In an address to a group of scientists who were then dealing with the “new physics,” Albert Einstein said: “The quantum problem is so extraordinarily important and difficult that we should all give it our undivided attention.” Quantum mechanics is currently the most complete physics theory to describe matter, radiation and mutual interactions, especially in conditions where the previous so-called “classical” theories are inadequate, that is in the phenomena of atomic and subatomic particles or energy. Einstein’s view is valid for everyone, because quantum physics, besides having a great technological – and consequently social – impact, has very important implications in the philosophical vision of reality.
We can add that Einstein – although he had a great admiration both for quantum mathematical formalism and for its ability to describe experiments – was not a supporter of the so-called “orthodox” interpretation of quantum physics. The orthodox interpretation, also called the “Copenhagen interpretation,” is essentially inspired by the work done around 1927 by Niels Bohr and Werner Heisenberg, enriched also by the decisive contribution of Max Born. In this article we will try to clarify this perspective.
It is easy to understand how physics is not a linear and remote discipline, but it is inextricably linked, in a broad and complex way, to our lives. “Life surpasses science,” says John Polkinghorne; and Heisenberg wrote that “Nature comes before man, but man comes before the science of nature.” The religious, philosophical and existential conceptions of the physicist enter into a “circular dialogue,” as enriching as it is problematic, with his scientific profession. It is not uncommon to observe how physicists, although in full agreement with each other on a scientific level, have explicit disagreements regarding the philosophical consequences of a given theory. Science informs life and thought, but it does not imprison them.
We will see how Einstein, and others along with him, opposed the Copenhagen school’s conception of quantum mechanics, and how, in spite of this, the latter became the dominant model among scientists. Quantum mechanics, as mentioned, represents today the best and most comprehensive description of the physical world. Its serious and honest understanding offers unexpected scenarios that are fascinating and open to a wider reality. In it we can glimpse a horizon toward the Mystery, even from a Christian point of view.