Quantum Mechanics and the Subject-Object Distinction

April 9, 1999
Sponsored by the Bhaktivedanta Institute*

Speaker: Edward MacKinnon, Professor of Philosophy (Retd.), California State University, Hayward

Abstract: Niels Bohr was the dominant figure in the mid-1920s discussions that led to the Copenhagen interpretation of Quantum Mechanics. He insisted that the developments in quantum physics necessitated a rethinking of the subject-object distinction. His emphasis on the subjective nature of all experience and the significance this has for quantum mechanics stimulated two opposing developments. John von Neumann, London and Bauer, and especially Eugene Wigner have attributed to the consciousness of the subject a decisive role in the notorious problem of making determinate measurements possible. In opposition Karl Popper, Mario Bunge and other philosophers have insisted that any such emphasis violates the objectivity proper to physics.

At present there are sustained efforts to replace the Bohrian measurement interpretation of quantum mechanics by newer accounts, such as decoherence or consistent histories. Here the old subject-object distinction reappears in new guises. Gell-Mann and Hartle insist that acceptable new interpretations of quantum mechanics must accommodate the emergence of complex adaptive systems including IGUSES, Information Gathering and Utilizing Systems. In Steven Weinberg's version of strong reductionism ultimate quantum explanations need not treat such emergent properties.

The talk will focus on clarifying the role of conflicting presuppositions behind the different positions.

Friday, April 9, 1999
Room 300, Health Sciences West, University of California, San Francisco *
7:30 pm – 8:00 pm Social; 8:00 pm – 10:00 pm Lecture and Discussion

Registration: If you are attending for the first time, please pre-register by calling K. P. Rajan, Ph.D. at (510) 841-7618, or Jean Burns, Ph.D., at (510) 481-7507 (e-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.).

Directions: The closest parking is the UCSF public garage at 500 Parnassus Avenue ($1.75/hr). You may be able to find some free street parking within a few blocks of the campus. We post directions to reach Health Sciences West building in the lobby of the Medical Sciences building (513 Parnassus), across the street from the UCSF garage.

* The Bhaktivedanta Institute and UCSF are not affiliated. The use of meeting rooms at the University of California, San Francisco, by non-profit organizations does not imply that the University endorses this organization or the material being presented.