Understanding quantum physics

|   Physik, Chemie, Gäste

Johannes Kühl

Twentieth-century physics has produced some astonishing discoveries that make thinking about its models confusing. In classical terms, it is easy to understand that a negatively charged chloride ion and a positively charged sodium ion attract each other and thus form NaCl, i.e. salt. But why do hydrogen and carbon combine to form methane with so-called electron pair bonds, where both the electrons that form the pair are negatively charged? Chemists answer this question by saying that it happens for reasons explainable by quantum physics. In other words: "we don't understand it, but that is how it is".

We could cite similar examples. Quantum physics is incomprehensible with classical thinking. But, is it at all comprehensible via mathematical formulae? This points to an important distinction that famous physicists such as Richard Feynman, and probably Niels Bohr too, had noticed: that we have worked something out mathematically does not mean that we understand the essence of it. But for Waldorf schools, and in fact for culture as a whole, it matters whether we can point a way towards understanding, or whether we must simply say that it is incomprehensible.

In the context of Rudolf Steiner's epistemology, this question means: is thinking coming up against a boundary of knowledge here? Or have we not yet formed the appropriate concepts for understanding quantum physics?

We want to examine this question in our project "Understanding quantum physics".

Of course, we are not the first to pose this question. The issue of "interpretation of quantum mechanics" has been dealt with by so many great minds, also in connection with didactics, that it seems presumptuous to participate in it. On the other hand, apart from the books by Georg Unger (Vom Bilden physikalischer Begriffe, Vol. III) from the sixties of last century, and by Jos Verhulst (Der Glanz von Kopenhagen, 1994) there are hardly any publications out of anthroposophy on the subject, especially if we leave out of consideration the more mathematical works of Peter Gschwind and others. So the above questions pose a challenge that we would like to tackle. A large circle of specialist colleagues is ready to assist the project with advice.