student." (Neils Bohr's Times, by Abraham Pais, p299. This book is essential to any physicist who wishes to understand Bohr.)

    I was fortunate to study under several professors who knew and worked or studied with Bohr. They adored the man; Bohr was quite beloved in the physics community -- a kind and thoughtful man.

    As I understand it, Bohr just did not pay much attention to Everett's ideas. That gracious disdain could ruin someone, suggests, quite possibly, troubled mental states are at issue. For example, Bohr, Einstein and Feynman were not greeted with open arms, but persevered on to greatness. In the 50's and 60's, my time as a professional physicist, there were few supporters of either Bohm or Everett -- for most of us their ideas 1. did not make much sense, overly complex they were, and 2. no new physics emerged from these alternate interpretations. So, the pragmatic attitude was: why bother. That's a long time ago, and still these alternate interpretations have produced nothing except work for some physicists --but no new physics. The romanticism of 19th century realism does not fit well with 20th century physics.

    In no small measure, Bohm was destroyed by the House UnAmerican Committee, because of his left-wing politics -- during thje McCarthy era. Bohm spent much of his career in Brazil. To most of us, in those days, Bohm's alternate QM was clumsy, and sunk in 19th century romanticism. I see no reason to change that view.

    Regards, Reilly Atkinson
  8. Feb 17, 2008 #7
    Didn't he tell Dirac to go work on something else (instead of anti-particles) because he thought Quantum Physics was pretty much done?
  9. Feb 17, 2008 #8


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    So? Planck, Bohr, Feynman, and many others faced similar problems. Actually, Bohr was a big fan of Dirac. Not until a positron was detected in a laboratory experiment did Bohr accept the positive electron. Note that in those early days, nobody was comfortable with negative energies, which contributed to Bohr's unease.

    Reilly Atkinson

  10. Feb 17, 2008 #9


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    No, Bohr cared about what it all meant; see his biography by Pais, which I've mentioned a few posts ago. Bohr was a words guy, not a math guy. He was not particularly a logical positivist.

    The discussions with Einstein necessarily involved interpretations; certainly probability was at issue, but so was the nature of reality; how do you "find" reality, or can you find it at all, and what's a complete description, .... Again, read Pais' bios of Einstein and Bohr for details.

    Reilly Atkinson

  11. Feb 18, 2008 #10


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    I often get the impression that alot of people tend to associate Bohr's pragmatism with a sort of superficial - "engineering style" - "shut up an calculate" interpretation, and that the others are the only ones that tries to deal with the issues with the philosophical and foundational issues of the theory.

    To me that's truly unfair. I personally see no see a conflict with Bohr's pragmatism expressed in his dead on quote...

    "It is wrong to think that the task of physics is to find out how nature is. Physics concerns what we can say about nature."
    -- Niels Bohr

    and probing the further philosophical issues of this! I guess words are ambigous, and I can't know what Bohr really meant, but I can easily pick the same words and see that it symbolises a deep insight that put's large emphasis on the epistemological perspective.

    Just because you like Bohr does not necessarily mean you are happy with everything. To me Bohr symbolises a healthy scientific ideal, which has implicates for our scientific method and strategy.

    I consider myself fairly philosophical minded, and "Bohr" to me symbolises something good. I think QM might need tweaking to turn into a unified formalism including gravity, but I can picture Bohr's thinking to survive that.

    If you think about the ideal behind the Bohr quote, then not all things in quantum theory does seem to be in line with this ie. not all things are strictly measurable. Here I mean the probability spaces for example, and hilbert spaces. I can imagine thta this can be reworked a bit, and still be right in line with Bohrs ideal. Maybe Bohr was more right than anyone could imagine, and that the full realisation of it still hasn't been implemented?

  12. Apr 10, 2008 #11
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    Hi all. Thx to Atkinson and FRA for straitening things out. As a dane with physics as a hobby I've read a lot of popular books ABOUT Niels Bohr (danish & english), Einstein and others, and the books BY them, which was understandable to a certain point (reading Steven Weinburgs "The first 2 minutes"? was quite hard), and I must naturally expect both scientific and personal criticism (arguments preferred), but the headline in this topic seems like some kind of slander? or gossip? Anyway my contrib. 2 the thread is that, to my knowledge, Bohr was what You expect a professor to be - there is in fact quite a lot of small tails about him, a specially when he was wandering on the streets og Copenhagen, it's a miracle he wasn't run over, even though the traffic was mainly horses.
    The funny or strange thing is, that though Atkinson describes him as a man of words rather than numbers (which is true), danish was his worst in school - during his adult life he always had big difficulty expressing himself in writing, he was depending on an assistant to do the writing, which was a hole experience on its own, for instance when preparing a speech in honour of Einstein.... Is that known? Anyway, he was intuitive - if You've seen the roundtable discussions with the years Nobel prize winners, the question of scientific intuition is always brought up. Bohr was exeptional at this point, but after carefully reading the discussions between Einstein and Bohr, again and again, and considering where we are now, then we are talking about 2 outstanding scientists that, by the way, were the very best friends.

    Cheers Lars Holm
  13. Apr 10, 2008 #12
    Oh yes, I think what Bohr ment in the quote, simply was that everything (from nucleons to the universe) yet is so many times more complicated and fantastic than could ever be imagined, and that our tools to describe nature (laws of motion, math etc) just isn't sufficient.
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