Playing with Different Images Language and Physical Reality

What was largely ignored by Kant has been discussed deliberately by the fathers of quantum theory, namely, the fact that it is not only the perception of space and time that structures our concept of reality, but rather, language is also fundamentally involved. Both Bohr and Heisenberg have dealt with the relationship of language and reality and thus emphasized the hermeneutical character of the natural sciences in significant ways.221

In Physics and Beyond, "a type of memoir in the form of Platonic dialogues,"222 Heisenberg reviews discussions about language that he had in an alpine hut during the 1933 Easter holidays, primarily with Bohr. The ideas revolve around the boundaries of language that are also inescapable in science. According to Bohr, "Language is, as it were, a net spread out between people, a net in which our thoughts and knowledge are inextricably enmeshed."223 So, basically, it is not really surprising—even if it might initially appear contradictory—that quantum theory makes use of the same terminology as classical physics. The attempt in physics to bypass "this strange, fluid character"224 of language by using a strictly mathematical mode of expression is not particularly successful. Though it is an imperfect instrument, language also remains a precondition for natural science: "For if we want to say anything at all about nature—and what else does science try to do?—we must somehow pass from mathematical to everyday language."225 Imprecise, but brilliant, this, in brief, is the content of Bohr's insight about language, gained while washing dishes under the somewhat primitive conditions of an alpine hut: "Our washing up is just like our language . . . We have dirty water and dirty dishcloths, and yet, we manage to get the plates and glasses clean. In language, too, we have to work with unclear concepts and a form of logic whose scope is restricted in an unknown way, and yet we use it to bring some clarity in our understanding of nature."226

Heisenberg expressed a fundamental trust in the capacity of language in his essay entitled "Ordnung der Wirklichkeit" (Order of Reality), which was written before the end of 1942: "Every area of reality can ultimately be portrayed by language."227 Heisenberg hereby distinguishes between a static and a dynamic use of language. Static linguistic behavior serves to sharpen the conceptual systems by means of which one can decide what is "true" and what is "false." This strength, however, is accompanied by a serious disadvantage, namely, "the renunciation of that infinitely diverse relatedness of words and concepts that first awaken in us the feeling of having understood something of the infinite richness of reality."228 In order to do justice to this relatedness, one needs the "dynamic" application of language instead. Dynamic use of language is not primarily concerned with the accuracy, but rather with the fruitfulness of concepts. Static thinking explains; dynamic thinking interprets. The former is in danger of "degenerating into form without content," and the latter risks becoming "vague and incomprehensible."229 Heisenberg sees a synthesis of the two ways of thinking in poetry: "Poetry stands, as it were, at the point at which extremes meet: the purely content-laden thinking that makes optimal use of the liveliness of the word, on the one hand, and the linking of concepts into a rigid mathematical schema, on the other."230

Essentially two figures of thought may have been the force behind this notion of Heisenberg's: Hegelian dialectic, on the one hand, and the uncertainty relation, on the other. Language is successful, but it cannot overcome a final deficit: "One cannot speak about the ultimate things."231

In at least three places, one can find direct points of contact between Heisenberg's thinking and the starting point of this study. In searching for a dynamic concept of time, I first made a conscious effort not to adopt conceptual definitions; I avoided the "static" use of language in order to direct the focus toward relationality. Second, I interpreted the lack of conceptual clarity that resulted from this choice as the price to be paid for the dynamics and fruitfulness of thinking that goes beyond a formal dualism of time and eternity. Third, my use of hymnal poetry in approaching questions of time and eternity seems even more justified. Poetry as the interface between static and dynamic uses of language once again appears to be a perfect starting point for the most precise and productive understanding of time.

Heisenberg treats the problem of language in detail and with specific reference to the requirements of science in his essay entitled "Sprache und Wirklichkeit in der modernen Physik,"232 which appeared in 1960. In it he confronts the fuzziness of language, which simultaneously comprises its richness, with the requirements of scientific formulations. Because in science the special is derived from the general, the general laws must contain the fewest and most precisely defined concepts possible. Attaining such a level of precision is possible only within exact logic and aided by mathematical abstraction. Allocating mathematical symbols to concepts of natural language creates an "artificial mathematical language"233 \mathematische

Kunstsprache]. Portions of this artificial language are gradually integrated into everyday language. This applies, for example, to the concepts of energy, impulse, entropy, and electrical field.234 By its expansion into areas that are not directly accessible to sensory experience, modern physics has made the limitation or even failure of language at certain points even more obvious. One has been forced to rethink what were apparently simple concepts, for example, space, place, time, and velocity. The theory of relativity was rather successful in adapting the spoken language to the artificial mathematical language. By supplementing "simultaneous" with the qualifier "relative to a certain reference system," for example, the question of whether time dilatation is real or only apparent becomes irrelevant.235 The insight "that the world is 'really' not the way that everyday concepts would lead us to believe" has made its way into general consciousness.236

There are much greater difficulties for language in the area of the very small—in atomic physics. When one and the same object can occur either as a particle or as a wave, depending upon the experiment, then it is hard to adapt everyday language successfully to the artificial mathematical language. Language does not have a word for something that is simultaneously a wave and a solid body. Instead, "word paintings" [Wortgemalde] are used, i.e., a manner of speaking in which one alternately uses different, mutually contradicting pictorial images.237 Heisenberg has no doubt that one must speak of atoms and subatomic particles in (normal) language: "We must speak about them because, otherwise, we cannot understand our experiments."238 For Heisenberg, therefore, scientific understanding is accomplished only by means of language, and indeed no less in everyday language than in artificial mathematical language. An adequate description of processes in the quantum realm is attained "first by playing with the different images. 239

In the case of quantum physics, Heisenberg sees the reason for the difficulties in adapting the imprecise, metaphorical language of everyday speech to the artificial mathematical language in the fact that Aristotelian logic loses its validity in a language that tries to do justice to the mathematical formalism of quantum theory. A language responding to the demands of quantum physics requires a logic that allows not only the alternative "either right or wrong" for assertions, but also interim values that may not be interpreted as ignorance of the "true" state.240 Heisenberg thinks that such a quantum logic241 can be implemented if different logics are used for different linguistic levels (e.g., objects—statements about objects—statements about statements about objects), in which case Aristotelian logic would again have to be used on the highest level.242 An ontological parallel to quantum logic would be the talk of coexisting conditions, or even better,

"coexisting possibilities." The concept of "possibility" deserves a central position, because it stands "in the right way in the middle between the concept of objective material reality, on the one hand, and the concept of the purely intellectual, and thus subjective, reality, on the other hand."243

From these ideas, Heisenberg concludes that it is necessary to learn a new language that is foreign to everyday language at numerous points. This new language is also accompanied by a new way of thinking.244 No doubt, Heisenberg saw this as a lengthy process, since he ended a lecture in 1975 with the words: "I am afraid that it might take another century, before one has become really well acquainted with all this new scientific material and its practical, political, ethical and philosophical consequences."245

Compared to Heisenberg, Bohr expressed more restraint regarding a new logic. In spite of all of the difficulties, he thought that the situation was clearer than generally assumed: "[S]uch tools as three-valued logics I consider rather as complications, since a consistent representation of all axiomatic and dialectic aspects of the situation can be given in simple daily life language."246

Bohr thought that under no circumstances could one do without the forms of perception within which ultimately all experience is expressed and which give color to the entire language.247 He is very cautious with regard to a comprehensive logic for the natural sciences. Such a logic is best attainable in mathematic symbolism, "which shows us an ideal of objectivity, the attainment of which is almost unlimited in every closed area in which logic is applied."248 It is different, however, in "the actual sciences": There, no strictly closed areas of application can exist, since one must always contend with an increased number of facts requiring a revision of previous conceptual aids.249 Quantum phenomena demand the same caution in the use of expressive means that psychology, with its constant difficulties in identifying objective content, needs to exercise.250 Thus, there is no way to avoid the aporia of the perception problem, namely that, on the one hand, the description of our mental activity requires the comparison of an objectively specified content and an observing subject, while, on the other hand, ... a strict separation between the object and the subject cannot be maintained . . . This situation results not only in the relative meaning of each concept—or, even better, each word—that is dependent upon the arbitrariness in the selection of viewpoint, but rather, we must generally be prepared for the fact that an all-round examination of one and the same object can require different points of view, which prevent an unambiguous description. Strictly speaking, the conscious analysis of any concept has an excluding relationship to its direct application.251

In this sense, Bohr understood quantum mechanics as being an expression of the boundary that nature itself sets for us with regard to the possibility of speaking about the objective existence of phenomena. This boundary certainly does not prevent further intellectual progress, but it constantly requires increasing abstraction from the familiar concreteness in the description of nature.252

When one considers language, different basic positions become clear. Expressed simply, Einstein emerges as a pessimistic idealist: If no strict causality exists, then God is throwing dice, and that cannot be. On the other hand, with his question about a highly complicated quantum logic, Heisenberg is attempting to forge the link between idealism and realism, while Bohr instead assumed the viewpoint of an optimistic pragmatism: Reality is just as blurred, but its description works in spite of this; being conscious of uncertainty, one indeed cannot live with exact precision, but one can nevertheless live very well.

Stephen W. Hawking goes one step farther when he draws the conclusion that God is an inveterate gambler and throws the dice on every possible occasion.253 In the game, God sometimes also throws the dice to a place where they cannot be seen.254 However, at least in Hawking, this apparent vice of God stands in a constructive relationship with the virtue of the universe to let itself be explored. We will deal with the context of cosmological theories in the next section.

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