The Bohr-Einstein Debates

Physics anyone?

I was not a big fan in school, rather let me say that I was a fan of science math and the like but the faculty really put me off. That and the students who were deemed “smart” due to some kind of proficiency in said subject. I occasionally showed my prowess for certain subjects but quickly and deliberately lowered my marks because the attention was unwanted.

Generally if you are good at something in a peer setting, you will get hounded by those peers to help improve their performance. I did not enjoy this. It is one thing to be smart, quite another to be called smart. They both seem similar but have very huge effects on the receiver. For better or worse.

So now that I am older, I can delightfully rejoice in these subjects away from the institutions that make it unbearable.

What Were The Debates?

Well, as Ramin Skibba puts it in –

“All hell broke loose in physics some 90 years ago. Quantum theory emerged — partly in heated clashes between Albert Einstein and Niels Bohr. It posed a challenge to the very nature of science, and arguably continues to do so, by severely straining the relationship between theory and the nature of reality. Adam Becker, a science writer and astrophysicist, explores this tangled tale in What Is Real?.

Becker questions the hegemony of the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics. Propounded by Bohr and Werner Heisenberg in the 1920s, this theory holds that physical systems have only probabilities, rather than specific properties, until they’re measured. Becker argues that trying to parse how this interpretation reflects the world we live in is an exercise in opacity. Showing that the evolution of science is affected by historical events — including sociological, cultural, political and economic factors — he explores alternative explanations. Had events played out differently in the 1920s, he asserts, our view of physics might be very different.

Becker lingers on the 1927 Solvay Conference in Brussels, where 29 brilliant scientists gathered to discuss the fledgling quantum theory. Here, the disagreements between Bohr, Einstein and others, including Erwin Schrödinger and Louis de Broglie, came to a head. Whereas Bohr proposed that entities (such as electrons) had only probabilities if they weren’t observed, Einstein argued that they had independent reality, prompting his famous claim that “God does not play dice”. Years later, he added a gloss: “What we call science has the sole purpose of determining what is.” Suddenly, scientific realism — the idea that confirmed scientific theories roughly reflect reality — was at stake.”

So What Can We Extrapolate From The Debate?

Largely though my interest in it lies in this brief passage I found while studying physics, algebra, geometry and chemistry in my spare time, focusing on different proponents of certain theories –

“Throughout much of the 1920’s, 30’s and 40’s, Neils Bohr participated in one of the great scientific rivalries in modern history. When Albert Einstein expressed his disagreement with the probability driven quantum physics of which Bohr was a founding father, several decades of friendly debate ensued. Albert Einstein famously developed a series of thought experiments with which he hoped to question the fundamental tenants of quantum physics.

Rather than weakening the theory, however, Einstein’s questions drove Bohr to further clarify and strengthen their ideas. It demonstrated to future generations how science is edified through spirited debate.”


That is what interests me, because the times we are living in now. Debates are rather useless, most if not all, rarely go into them with the purpose of clarifying or strengthening their theories. Rather it is a tennis match, akin to Rosencrantz & Guildenstern, of ideas being tossed back and forth with no real endgame in mind. Rather just obnoxious competition between two ideas.

These debates despite their fairly involved subject matter, teach us that we can be strengthened through actual friendly debate. Not simple trophy polishing.

We shall cover the far more in depth topics of this debate in a future article so look out for that.

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