The Quantum Moment:

Quantum Mechanics in Philosophy, Culture, and Life


PHI 382

PHY 382


PHY P-113

                                                                                                                     W 5:30-8:20


                                                                                                                     Prof. Robert P. Crease

Prof. Alfred Scharff Goldhaber (Twitter)



Course Description


            This course explores the implications and influence, real and alleged, of quantum mechanics on fields other than physics.  For an introduction, see  Our title was inspired by an exhibition and book, entitled “The Newtonian Moment,” that charted a 250-year period during which ripples from Newton’s discoveries, especially in mechanics and gravity, radiated out first to a small school of specialists, and then in successively larger circles, eventually penetrating all niches of human life from art to commerce.  It is now over 80 years since the inception of quantum mechanics, and 100 years since a crucial contribution by Einstein to its foundations.  Therefore it seems worthwhile to look at what kinds of ripples have come from a development in some ways much more startling and hard to swallow than Newton’s work.  What have been the reactions to quantum mechanics in worlds outside the physical sciences?  How, if at all, have such reactions reflected back on what 'hard-core' practitioners in this field do – and think about what they do?


            Such questions are at the focus of this course.  How has quantum mechanics permeated culture to offer what seem to be significant new perspectives on the human condition?  What does it mean, if anything, for philosophy, ethics, biology, and social behavior?  We shall explore how quantum mechanics fits, or does not fit, with traditional models of science, and with more recent accounts such as social constructivism.  We discuss some of the important debates at the founding of quantum mechanics, such as the Bohr-Heisenberg debate on the interpretation of complementarity and the Einstein-Bohr debate on the possibility of hidden variables.  We shall look into the "double-slit" experiment with single electrons, the "most beautiful experiment in science."  We may also discuss such issues as nonlocality, hidden variables, new dimensions of the debate of free will versus determinism, scientific perception and measurement theory.  Required and suggested readings include texts that claim to find a connection between quantum mechanics and Faulkner's novels, surrealist paintings, Christian thought, Eastern mysticism, and the theatre of Bertolt Brecht and Richard Foreman. The course will not involve technical mathematics.  The introduction to quantum mechanics provided by the instructors will be aimed at non-science students.  Besides readings, the course will also involve plays, including "Copenhagen," films, and guest speakers. 


            Students are encouraged to hunt down, post on Blackboard, and briefly discuss in class new references to quantum mechanics in contexts outside physics.  Students are also expected to give “book reports” on books about quantum mechanics and its founders to the class.  Students are also required to work on a final project, to be presented in class.  In addition, each week each student should, without consulting notes, post on Journal on Blackboard a two-paragraph summary of what was learned from readings that week.   These posts will be seen only by the instructors, will be graded, and may be mentioned by the instructors when we find the posts especially interesting.







 Aug. 27:         Introduction


The nature of physics and of philosophy, and of the challenges posed by quantum mechanics to each, according to the different perspectives of the instructors.  The proliferation of quantum imagery.  


Sept. 3:            The Newtonian Background, Early Quantum Theory


The physics and philosophy of motion and mechanics in the Aristotelian and Newtonian worlds.  A crisis arises in understanding black-body radiation.  Light's behavior is apparently insoluble in Newtonian terms.  Planck proposes the quantum idea, which lies fallow for 5 years, then nurtured by Einstein.  Puzzles lie latent.

Crease/Goldhaber, Quantum Moment, Chapters 1-5

Dobbs and Jacob, Newton and Newtonianism (entire)

Holton and Brush, Introduction to Concepts and                                    Theories, pp. 31-37, 79-91

E. Segrè, From X-Rays to Quarks (on reserve), ch. 4, “Planck, Unwilling Revolutionary: The Idea of Quantization”


Sept. 10:          Outline of Characters, Plot, and Dramatic Conflict


                        G. Segrè, Faust in Copenhagen (entire)


                        Sept. 17:         The Quantum Revolution of 1925-7 


The development of quantum mechanics: Heisenberg and matrices, Schrödinger and waves, uncertainty principle.  The puzzles become explicit.


Crease/Goldhaber, Quantum Moment, Ch. 6,7

                        D. Lindley, Uncertainty (entire).

                        Holton and Brush, Introduction to Concepts and                                       Theories, pp. 427-44, 470-501

                        E. Segrè, From X-Rays to Quarks, ch. 8, “A True                                       Quantum Mechanics At Last”


                        Title and 1-sentence tentative project description due


Sept. 24:         Laser Teaching Center Excursion


                        R. Crease, Prism and Pendulum, Chs. 6, 10

                    Feynman, Lectures on Physics, excerpts; other                   readings to be assigned


                         Oct. 1:           No Way! The Newtonian Pushback 


                        Einstein and others argue that quantum mechanics must  be imperfect or incomplete.


                        Crease/Goldhaber, Quantum Moment, Ch. 9

N. Bohr, "Discussion w. Einstein on Epistemological Problems in Atomic Physics"

Einstein, Podolsky, and Rosen, "Can Quantum-Mechanical Description of Reality Be Considered Complete?" and reply by Bohr.


One-page description of final project due



Oct. 8:             Schrödinger’s Cat


                        Crease/Goldhaber, Quantum Moment, Ch. 10

Schrödinger, “Pres. Sit. in Qu. Mech,”

                        G. Holton, “The Roots of Complementarity”


Oct. 15:           Philosophical Implications


What have philosophers made of complementarity and quantum mechanics?  Why has complementarity attracted mystics?


P. Grim, ed., "Quantum Mysticism" section from Philosophy of Science and the Occult, 2nd ed.:

P. Grim, "Conflicting Notes from Einstein and Bohr;" F. Capra, "The Unity of All Things;” G. Zukav, "Einstein Doesn't Like It;” R. Crease & C. Mann, "The Yogi and the Quantum;” N. D. Mermin, "Quantum Mysteries for Anyone;” M. Spector, "Mind, Matter and Quantum Mechanics"

M. Beller, “The Sokal Hoax: At Whom Are We Laughing?” Phys. Today, S 1998.

 P. Anderson, “Thinking Big,” Nature 29 Sept. 2005, p. 625


Oct. 22:          Copenhagen: The Play


                        Discussion of Michael Frayn’s play, Copenhagen


                        M. Frayn, Copenhagen


                        First, or rough, draft due


                                                 Oct. 29:         Parallel Worlds 

                                                                         Crease/Goldhaber, Quantum Moment, Ch. 11


Nov. 5:             Art and the Quantum Moment


              Readings from Arthur I. Miller

                      Crease-Goldhaber Ch. 8  


Nov. 12:          Presentations of Student Projects I


                        Final draft due


All students have to work on a project, either individually or in collaboration.  This project cannot be on one of the required readings (it may involve a suggested reading), and must explore some implication of quantum mechanics for philosophy, culture, or life.  A starting point can be found in Brush's The History of Modern Science, essentially an extensive bibliography, though we hope students will find other sources.   A project may consist of a summary and evaluation of a reading on the subject that we have not discussed.  Or it may consist of discovering other kinds of influences of quantum mechanics: on literature or art, for instance.  Or it may consist of producing an illustration of quantum mechanical principles in some arena other than physics -- say, a musical analogue of the double-slit experiment in which discernible rhythms eventually emerge out of randomly produced notes.  Or it may consist of works – music, fiction -- inspired by your perceptions of the quantum concept. 


We encourage you to start working on the project as early as possible.  Its form will be determined by agreement between student and instructors.  You must provide the instructors with a title and 1-sentence description by September 17, a 1-page description by October 1, and a first, or rough, draft (or appropriate form for non-written work) by October 22, leaving room for further development before in-class presentations on November 12 [Final paper drafts also due November 12] and November 19.  You are encouraged to discuss your thoughts with the instructors at all stages.



Nov. 19:         Presentations of Student Projects II


Nov. 26:         NO CLASS!!!!!!  THANKSGIVING VACATION!!!!!!!




                        Did the Hippies Save Physics?  Did They Have To? 


                                                          Selections from Kaiser, How the Hippies Saved Physics

                                                         Crease/Goldhaber, Quantum Moment, Ch. 12

                                                         Other handouts


It’s the Culture!  The Forman Thesis


                                               P. Forman, “Weimar Culture, Causality, and Quantum Theory, 1918-1927”



Course Policies and Course Materials




            The required articles will be handed out, or left in either the Philosophy or Physics offices for students to copy.   The following books are to be purchased:


Dobbs &  Jacob Newton and the Culture of Newtonianism

M. Frayn           Copenhagen

D. Lindley         Uncertainty: Einstein, Heisenberg, Bohr, and the Struggle for the      Soul of Science

G. Segrè,           Faust in Copenhagen


Course Structure


            For most classes, the instructors, or guest, speak for the first half, followed by a break for dinner, and on our return students will present and discuss material.  The material discussed by the students may be part of the assigned readings for that week, a suggested reading for that week, or another reading suggested by the student that has been approved by the instructors. 




            You are required to attend all classes, and to participate in the discussions and Blackboard assignments.  You must complete the readings on time, by the date listed on the syllabus.  You are responsible for making up any work missed for any reason. Grading is based on class participation (including journal entries on Blackboard), class presentation, and the course project.


Disability Support Services (DSS) Statement


If you have a physical, psychological, medical, or learning disability that may impact your course work, please contact Disability Support Services (631) 632-6748 or  They will determine with you what accommodations are necessary and appropriate.  All information and documentation is confidential.  Students who require assistance during emergency evacuation are encouraged to discuss their needs with their professors and Disability Support Services.  For procedures and information see:


Academic Integrity Statement


Each student must pursue his or her academic goals honestly and be personally accountable for all submitted work. Representing another person's work as your own is always wrong. Faculty are required to report any suspected instance of academic dishonesty to the Academic Judiciary.  For more comprehensive information on academic integrity, including categories of academic dishonesty, please refer to the academic judiciary website at


Critical Incident Management


Stony Brook University expects students to respect the rights, privileges, and property of other people. Faculty are required to report to the Office of Judicial Affairs any disruptive behavior that interrupts their ability to teach, compromises the safety of the learning environment, and/or inhibits students' ability to learn.




            Access class information on-line at:  If you used Blackboard before, your login information is unchanged.  If you’ve never used it, your initial password is your SOLAR ID# and your username is your SBU (sparky) username, generally your first initial and the first 7 letters of your last name.  For help see:  For problems logging in, go to the helpdesk in the Main Library SINC Site or the Union SINC Site, or call 631-632-9602 or e-mail