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  • Print publication year: 2012
  • Online publication date: September 2012

1 - Historical perspective

Summary

The founding fathers of quantum mechanics had already perceived the essence of the difficulties of quantum mechanics; today, after almost a century, the discussions are still lively and, if some very interesting new aspects have emerged, at a deeper level the questions have not changed so much. What is more recent, nevertheless, is a general change of attitude among physicists: until about 1970 or 1980, most physicists thought that the essential questions had been settled, and that “Bohr was right and proved his opponents to be wrong”. This was probably a consequence of the famous discussions between Bohr, Einstein, Schrödinger, Heisenberg, Pauli, de Broglie, and others (in particular at the Solvay meetings [1–3], where Bohr's point of view had successfully resisted Einstein's extremely clever attacks). The majority of physicists did not know the details of the arguments. They nevertheless thought that the standard “Copenhagen interpretation” had clearly emerged from the infancy of quantum mechanics as the only sensible attitude for good scientists. This interpretation includes the idea that modern physics must contain indeterminacy as an essential ingredient: it is fundamentally impossible to predict the outcome of single microscopical events; it is impossible to go beyond the formalism of the wave function (or its generalization, the state vector ∣ψ) and complete it.

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