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Quantum Physics

The second fundamental break with classical physics after general relativity came gradually over a thirty year period (1900-1930) with the development of quantum mechanics by dozens of physicists including Planck, Einstein, Bohr, Schrödinger, Heisenberg, and so on. Quantum phenomenon display: wave and particle properties as in the famous "two-slit experiment",Electrons or photons fired through tiny slits at a screen produce individual dots on the screen (a particle-like property) but the dots are grouped in interference and diffraction patterns (a wave-like... leading Niels Bohr to talk about "wave/particle duality"; discrete transitions (`jumps', `tunneling') between separate states;Electrons in a transistor penetrate through a barrier, though this is impossible according to classical physics; electrons in an atom move directly from orbit to orbit without passing through the intervening...spontaneous, random occurrences (though statistically law-abiding);Within a sample of uranium, individual atoms spontaneously decay; the probability of decay can be calculated, but nothing else: no one can predict which atom will decay, or explain why, amongst entirely...and the famous Heisenberg uncertainty principle, in which uncertainties occur in "conjugate" variables, such as position and momentum.Sets of classical variables which simultaneously have precise and unambiguous values lose this precision in quantum physics; thus the notion of a trajectory is undercut, since the location and motion of...

Accordingly, quantum mechanics is subject to competing interpretations - none of which can be overruled by known data to date.For an overview, see my article in Physics, Philosophy and Theology; for a non-technical introduction, see Nick Herbert, Quantum Reality; for a technical background, see Max Jammer, The Philosophy of Quantum...The Copenhagen interpretation of Niels Bohr stressed the epistemic limitations of quantum physics. Here one is forced to use contradictory models, such as waves and particles, to refer to the same phenomena in order to explain all of its aspects. Others argued for an ontological interpretation of quantum mechanics, arguing that quantum unpredictability points to a fundamental indeterminism in reality. Werner Heisenberg argued this way: the chance aspects of quantum phenomena are due to an ontological property, indeterminism, which holds at the quantum level in the world. Albert Einstein and later David Bohm also opted for an ontological interpretation, but they sided with determinism, hoping that the statistical character of quantum data could be explained by as yet unknown causal factors ("hidden variables") or by a revised view of matter itself. Eugene Wigner and others have suggested that it is mind acting on matter that accounts for quantum phenomena. Everett-Graham-Wheeler adopt a "many worlds" view, in which with every quantum phenomenon, the universe splits into all possible states, and every possible outcome occurs in a distinct but unobservable universe. Astonishingly, over 60 years have passed since quantum mechanics was completed and we still cannot decide between these interpretations based on physical data!

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