Anonymous asked in Arts & HumanitiesPhilosophy · 1 decade ago

Implications of uncertainty principle on philosophy?

What implications does not being able to determine the precise position and momentum of a quantum entity have on philosophy? Epistemologically? Ontologically?


I am aware of the Gadfly. It is not that our measuring instruments are imperfect- which they are-but that is not why we cannot know the momentum and position of the quantum entity at the same time. It simply isnt there to be known. Epistemologically it shouldn't be a problem, but what does it say about the nature of what IS known?

5 Answers

  • Rafael
    Lv 4
    1 decade ago
    Favorite Answer


    Well in the first place it can add an absolute element of uncertainty to the workings of our minds. On the smallest level our thoughts cannot be reduced to simple statement and pattern. This, combined with suitably twisted thinking, can be interpreted as allowing an escape for those among us who are material determinists. Even if we can see and analyze all of our pathways of thought on a material level there is still an element of the unknown and unknowable, an area where cause and effect become a little hazy.

    You could use it to argue for idealism, in the finest traditions of Berkely. With quantum theory the observer or act of observing has a discernable effect on the results, so it could be argued that our perceiving the world at any given time in some small way solidifies it. Maybe it would be more accurate to say our observation of one thing occuring collapses the possibility of anything else existing in the same space/time point, even if these interactions are happening on the subatomic level. You seeing it makes it so (not creating so much as holding in place).

    Epistemologically Im not sure what it means. Does the fact that some things cant be known invalidate those which presumably can? There is also the idea that there are things we CANT know to contend with. The notion that there is information out there that no matter what we do will be completely beyond us. There seems to be a general unspoken assumption that if we can conceive of a kind of data, we will be able somehow to get it; that if there definitely is an answer that we should be able to find it. Its also the first time in science we have been faced with an either/or descision in the quest for knowledge. Admittedly this is on a tiny and possibly entirely inconsequential scale, but the fact remains that before we never had to choose between knowing one thing and knowing another (of the things we can know that is), we could always know both with sufficient time, money and resources. We never had to choose between, say, knowing an elements atomic weight and knowing its atomic number. Its a little thing but it sets an epistemological precedent I think.

    What we do know can also now be looked at as "What we know out of what we can", for if there is one value that cant be known, why not more? Its not the first time we have encountered the concept, especially if you have studied religion, but it is the first time it has been imposed on us by necessities of physical law. This could end up with us going in circles, asking ourselves if we can know whether we can know what we can/cant know....we could end up trying to look down our own metaphorical earhole, so to speak.

    Fortunately Im an agnostic so the idea of the unknown doesnt bother me so much :)

    I apologize if my knowledge of physics is flawed, I havent looked at quantum theory for some time. Please do correct me if I am wrong.

    Hope that was of some help, or made even the slightest bit of sense.

    Source(s): Phil BA
  • Gadfly
    Lv 5
    1 decade ago

    A lot of ink has been spilled on this subject, mostly by people who don't understand basic science let alone the complexity of quantum theory. As you might expect there is a plethora of unfounded, incoherent and ridiculous speculation about the ramifications of the uncertainty principle on areas that simply have nothing to do with the principle, even if the author corectly understood the principle in the first place. (which, in most cases, is not true.)

    What is overlooked by almost everyone is that there are interpretations of quantum theory that are entirely deterministic that accept the uncertainty principle as does the Helsinki interpretation, but assume that the indeterminate quantity at the time of measurement is simply unknown rather than non existent. After all, what's so mysterious about granting something's existence without being required to point it out? We've all lost our keys. Did you assume that they ceased to exist? And what about measuring the length of a stick? does it cease to have weight? I think you get my point.

    I'm all for asking why and questioning our basic assumptions, but we should also make sure we understand the question being asked before shooting off into lala land. A little preparation pays great dividends in the search for truth.

    Source(s): Post grad philosophy student
  • j153e
    Lv 7
    1 decade ago

    Also worth considering in this respect: Kurt Goedel's Incompleteness theorem, which proves that any given system will always contain some self-referential uncertainty.

    The physicist John Bell (Bell's theorem) noted the FAPP principle, which effectively dismisses Hume: "For All Practical Purposes."

    Hence, re Goedel and Heisenberg, et al., a given frame, while somewhat indeterminate, can be checked by a second, more inclusive frame (von Neumann's principle, aka "indeterminate turtles all the way up"). While the philosopher may worry about uncertainty, the practical level is taken care of, even though fundamental falsifiability is nugatory.

    Thus, Wittgenstein's "the world is the case" becomes, at that level, somewhat problematic: there are no sure atomic facts, contrary to what the "Tractatus" assumes. It is more than ironic that later Wittgenstein's last ponderings focussed on "Certitude."

    "A Philosophy of Universality," O. M. Aivanhov.

  • ?
    Lv 7
    1 decade ago

    None whatsoever, why should it? Scientific inquiry deals with the functions of the observable universe, Philosophy deals with mans place in it and how she use the knowledge science provides. Those are two unrelated issues and the results of one do not necessarily apply to the other.

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  • Anonymous
    1 decade ago

    Werner Heisenberg rules, OK.

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