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Kurt Gottfried (born 1929) is professor emeritus of physics at Cornell University and chairman of the Union of Concerned Scientists.
Does quantum mechanics carry the seeds of its own destruction? (1991)
"Does quantum mechanics carry the seeds of its own destruction?", Physics World, October 1991
- On further reflection, I now think that in arguing his case Bell exaggerated, oversimplified the historical development of both classical electrodynamics and quantum mechanics, and as a result arrived at a definition of "understanding" that may be too rigid in that it reflects a presumption - a prejudice, if you will - as to what constitutes physical reality.
- By taking issue with Bell on this score, I am not saying that I am satisfied with my understanding of quantum mechanics. I share Feynman's belief that no one really understands quantum mechanics. But we should not exaggerate our embarrassment; it is ample as it stands. In any event, I agree with Bell that the foundations continue to merit the closest scrutiny.
- That classical theory had catastrophic implications for the constitution of matter was barely appreciated by Planck and others at the turn of the century, and played no substantial role in the development of quantum theory until Bohr's work 13 years later.
The lesson that could be drawn from this, and also from the development of general relativity, is that a crisis will only become creative if it is formulated in a mathematically precise manner. This conclusion has an echo in Bell's insistence on having quantum mechanics "fully formulated in mathematical terms, with nothing left to the discretion of the theoretical physicist", but what it really calls for is a critique of the "orthodox" theory fully formulated in mathematical terms with nothing left to the discretion of the critic.
- I, for one, remain unpersuaded that a crisis of major proportions has been identified, but at the same time I am open to the possibility that such a crisis has been glimpsed, though perhaps only subliminally, by Bell and his great predecessors: Einstein, Schrodinger, de Broglie, Bohm and Wigner. This is a roster which should give us all pause. To my understanding, however, this crisis has not yet been formulated with sufficient precision to facilitate the birth of a great offspring.