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Reexamining the Quantum-Classical Relation


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 (ISBN-13: 9780521857208)

Reexamining the Quantum–Classical Relation
Cambridge University Press
9780521857208 - Reexamining the Quantum–Classical Relation - Beyond Reductionism and Pluralism - By Alisa Bokulich

Reexamining the Quantum–Classical Relation: Beyond Reductionism and Pluralism

Classical mechanics and quantum mechanics are two of the most successful scientific theories ever discovered, and yet how they can describe the same world is far from clear: one theory is deterministic, the other indeterministic; one theory describes a world in which chaos is pervasive, the other a world in which chaos is absent. Focusing on the exciting field of “quantum chaos,” this book reveals that there is a subtle and complex relation between classical and quantum mechanics. It challenges the received view that classical and quantum mechanics are incommensurable, and revives another largely forgotten tradition due to Niels Bohr and Paul Dirac. By artfully weaving together considerations from the history of science, philosophy of science, and contemporary physics, this book offers a new way of thinking about intertheory relations and scientific explanation. It will be of particular interest to historians and philosophers of science, philosophically inclined physicists, and interested non-specialists.

Alisa Bokulich received her Ph.D. in the History and Philosophy of Science from the University of Notre Dame in 2001. Her research focuses on the history and philosophy of physics, as well as on broader issues in the philosophy of science. In 2003 she was the recipient of a National Science Foundation Scholars Award, which supported much of her research for this book. She is currently a Professor in the Philosophy Department at Boston University and an active member of Boston University’s Center for Philosophy and History of Science.

Reexamining the Quantum–Classical Relation

Beyond Reductionism and Pluralism

Alisa Bokulich

Boston University

Cambridge, New York, Melbourne, Madrid, Cape Town, Singapore, São Paulo, Delhi

Cambridge University Press
The Edinburgh Building, Cambridge CB2 8RU, UK

Published in the United States of America by Cambridge University Press, New York
Information on this title:

© A. Bokulich 2008

This publication is in copyright. Subject to statutory exception and to the provisions of relevant collective licensing agreements, no reproduction of any part may take place without the written permission of Cambridge University Press.

First published 2008

Printed in the United Kingdom at the University Press, Cambridge

A catalog record for this publication is available from the British Library

Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data

                       Bokulich, Alisa.
 Reexamining the quantum-classical relation : beyond reductionism
                 and pluralism / Alisa Bokulich.
                             p.  cm.
                   ISBN 978-0-521-85720-8
1. Quantum theory. 2. Physics–Philosophy. 3. Quantum theory–History.\
              4. Quantum theory–Philosophy. I. Title.
                      QC174.12.B65 2008

ISBN 978-0-521-85720-8 hardback

Cambridge University Press has no responsibility for the persistence or accuracy of URLs for external or third-party internet websites referred to in this publication, and does not guarantee that any content on such websites is, or will remain, accurate or appropriate.

For my mother

Elizabeth H. Payson


And for my teacher

James T. Cushing


There is a straight ladder from the atom to the grain of sand, and the only real mystery in physics is the missing rung. Below it, [quantum] particle physics; above it, classical physics; but in between, metaphysics. All the mystery in life turns out to be this same mystery, the join between things which are distinct and yet continuous, body and mind, free will and causality, living cells and life itself.

Tom Stoppard, Hapgood, Act I Scene 5


1       Intertheoretic relations: Are imperialism and isolationism our only options?
1.1     Introduction
1.2     Traditional accounts of reductionism
1.3     Theoretical pluralism
1.4     The limits of the classical limit
1.5     Decoherence and the case of Hyperion
1.6     Conclusion
2       Heisenberg’s closed theories and pluralistic realism
2.1     Introduction
2.2     Abgeschlossene Theorie
2.3     Holism, incommensurability, and revolutionary theory change
2.4     Theoretical pluralism and realism
2.5     The case of Ptolemaic astronomy
2.6     The disunity of science
3       Dirac’s open theories and the reciprocal correspondence principle
3.1     Open theories
3.2     Structures, analogies, and the reciprocal correspondence principle
3.3     A gradualist model of theory change
3.4     Beauty and the unity of science
3.5     Dirac and the Einstein–Bohr debate
4       Bohr’s generalization of classical mechanics
4.1     The rise and fall of the old quantum theory
4.2     The correspondence principle
4.3     Quantum theory as a rational generalization
4.4     The indispensability of classical concepts
4.5     Is Bohr a reductionist or pluralist?
4.6     Conclusion
5       Semiclassical mechanics: Putting quantum flesh on classical bones
5.1     Introduction
5.2     A phoenix from the ashes: Semiclassical mechanics
5.3     The helium atom solved
5.4     Rydberg atoms and electron trajectories
5.5     Wavefunction scars and periodic orbits
5.6     Conclusion
6       Can classical structures explain quantum phenomena?
6.1     Introduction
6.2     The reality and explanatory power of classical trajectories
6.3     Three kinds of model explanations
6.4     A general account of model explanations
6.5     From structural explanations to structural model explanations
6.6     Putting understanding back into explanation
7       A structural approach to intertheoretic relations
7.1     The challenge of semiclassical mechanics: Reassessing the views
7.2     Structural realism without realism … or antirealism
7.3     Beyond reductionism and pluralism: Interstructuralism
7.4     Conclusion


In writing this book, I have benefited greatly from many physicists, historians, and philosophers generously sharing their time and expertise with me. I would especially like to thank Michael Berry and Bob Batterman for very helpful comments on Chapter 1, Mélanie Frappier and Michael Dickson for constructive comments on an earlier incarnation of Chapter 2, and Sam Schweber for insightful comments on Chapter 3. Chapter 4 first grew out of conversations with Peter Bokulich, and I am particularly grateful to Olivier Darrigol for enlightening discussions about Bohr’s correspondence principle. Chapter 5 could never have been written without the invaluable conversations I had with Rick Heller and Dan Kleppner, and I am especially grateful to Steve Tomsovic and Rodolfo Jalabert for their careful reading of this chapter and detailed feedback. I would also like to thank Ernan McMullin and for Gordon Belot for their insightful comments on an earlier version of Chapter 6. Thanks are also owed to my colleague John Stachel, for reading various sections and for making BU a stimulating and congenial place to do history and philosophy of physics. Although I am indebted to these scholars for their feedback, they are in no way responsible for any remaining errors or idiosyncratic interpretations found here. Finally, I am very grateful to Jens Nöckel for generously providing me with the exquisite “bow-tie laser” image for the cover of this book; as Dirac might say, the science behind this image is as beautiful as the image itself.

The research for this book was made possible by a generous grant from the National Science Foundation, grant SES-0240328; I am extremely thankful for NSF’s continued and invaluable support of interdisciplinary projects such as this. I would also like to thank Boston University’s Humanities Foundation for financial support while part of this book was completed.

I am grateful to Michael Leach and Marina Werbeloff of Harvard University’s Libraries for assistance with the Archive for the History of Quantum Physics, and for giving me permission to quote from it. I would also like to thank Sharon Schwerzel, head of the Paul A. M. Dirac Science Library at Florida State University, for providing me with copies of an unpublished lecture of Dirac’s from the Paul A. M. Dirac Collection and for granting me permission to quote from it here. I am grateful to Frances Whistler of Boston University’s Editorial Institute for her kind support in transcribing this lecture of Dirac’s.

Many of the ideas presented here grew out of earlier journal articles. Some material from Chapters 2 and 3 comes with permission from “Open or closed? Dirac, Heisenberg, and the relation between classical and quantum mechanics,” Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics 35 (3): 377–96 (2004), copyright 2004 Elsevier Ltd. Sections 4.3 through 4.5 are based on my paper coauthored with Peter Bokulich: “Niels Bohr’s generalization of classical mechanics,” Foundations of Physics 35 (3): 347–71 (2005), copyright 2005 and provided with the kind permission of Springer Science and Business Media. The material connecting Heisenberg and Kuhn for Chapter 2 is based on “Heisenberg meets Kuhn: Closed theories and paradigms,” Philosophy of Science 73: 90–107 (2006), copyright 2006 by the Philosophy of Science Association. Section 3.5 is from “Paul Dirac and the Einstein-Bohr debate,” Perspectives on Science 16 (1): 103–14 (2008), copyright 2008 by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Finally, Section 5.5, Section 6.2, and Sections 6.4–6.6 draw on “Can classical structures explain quantum phenomena?” British Journal for the Philosophy of Science: 59 (2): 217–35 (2008).

I would also like to express my deep gratitude to Simon Capelin (the physical science publishing director at Cambridge University Press) for supporting this project from the very beginning, and to Graham Hart (the new philosophy and foundations of physics editor at Cambridge) for seeing this book through to completion. It has been a pleasure working with the entire CUP team. Thanks are also owed to my graduate students John Tietze, for help compiling the index, and Carolyn Suchy-Dicey, for help correcting the proofs.

Finally, on a personal note, I would like to thank my son, Julian, whose birth half-way through the writing of this book has provided me with many happy distractions. I am also grateful to my stepfather, Doug, for his support – especially in this last difficult year. My greatest debt, however, is owed to Peter Bokulich, who, by rarely agreeing with me, was a stimulating interlocutor for many of the ideas developed here. If it were not for his unwavering support and help in countless ways, this book would never have been completed. He has my eternal love and gratitude.

© Cambridge University Press
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