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Physics Interest Group

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Meeting time: Fridays 1:30–3:00 pm
Meeting place: Please see date for meeting place. The renovations to Tate make space a premium on the East Bank so PIG has become more peripatetic this semester.

The physics interest group (PIG) reads and discusses works of mutual interest in the history and philosophy of physics. We select readings for a variety of reasons: to keep up on the most exciting developments in the field, to help participants scrutinize literature relevant to their research projects (faculty or graduate student research), to provide feedback on works in progress being written by participants (graduate students, faculty, and Center visitors), to revisit classic articles in the literature, and sometimes just to have fun discussing a topic related to physics. For more information please contact Jos Uffink or Clayton Gearhart. If you wold like to be added to the PIG email list please send a request to

Spring 2016

PIG is taking a break this semester, no meetings until the Fall 2016 semester

Fall 2015

September 18: PIG will meet with EMIG today in 737 Heller Hall. Mary Domski (University of New Mexico) will be visiting.
Domski, M. 2012. Newton and Proclus: Geometry, Imagination, and Knowing Space. The Southern Journal of Philosophy 50: 389-413.

October 2: 108 Folwell.
Jos Uffink will speak on "The dispute between Ozawa and Busch, Lahti & Werner on the reading of Heisenberg's gamma-ray microscope"

Abstract: Heisenberg (1927) famously analyzed the gamma ray microscope in his argument leading him to the uncertainty principle. From his analysis, he concluded that at the instant the position of an electron is measured, it undergoes a discontinuous change in momentum, which precludes that it momentum can be known precisely at the same time. In this argument the two uncertainties appear in a very different role. The uncertainty in position is given through the resolving power of the microscope; the uncertainty in momentum, on the other hand appears as a discontinuous change (disturbance) of the electron. Nevertheless,  subsequent developments that let to the  Kennard (1927) and Robertson (1929) formulations of the uncertainty relations assumed symmetrical roles for the two uncertainties involved. 
Recently, dispute his broken out about attempts to formalize Heisenberg's intuitions behind the gamma-ray experiment in the form of so called "error/disturbance" (or "noise/disturbance") relations, by Ozawa and by Busch, Lahti and Werner on the other hand. Ozawa claimed to have derived the formal counterpart of this asymmetrical uncertainty relation (only to show that it is not universally valid).  Busch and Werner claim Ozawa is wrong and give a different formal approach to derive a relation that is universally valid.

The aim is to review this dispute and see the reasons for disagreement. 


background: Uffink J.B. & Hilgevoord J. 2006. "The uncertainty principle"  Stanford encyclopedia, sections 1 & 2. entries/qt-uncertainty/# HeiRoaUncRel

The current debate is commented on in proof-mooted-for-quantum- uncertainty-1.13270 publishing/journal-highlights/ proving-uncertainty-new- insight-old-problem

The core readings deserve a warning: this is hard-boiled mathematical physics and not easy to read. Yet I hope you will be able to digest the essentials. 

M. Ozawa. 2003. Universally valid reformulation of the Heisenberg uncertainty principle on noise and disturbance in measurement. 0207121

P. Busch, P. Lahti & R. Werner. 2013. Proof of Heisenberg's error-disturbance relation. 1565.pdf


Perhaps the following two readings  give a clearer sense of the controversy between Ozawa and Busch, Werner & Lahti  I want to focus on:
P. Busch, P. Lahti & R. Werner. 2014.   Measurement Uncertainty:  Reply to Critics
M. Ozawa. 2013. Disproving Heisenberg's error disturbance relation

October 16: 140 Nolte
John Gustavson (Independent scholar, Duluth) will speak on  “Arnold Sommerfeld's 1922–1923 Visit to the University of Wisconsin-Madison.” 

Arnold Sommerfeld's stay at the University of Wisconsin-Madison beginning in the fall of 1923 and continuing through February of 1923 as the honorary Carl Schurz Professor, immediately followed by his extensive travels across the United States, were highly important to the development of quantum physics both in the United States and in Europe.  In his travels, Sommerfeld brought United States physicists up to speed on German advances in atomic physics since 1914; in 1923 he communicated news of the Compton effect back to Europeans; and his favorable reception at United States institutions reopened doors that led to renewed visits between German and United States physicists.
The story of his journey from the perspective of Madison and the United States provides a penetrating view into the times and world events of 1922-23.  The significance of his visit is still poorly known and underappreciated.
To become acquainted with the European perspective of Sommerfeld’s visit, read in advance Chapter 8 of Michael Eckert’s Arnold Sommerfeld: Science, Life and Turbulent Times 1868-1951, Springer, 2013.

October 30: 140 Nolte
Margaret Morrison
(University of Toronto) will be visiting.
Friederich, S. 2013. "Gauge symmetry breaking in gauge theories—in search of clarification" Eur. J. Phil Sci. 3(2) 157–182. DOI: 10.1007/s13194-012-0061-y

November 13: 140 Nolte
John Bell, John von Neumann, and hidden variables
Much of the historical and philosophical literature on Bell's theorem assumes that von Neumann proved that hidden variable theories in quantum mechanics were impossible.  It now appears that matters aren't quite so simple.  There are four suggested readings: Dennis Dieks' slide show from HQ-4 in Spain last summer gives a good introduction; for a full account, see Jeffrey Bub's paper from 2010; for a fairly technical introduction to von Neumann, read the sections on von Neumann in the Duncan-Janssen paper.  Finally, there is one chapter from Louise Gilder's popular book, The Age of Entanglement (2008)
Additional reading: Sections II and III of Mermin's article give an account of Bell's argument. Mermin, N.D. 1993. Hidden Variables and the Two Theorems of John Bell. Rev. Mod. Phys. 65(3) 803–815.

December 4: 108 Folwell
Boltzmann, Planck, and Quanta
Max Planck's 1900–1901 papers on black body radiation, which introduced finite "energy elements" to physics, relied on an 1877 paper by Ludwig Boltzmann.  But their two derivations were substantially and surprisingly different.  Clayton Gearhart will talk about a recent and as yet unpublished paper by Michael Nauenberg that shows how Planck could readily have extended Boltzmann's derivation for his own purposes.  In the readings, concentrate on Boltzmann's 1877 paper, and Boltzmann's and Planck's derivations.

Previous PIG discussion topics

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