Einstein Versus Bohr: The Continuing Controversies in Physics

Mendel Sachs, "Einstein Versus Bohr: The Continuing Controversies in Physics"
Open Court Pub Co | 1988 | ISBN: 0812690648, 0812690656 | 296 pages | Djvu | 3,3 mb

The author explains:
There have been many books for lay readers on the notions that underlie the quantum and relativity theories. It may rightly be asked: why another? The answer is that all the literature (I know of) on this subject fails to emphasize a point essential for a true understanding of the history physics. It is that progress in science entails conflicts of ideas. In our time, we see a fundamental conflict between the underpinnings of each of the current explanations of the behavior of elementary matterthe quantum and relativity theoriessuch that both theories, under the single umbrella of a 'relativistic quantum field theory', yield an unsatisfactory description, from the viewpoints of both logical and mathematical consistency. [.]

The primary purpose of the presentation of this book is to explain to the general reader precisely what the concepts that underlie the quantum theory and those that underlie the theory of relativity are all about. I provide some math, but my entire argument can be followed without it. I hope to reveal in a non-mathematical way the primary conflicts that arise in the attempt to fuse the quantum and relativity theories, as underlying explanations of the behavior of elementary matter, in a single theory. [.]

Recall Einstein's remark that "God may be subtle, but He is not malicious." What I believe he meant by this was that the laws of nature are conceptually simple. This idea does not imply, however, that conceptually simple laws have an equally simple mathematical expression. [.] There is a widespread confusion between conceptual and mathematical simplicity, among those non-specialists who study science as well as among professionals in the field. On this point, it has always been interesting to me that the theory of relativity is extremely simple conceptually, but quite complicated from the point of view of its mathematical expression. On the other hand, the second major development of contemporary physics, the quantum theory, is mathematically simple and conceptually difficult. According to Einstein's principle of simplicity the idea that conceptually simple theories in physics are more likely to be true than conceptually complicated theories the theory of relativity is more likely to turn out to be true in the long run as an underlying theory of elementary matter than are the ideas of quantum mechanics. This was, in part, at the root of Einstein's disagreement with Bohr and the Copenhagen school on the validity of quantum mechanics as a truly fundamental theory of matter. I shall highlight this controversy in the ensuing chapters of this book.

Some authors of books on concepts of physics for lay readers believe that professional physicists should not expose the innocent reader to the actual conflicts that truly exist in contemporary physics. They feel that the lay reader as well as the serious student of physics can only be enthused by the ideas of science if they are presented as a fait accompli that is, with everything already worked out and explained and neatly presented on a silver platter, without any flaws. I do not concur with this opinion; it insults the reader's intelligence. For such a view, besides being false in claiming that there are no persisting conflicts, has no adventure in it. It is as static as an airline schedule.

Rather, the full story about the present state of ideas in physics. including its persistent conflicts and the lack of exact knowledge about future paths toward understanding the material world, is exciting not only to the professional physicist whose research has to do with the search for the secrets of the universe, but should also be stimulating to lay students of science, as it truly captures the sense of excitement, adventure, and mystery that go with any genuinely intellectual pursuit, that is, pursuit of new ideas. It is an approach that reveals the true essence of scientific discovery and the beauty it unfolds. Above all, such a presentation is not boring.
Foreword by Joseph Agassi
Caricatures by Daniel Sachs

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