Quantum mechanics, the observer effect, and the academic field.

Carroll, Sean. “Even Physicists Don't Understand Quantum Mechanics.” The New York Times, 7 Sept. 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/09/07/opinion/sunday/quantum-physics.html.

The fundamental principles of quantum mechanics, Carroll argues, are the place where physics comes closest to aspiring to “understand the universe,” but pursuit of them is disparaged within the field: “vaguely philosophical and disreputable,” or, quoting Werner Heisenberger, “a superfluous ideological superstructure.” It seems there is something too humanist about the inquiry, both its motivations and its methods, for the field as it has organized itself since Niels Bohr won “the public relations battle” against Einstein for the legacy of quantum mechanics. But Carroll argues that pursuing the theory in its most abstract state is possible to do within the parameters of the scientific method and necessary in order to square inconsistencies that demonstrate practical limitations to our understanding of quantum mechanics.

Personal notes:

  • A parallel shape, rendered here on the other side of the humanities/science divide: a similar problem, a similar institutional orientation towards that problem.

  • Quantum mechanics and the observer effect are a product of “the first decades of the 20th century,” contemporaneous with parallel thinking in the humanities.

  • The difference between abstract and concrete modes of seeing.

  • The problem of framework and terms.

  • The unflattening of observation, the relation between representation and reality.