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  • Print publication year: 2011
  • Online publication date: June 2011

Introduction

Summary

No scientific theory has caused more puzzlement and confusion than quantum theory. Beginning in 1900, the theory developed in fits and starts and found a consistent mathematical framing only when John von Neumann published his Mathematische Grundlagen der Quantenmechanik in 1932 [12]. But even today, we struggle to understand the world as pictured by quantum theory. Physics is supposed to help us to understand the world, and yet quantum theory makes it seem a very strange place.

One might be tempted to push aside our puzzlement as the result of our clinging to a primitive worldview. But our puzzlement is not merely a psychological obstacle; it is also an obstacle to the development of physics itself. This obstacle is encountered primarily in our attempts to unify quantum theory and the general theory of relativity. As argued persuasively by Chris Isham (who is represented in this volume), Lee Smolin [10], and others, the primary obstacle between us and future physics is our own failure to understand the conceptual foundations of current physical theories.

How, then, are we to make conceptual progress? What is the process by which we find a new perspective, a perspective in which previously puzzling phenomena find a place in an intelligible—and perhaps beautiful—structure?

I do not wish to make prescriptions or to claim that conceptual progress can be achieved in only one way. But this book begins with the Ansatz that conceptual progress might be achieved through free creations of the human intellect.