Heisenberg & the Components of Quantum Physics

When Heisenberg was asked by students to explain “what everything is made of” he quickly referred to Plato’s Timaeus, contrasting the thought of ancient Greek materialists. . . For Heisenberg, elemental particles composing the atom more closely resemble Platonic bodies than the atoms of Democritus.

Let’s explain.

The elementary particles of physics, like the regular bodies of Plato’s philosophy, are defined by the requirements of mathematical symmetry.  They are not eternal and unchanging, and they can hardly be strictly called real.  Therefore, in the beginning, for modern science, was the form, the mathematical pattern, not the material thing.  

For Heisenberg then, a mathematical pattern is, in the final analysis, an intellectual concept.  Like Faust, “in the beginning was the meaning“.

Matter has been dematerialized, not just as a philosophical concept, but as a constituent idea grounding contemporary physics. Matter is now understood from within the confines of ideas of charged relations, not objects.  We must remember that at this depth, the direction of analysis changes, we’re now promoting a conceptual change that isn’t best handled throughout the medium of mathematics or any linear representation.  Newtonian constructs of an exact determinable state, a point of shape or absolute solidity, are properties electrons do not have.

“Nature loves to hide.” Heraclitus



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