Physicist N. David Mermin on what the study of physics is about

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Physicist N. David Mermin on what the study of physics is about:

Quote:In my youth I had little sympathy for Niels Bohr’s philosophical pronouncements. In a review of Bohr’s philosophical writings I said that “one wants to shake the author vigorously and demand that he explain himself further or at least try harder to paraphrase some of his earlier formulations.” But in my declining years, I’ve come to realize that buried in those ponderous documents are some real gems: “In our description of nature the purpose is not to disclose the real essence of the phenomena but only to track down, so far as it is possible, relations between the manifold aspects of our experience,” and “Physics is to be regarded not so much as the study of something a priori given, but rather as the development of methods for ordering and surveying human experience.”

I’m suggesting that this characterization of physics by Bohr is as true of classical physics as it is of quantum physics. It’s just that in classical physics we were able to persuade ourselves that the abstractions we developed to order and survey our experience were themselves a part of that experience. Quantum mechanics has brought home to us the necessity of separating that irreducibly real experience from the remarkable, beautiful, and highly abstract superstructure we have found to tie it all together.
'Historically, we may regard materialism as a system of dogma set up to combat orthodox dogma...Accordingly we find that, as ancient orthodoxies disintegrate, materialism more and more gives way to scepticism.'

- Bertrand Russell



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