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Doctoral studies > PhD dissertations UAB

Eduardo Martín Ruiz Sosa
La observación en la palabra. La función de los experimentos imaginarios en el desarrollo de la física cuántica. 1927-1936
Supervisor/s: Carl Hoefer
Date of defense: 20-09-2012

This dissertation deals with the function of thought experiments in quantum physics between 1927 and 1936. Two have been the main objectives: (1) the making of a detailed critical historiography of all thought experiments in this particular period, and (2) the direct implication of thought experiments in the development of the concept of entanglement, coined by Erwin Schrödinger in 1935. By the study of original documents in which thought experiments were published, connections are made between them and their repercussion in the development of physics. At the end, besides the already mentioned results, a description of thought experiments as a scientific tool, its characteristics and its peculiarities among the specified historical context is offered. Also, a study is made about connections between scientists, as well as the public and private communications by which these thought experiments traveled around the scientific community. Every detail of each thought experiment is analyzed in order to find the theoretical connection between them and to follow the trace of the concept of entanglement. Issues like thought experiments’ standardization, communication among scientific circles, immediacy of the replica, re-elaboration of arguments, experimental configuration and the role of language in science are taken into account. In Chapter I Introduction: Thought Experiments in Quantum Physics: a beginning for the discussion, the state of affairs of the discussion on thought experiments is the central issue, as well as its definition, the etymology of the German term Gedankenexperiment and the main characteristics of the topic. A theoretical frame of the discussion is established, as well as the justification of the chosen historical period and the thought experiments that are about to be studied. In Chapter II 1924-1930: Thought experiments for a private public: from Heisenberg’s microscope to Einstein’s photon in a box, the Compton Effect is treated as a fundamental element in the formulation of though experiments, and as a main cause of the initial controversies. The firsts thought experiments were published in the 1927 document by Heisenberg, where the gamma rays microscope is described. The 1927 and 1930 Solvay Conferences are also under consideration here, as well as the role of Paul Ehrenfest in the discussions between Bohr and Einstein. In Chapter III 1931-1935: Open discussion: the Einstein, Podolsky & Rosen’s thought experiment, all thought experiments published before EPR as well as EPR itself are under examination. Chapter IV Epilogue for a controversy: later reactions to EPR. The case of Schrödinger’s cat, deals with all the answers to the EPR thought experiment, as well as Einstein’s correspondence after the publication of the article. Schrödinger’s 1935 two papers, one of them containing the cat’s thought experiment and the thesis of entanglement, are also under consideration here. In Chapter V Conclusions: Final remarks on the role of thought experiments in quantum physics, the the results of the dissertation are shown as a way of closure. Also, some possible ways for future investigations are pointed out. At the end of the document an Appendix is posted, in which all thought experiments that where studied in the precedent chapters are listed along with their authors, year and references of their public appearance.

 

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