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November 1959

From Plato to Max Planck: The Philosophical Problems of Atomic Physics
by Werner Heisenberg

There are large areas of experience which cannot be even approximately described with the concepts of classical physics.

In these areas of atomic physics, a great deal of the earlier intuitive physics has gone by the board—not only the applicability of its concepts and laws but the entire notion of reality which underlay the exact sciences until our present-day atomic physics ...

If the quantum theory is correct … elemental particles are not real in the same sense as the things in our daily lives—for example, trees or stones—are real; they appear as abstractions derived from observed material which in a literal sense is real. Now, if it is impossible to ascribe existence in the strictest sense to these elemental particles, it is difficult to regard matter as truly real ...

We cannot escape the conclusions that our earlier notions of reality are no longer applicable.

Vol. 204, No. 5, pp. 109–113

For copyright reasons, the full text of this article is not available on The Atlantic's site.