Quantum Philosophy by Roland Omnès

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Summary

(Literary Masterpieces, Critical Compilation)

Roland Omnès is a specialist in quantum mechanics and a professor of physics at the University of Paris XI. Omnès thinks deeply and writes clearly about the conceptual framework of physical science. He has received high recognition for his books: The Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics (1994), a book for specialists, and Understanding Quantum Mechanics (1999), a text for beginning science students, experienced physicists, mathematicians, and philosophers. Omnès also wrote Introduction to Particle Physics (1971) and coauthored Mandelstam Theory and Regge Poles: An Introduction for Experimentalists (1963) with Marcel Froissart.

Omnès separates the contents of Quantum Philosophy into four major parts. Part 1 reviews key individuals and ideas in the historical development of classical logic, physics, mathematics, and the philosophy of knowledge. By retracing the establishment of past foundations, an appreciation can be developed for the evolution of scientific knowledge. Furthermore, with this approach, Omnès hopes to clear up the difficulties in understanding and interpreting contemporary science. In part 2, Omnès documents the historical break between classical, commonsense physics and formal, mathematically based physics. This fracture continues to haunt science to this day and contributes to an unfortunate cleavage of our culture in a time when many of the possible applications of science require the enlightened judgment of the public. Therefore, in part 3, starting from the fundamental principles of quantum physics, Omnès builds a bridge from the formal mathematical formulation to the real, visible world. Part 4 then briefly explores some possible directions that may be taken to bring logic and reality closer together and to open up new domains of knowledge. Although the amount of redundancy in this book may be viewed as a weakness, it is also a strength for the general reader, providing the repetition necessary to understand some unfamiliar, formal, and quite difficult scientific points.

Omnès points out that the first individuals to use logic and mathematics to infer a representation of the world were the Pythagoreans. In particular, Pythagoras observed that there is a harmony in nature that is commanded by numbers. He became convinced that the basic objects in nature, including the sun, the moon, and the stars, are controlled by basic harmonies that can be described mathematically. By using numbers and geometric shapes to analyze the world, Pythagoras and his followers hoped to understand its nature and interrelationships. Math was born. Proof by reasoning became established.

During the 1500’s, classical physics was rapidly developing. Aristotle’s concept of an earth-centered universe started to crumble when Nicolaus Copernicus suggested a new system that placed the earth and the planets in orbits around the sun. Johannes Kepler’s description of planetary motion, deduced from Tycho Brahe’s data, demonstrated that...

(The entire section is 2,111 words.)