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Home > Dictionary of Science Quotations > Scientist Names Index H > Werner Heisenberg Quotes > Quantum Physics

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Werner Heisenberg
(5 Dec 1901 - 1 Feb 1976)

German physicist and philosopher remembered for his Uncertainty Principle (1927) and other developments in quantum mechanics. He was awarded the 1932 Nobel Prize for Physics.


Werner Heisenberg Quotes on Quantum Physics (7 quotes)

>> Click for 37 Science Quotes by Werner Heisenberg

>> Click for Werner Heisenberg Quotes on | Nature | Observation |

According to Democritus, atoms had lost the qualities like colour, taste, etc., they only occupied space, but geometrical assertions about atoms were admissible and required no further analysis. In modern physics, atoms lose this last property, they possess geometrical qualities in no higher degree than colour, taste, etc. The atom of modern physics can only be symbolized by a partial differential equation in an abstract multidimensional space. Only the experiment of an observer forces the atom to indicate a position, a colour and a quantity of heat. All the qualities of the atom of modern physics are derived, it has no immediate and direct physical properties at all, i.e. every type of visual conception we might wish to design is, eo ipso, faulty. An understanding of 'the first order' is, I would almost say by definition, impossible for the world of atoms.
— Werner Heisenberg
Philosophic Problems of Nuclear Science, trans. F. C. Hayes (1952), 38.
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Can quantum mechanics represent the fact that an electron finds itself approximately in a given place and that it moves approximately with a given velocity, and can we make these approximations so close that they do not cause experimental difficulties?
— Werner Heisenberg
Physics and Beyond: Encounters and Conversations, trans. Arnold J. Pomerans (1971), 78.
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It is not surprising that our language should be incapable of describing the processes occurring within the atoms, for, as has been remarked, it was invented to describe the experiences of daily life, and these consists only of processes involving exceedingly large numbers of atoms. Furthermore, it is very difficult to modify our language so that it will be able to describe these atomic processes, for words can only describe things of which we can form mental pictures, and this ability, too, is a result of daily experience. Fortunately, mathematics is not subject to this limitation, and it has been possible to invent a mathematical scheme—the quantum theory—which seems entirely adequate for the treatment of atomic processes; for visualization, however, we must content ourselves with two incomplete analogies—the wave picture and the corpuscular picture.
— Werner Heisenberg
The Physical Principles of the Quantum Theory, trans. Carl Eckart and Frank C. Hoyt (1949), 11.
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It seems sensible to discard all hope of observing hitherto unobservable quantities, such as the position and period of the electron... Instead it seems more reasonable to try to establish a theoretical quantum mechanics, analogous to classical mechanics, but in which only relations between observable quantities occur.
— Werner Heisenberg
In Helge Kragh, Quantum Generations: A History of Physics in the Twentieth Century (1999), 161.
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The basic idea is to shove all fundamental difficulties onto the neutron and to do quantum mechanics in the nucleus.
— Werner Heisenberg
Letter to Niels Bohr, 20 Jun 1932. Quoted in David C. Cassidy, Uncertainty: The Life and Science of Werner Heisenberg (1992), 292.
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The incomplete knowledge of a system must be an essential part of every formulation in quantum theory. Quantum theoretical laws must be of a statistical kind. To give an example: we know that the radium atom emits alpha-radiation. Quantum theory can give us an indication of the probability that the alpha-particle will leave the nucleus in unit time, but it cannot predict at what precise point in time the emission will occur, for this is uncertain in principle.
— Werner Heisenberg
The Physicist's Conception of Nature (1958), 41.
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Thus one becomes entangled in contradictions if one speaks of the probable position of the electron without considering the experiment used to determine it ... It must also be emphasized that the statistical character of the relation depends on the fact that the influence of the measuring device is treated in a different manner than the interaction of the various parts of the system on one another. This last interaction also causes changes in the direction of the vector representing the system in the Hilbert space, but these are completely determined. If one were to treat the measuring device as a part of the system—which would necessitate an extension of the Hilbert space—then the changes considered above as indeterminate would appear determinate. But no use could be made of this determinateness unless our observation of the measuring device were free of indeterminateness. For these observations, however, the same considerations are valid as those given above, and we should be forced, for example, to include our own eyes as part of the system, and so on. The chain of cause and effect could be quantitatively verified only if the whole universe were considered as a single system—but then physics has vanished, and only a mathematical scheme remains. The partition of the world into observing and observed system prevents a sharp formulation of the law of cause and effect. (The observing system need not always be a human being; it may also be an inanimate apparatus, such as a photographic plate.)
— Werner Heisenberg
The Physical Principles of the Quantum Theory, trans. Carl Eckart and Frank C. Hoyt (1949), 58.
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See also:
  • 5 Dec - short biography, births, deaths and events on date of Heisenberg's birth.
  • Booklist for Werner Heisenberg.

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