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BOHR ON EPR
AS INFLUENCED BY JAMES AND KANT
PART I


Concerning my essay, entitled "THE METAPHYSICAL MESSAGE OF BOHR, JAMES, AND GOETHE", I should probably contextualize its relevance. My intent was simply to make coherent sense of Bohr's quintessential statements on EPR by comparing them to the statements of James and of Goethe. Henry Stapp has retracted his comment (which was quoted in my essay) on Bohr's first statement because readers found Bohr's statement bewildering and obscure without further contextualization. I have provided that contextualization for anyone who has the intellectual integrity to investigate the matter deeply. For those who simply hate the orthodox interpretation, nothing I nor anyone else could say can ever convince them, but their irrational hatred and resistance is proof positive that the orthodox interpretation is the correct one.

Why William James? Bohr's statement in an interview conducted one day before his death was: "William James is really wonderful in the way he makes it clear - I think I read 'The Stream of Thought'. I know something about William James. I thought he was most wonderful." James actually featured in an arguably relevant way the terms "complementary" and "superposition" 35 years before they were employed as central doctrines of quantum theory. "The Stream of Thought" begins on p. 224 of the first volume of "The Principles of Psychology". On p. 206 we find the following:

"It must be admitted, therefore, that in *certain persons*, at least, *the total possible consciousness may be split into parts which coexist but mutually ignore each other*, and share the objects of knowledge between them. More remarkable still, they are *complementary*. Give an object to one of the consciousnesses, and by that fact you remove it from the other or the others."

So, there has been some controversy as to whether the source of Bohr's philosophy can be traced to either James or Kant, or neither. Abraham Pais, author of "Niels Bohr's Times", inexplicably finds the question uninteresting - he takes the ostrich approach. Henry Folse, author of "The Philosophy of Niels Bohr", says the following on p. 49:

"In 1962 Bohr himself remembered definitely having read James before 1912, i.e. long before complementarity appeared in 1927. However, Rosenfeld remembers distinctly that he and Bohr first encountered the ideas of William James only in 1932, well after complementarity had been worked out in its essentials. ...the question of James' influence on the young Bohr is not merely of historical importance, for it may well help us to understand what Bohr intends to say. ...there is some grounds for tilting the balance towards Bohr's recollection. Harald Hoffding had visited William James in America in 1904, during which time Bohr was Hoffding's immediate student. ...However, the case can be made even stronger, for Bohr explicitly links his remembrance of reading James with Edgar Rubin, a psychology student and member of the Ekliptika Circle. The reputation of James' *Principles of Psychology* was...immense at this time (especially in Europe).... ...We know that at this time in the discussions of the Ekliptika Circle and on his own the young Bohr was struggling to come to grips with the problems of describing the contents of psychological processes, an interest common to both his father and Hoffding as well."

So far, so good - Folse's scholarship is superlative compared to Pais'. However, the spell is soon broken, for Folse fails at every turn "to understand what Bohr intends to say", and instead grinds his own axe in a way that is counterproductive and deceptive. Folse says, on p. 49:

"Furthermore, if in fact James' outlook expresses the direction from which Bohr's thought comes, then the imputation that complementarity is of Kantian origin would seem to be incorrect, for in the very chapter to which Bohr refers, "The Stream of Consciousness", from *The Principles of Psychology*, James is arguing vehemently against the Kantian approach to the description of experience."

First of all, what Bohr said he read was "The Stream of Thought", which is in fact the chapter in *The Principles of Psychology* (1890), which is the longer course. "The Stream of Consciousness" is a chapter in *Psychology* (1892), which is the briefer course, and it is about a third the size of "The Stream of Thought". More importantly, Folse mischaracterizes the attitude of James toward Kant and is completely mistaken in his inference concerning Bohr's relation to Kant. The only reference to Kant in "The Stream of Thought" is in a footnote on p. 274: "Many philosophers, however, hold that the reflective consciousness of the self is essential to the cognitive function of thought. They hold that a thought, in order to know a thing at all, must expressly distinguish between the thing and its own self.* [*Kant originated this view.] This is a perfectly wanton assumption, and not the faintest shadow of reason exists for supposing it true. As well might I contend that I cannot dream without dreaming that I dream, swear without swearing that I swear, deny without denying that I deny, as maintain that I cannot know without knowing that I know."

First of all, this is not a vehement argument against the Kantian approach, but just a point of contention with one view that Kant originated, whether passively and inadvertently or explicitly we are not told. In a later critique of Kant, which begins on p. 360 and is not in the chapter that Bohr read, James makes clear that Kant is obscure to him and that he may very well be arguing against a strawman of his own devising, which he claims is equally useful for his purpose of inquiry. From pp. 360, 363:

"Kant starts, as I understand him, from a view of the *Object* essentially like our own description of it on p. 275 ff., that is, it is a system of things, qualities or facts in relation. ...In many respects Kant's meaning is obscure, but it will not be necessary for us to squeeze the texts in order to make sure what it actually and historically was. If we can define clearly two or three things which it may *possibly* have been, that will help us just as much to clear our own ideas."

But what is really interesting is that Bohr, rather than conforming to Folse's alleged rejection of Kant, instead sides with Kant against James on the very issue James raises in "The Stream of Thought". Bohr says, on p. 96 of "Atomic Theory and the Description of Nature":

"The epistemological problem under discussion may be characterized briefly as follows: For describing our mental activity, we require, on the one hand an objectively given content to be placed in opposition to a perceiving subject, while, on the other hand, as is already implied in such an assertion, no sharp separation between object and subject can be maintained, since the perceiving subject also belongs to our mental content. From these circumstances follows not only the relative meaning of every concept, or rather of every word, the meaning depending upon the arbitrary choice of point of view, but also that we must, in general, be prepared to accept the fact that a complete elucidation of one and the same object may require diverse points of view which defy a unique description."

So, James' aversion to a perceived digression in Kant's view is dispelled here by Bohr, who explains that the view which includes the subject is complementary to the one that does not. The one is an inner view, an introspection into the quantum implicate order, while the other is an outer view in the context of the quantum explicate order. It is precisely because any reality of the quantum explicate order can be enfolded into the quantum implicate order, where all separation vanishes, that the separation required for ontological existence and quantum measurement theory in the quantum explicate order cannot be maintained as an absolute. If it seems incredible to the reader that Bohm's terms apply so precisely to Bohr, it is in fact no coincidence - Bohm was perhaps the foremost interpreter of Bohr, contrary to the deluded public opinion.

A few pages later, on p. 98 of "Atomic Theory and the Description of Nature", we find the following decisive passage concerning our original inquiry into what Bohr meant by his EPR statement:

"In considering the resignation with regard to the desires for visualization which give our whole language its character, to which we are compelled by the situation discussed above, it is very instructive that already in simple psychological experiences we come upon fundamental features not only of the relativistic but also of the reciprocal view. The relativity of our perception of motion, with which we become conversant as children when traveling by ship or by train, corresponds to a common-place experiences on the reciprocal character of the perception of touch. One need only remember here the sensation, often cited by psychologists, which every one has experienced when attempting to orient himself in a dark room with a stick. When the stick is held loosely, it appears to the sense of touch to be an object. When, however, it is held firmly, we lose the sensation that it is a foreign body, and the impression of touch becomes immediately localized at the point where the stick is touching the body under investigation. It would scarcely be an exaggeration to maintain, purely from psychological experiences, that the concepts of space and time by their very nature acquire a meaning only because of the possibility of neglecting the interaction [our interaction] with the means of measurement. On the whole, the analysis of our sense impressions discloses a remarkable independence of the psychological foundations of the concepts of space and time, on the one hand, and the conceptions of energy and momentum, based upon actions of force, on the other hand. Above all, however, this domain, as already mentioned, is distinguished by reciprocal relationships which depend upon the unity of our consciousness and which exhibit a striking similarity with the physical consequences of the quantum of action. We are thinking here of the well-known characteristics of emotion and volition which are quite incapable of being represented by visualizable pictures. In particular, the apparent contrast between the continuous outward flow of associative thinking [the stream of consciousness] and the preservation of the unity of personality [which James did not understand about Kant] exhibits a suggestive analogy with the relation between the wave description of the motions of material particles, governed by the superposition principle, and their indestructible individuality. [This analogy is between {the observer in world 7 and the extended observer in worlds 7-5} and {the observed in world 1 and the extended observed in worlds 1-3}!] The unavoidable influence on atomic phenomena caused by observing them here corresponds to the well-known change of the tinge of the psychological experiences which accompanies any direction of the attention to one of their various elements."

Now, this last sentence is the one that is directly relevant to our inquiry into the EPR statement, and it is also the one misinterpreted badly by Henry Folse. Folse says, on p. 180 of his book, as an introduction to the last sentence above, which he then quotes:

"In 1929 when the Planck *Festschrift* article was written, Bohr was still liable to the confusion of speaking as though the observing process 'disturbs' the object, the very confusion which, as we have seen, he cautions against in 1937. Thus, not surprisingly, at this time he carries over the same confusion in the psychological analogy: 'The unavoidable influence on atomic phenomena caused by observing them here corresponds to the well-known change of the tinge of the psychological experiences which accompanies any direction of the attention to one of their various elements.'"

Now, the confusion here is all Folse's, for Bohr does not say anything in this passage about a "disturbance" but rather about an "influence", by which he means, exactly as he did in the 1935 EPR statement, an "influence on the very conditions that govern our predictions". His use of the term "atomic *phenomena*" makes clear that he is not talking about the atomic noumenon in nature but about its phenomenal representation within the experience of the observer. Bohr was always philosophically precise in his use of the term "phenomena".

So, the upshot is that rather than being in dissonance with the later views of Bohr, this earlier passage is quintessential to understanding the meaning of the later statements. This passage, if not invalidated, is the very best example of the relevance of William James to an understanding of "what Bohr intends to say", particularly in the all-important case of his response to the EPR challenge.

It might be mentioned, in passing, that Henry Stapp also holds the distorted view, which may have its origin in this faulty analysis by Folse, that the early Bohr was somehow less accurate or reliable than the later Bohr. As those who knew Bohr best have testified, the ideas which he later used in quantum theory were all with him from boyhood, perhaps from his earliest studies of William James in 1904. However, Bohr did not become perplexed along with James over the issues that perplexed James, but rather found the resolutions of those confusions in his synthesis of the best of the phenomenological tradition, including the essence of Descartes, Husserl, and Kant (interpreted as a phenomenologist).

If Bohr denied the relevance of "the epistemological analyses of Spinoza, Hume, and Kant", as Folse claims on pp. 180-1 of his book, that is most likely because Spinoza represents a noumenal tradition positing a universal substance in nature. Kant interpreted in that context would not be relevant to Bohr's phenomenal point of view, but Kant interpreted in the context of the phenomenological tradition, positing consciousness as the cosmic verity, would be profoundly relevant.

On pp. 272-5 of volume two, we find another critique by James of Kant, this time as a criticism of Schopenhauer's view of Kant. James quotes Schopenhauer on p. 274:

"But never out of the pure sensation in the hand could the idea of movement, that is, of change of position in space by means of time, arise.... Our Intellect must bear in itself the intuitions of Space and Time, and therewithal of the possibility of motion, and no less the idea of Causality, to pass from the empirically given feeling to its cause, and to construct the latter as a moving body of the designated shape. For how great is the abyss between the mere sensation in the hand and the ideas of causality, materiality, and movement through Space, occurring in Time! The feeling in the hand, even with different contacts and positions, is something far too uniform and poor in content for it to be possible to construct out of *it* the idea of Space with its three dimensions...in short, the foundations of the objective world. This is only possible through Space, Time, and Causality...being performed in the Intellect itself,...from whence it again follows that the perception of the external world is essentially an intellectual process, a work of the Understanding, *to which sensation furnishes merely the occasion*, and the data to be interpreted in each particular case."

Then James says, on p. 275:

"I call this view mythological, because I am conscious of no such Kantian machine-shop in my mind, and feel no call to disparage the powers of poor sensation in this merciless way. I have no introspective experience of mentally producing space. My space-intuitions occur not in two times but in one. There is not one moment of passive inextensive sensation, succeeded by another of active extensive perception, but the form I see is as immediately felt as the color which fills it out. That the higher parts of the mind come in, who can deny? They add and subtract, they compare and measure, they reproduce and abstract....

"The essence of the Kantian contention is that there are not *spaces* but Space - one infinite continuous Unit - and that our knowledge of *this* cannot be a piecemeal sensational affair, produced by summation and abstraction."

First of all, Schopenhauer's view is at best a Neo-Kantian view - it is not the view of Kant, which is in fact closer to James' position. Kant affirmed that the aesthetic faculty was Sensibility, which alone was responsible for the intuitions in space and time. These were then processed by Understanding, as the faculty of thought. Kant affirmed that neither Sensibility nor Understanding could perform the function of the other.

I personally like Schopenhauer's view, and I think it is at least partly correct. What we are talking about is the difference between Einstein's Relativity and the Hilbert space notion of space-time eigenstates, which are indeed subjective properties of the Understanding.

As for the notion of Space as "one infinite continuous Unit", that is an empirical fact discovered by the phenomenological reduction, as is infinite Consciousness, Space and Consciousness being two ways of describing the vast emptiness that is experienced when all else in the mental and physical worlds of external noumenal reality is bracketed, or effectively removed from consideration. I am not aware that Kant ever emphasized this aspect of phenomenology in his own work, however, so again James' criticisms of Kant seem to be symptoms of his own intense confusion, which is more than understandable considering the ambitiousness of his project that essentially discovered quantum theory 35 years before physicists did. The relation of James to Bohr is the same as the relation of Minkowski to Einstein, so we can see the profound difference in the character of relativity and quantum theory. One is founded on a more or less technical "trick", while the other is founded on the deep soul searchings of our best psychologist. Ultimately, I suspect that relativity will prove to have unfathomed depths as well, but they are not in evidence yet, except in the private and unrevealed conviction of its founder.



Peter Joseph Mutnick 1949 - 2000


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