If quantum mechanics hasn’t profoundly shocked you, you haven’t understood it yet” (Niels Bohr)
Last week on the way to a baseball game, Nates, David and I began arguing about science and philosophy. This argument spilled over from brunch to a cab ride (with a surprisingly well informed cab driver, who recognized that we were (a) talking about particle physics, (b) also discussing philosophy, and (c) would not meet many girls at the baseball game). Two of us being married, that was fine.
We didn’t come to any great conclusions – I think it’s fair to say there was a good amount of hand-waving, as well as a fair quantity of table-thumping. Rather than make an argument here, I’ll just pose a question, and then some possible answers.
Question: Does quantum mechanics (meaning the two-slit experiment, Schrodinger’s cat, the wave-particle duality, the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, etc.) pose a problem for traditional theories of knowledge, metaphysics, ontology and/or philosophy of science and if so, what sort of a problem does it pose?
Four possible types of answers. They proceed up from less to more problematic, building on one another.
(1) It poses no problem. Quantum physics explains everything in a manner consistent enough with earlier scientific conclusions.
(2) It poses an epistemological problem – quantum physics means we do not know where, at any given time, a photon wave-particle is. Perhaps one day, we will be able to, but now we don’t.
(3) It poses an in-principle epistemological problem – quantum physics means we not only do not know where, at any given time, a photon wave-particle is, but also that we can never know.
(4) It poses an ontological/metaphysical problem – quantum physics means not only that we do not, and cannot know where a given photon wave-particle is, but that in fact there is no truth of the matter about its location, at least no truth in any traditional sense of the word.
I think I’ve neutrally described the alternatives. I open it up to our readers to make arguments for any of these alternatives, or any other alternatives I’ve overlooked. You can, also, argue with the terms in which I’ve cast the question (I expect this, given how little I know about the actual science). I have some vague notion that the wave-particle duality and the Heisenberg uncertainty principle were founding problems for both the Vienna Circle and those that criticized its work. I’m also sure a lot has already been written on this question, but I haven’t read it.