In what ways do positivism and idealism differ in their views towards quantum physics? If possible, could you provide two scholarly research articles investigating this topic: one article will use...

In what ways do positivism and idealism differ in their views towards quantum physics? If possible, could you provide two scholarly research articles investigating this topic: one article will use a positivist theory to explain quantum physics while the other one will use an idealist theory?  

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caledon | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

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Positivism says that only what we measure and quantify through scientific observation and the use of the senses can legitimately be called reality, truth or knowledge. This is what we're probably familiar with in terms of science classes and our everyday lives, with perhaps the exception of things like religion. Idealism, on the other hand, says that reality is subjective and a matter of interpretation, linked to the human mind; as the character Morpheus in The Matrix puts it, "your mind makes it real". Idealism says reality is not bound to space and time, making it unmeasurable and therefore outside the bounds of positivist assumption.

Positivism, coming off of the scientific revolutions of the 19th century, seemed poised to dominate the new field of quantum physics as well; after all, virtually everything in reality has been shown to be reducible to empirical data. When we cannot measure something, the problem lies with us, not the object; we lack the ingenuity or the technology to solve its empirical puzzle, and so we build more complex machines or develop new procedures. The building of larger and more powerful particle accelerators could be seen as a manifestation of positivist ideology in research; if it cannot be measured, you just need a better tool.

However, positivism as applied to quantum physics received a strong backlash when it became clear that "reality" seems to behave differently on the quantum level; for example, properties change depending on whether they are observed, in a manner similar to the thought problem "if a tree falls in an empty forest, does it make a sound?" A large number of very prominent quantum physicists, including Einstein and Heisenberg, distanced themselves from positivism when it became clear to them that it was insufficient. It was actually difficult to find a scholarly source supporting positivism, but the book The Logic of Modern Physics, originally intended for physicists, had a significant positivist impact on psychology.

Current philosophy tends to favor the idealist approach; my source below is one example.

To summarize:

  • Positivism says that science is the only path to knowledge, that everything that is real can be measured, and that things fall into the camp of "are" or "are not". In terms of quantum physics, this means that all of the properties of the universe can, and will eventually be, measurable, and shown to be one way or another.
  • Idealism says that reality is a matter of human perception; what we see is in fact only a distortion or a translation of what reality actually is; it may even transcend time and space. In terms of quantum physics, this means that key aspects of "reality" may in fact be unknowable, or even "created" when we observe them; we do not exist apart from reality, as detached observers, but as active participants.
Sources:

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