Niels Bohr, objectivity, and the irreversibility of measurements

  • Ulrich J. MohrhoffEmail author
Regular Paper


The only acceptable reason why measurements are irreversible and outcomes definite is the intrinsic definiteness and irreversibility of human sensory experience. While QBists deserve credit for their spirited defense of this position, Niels Bohr urged it nearly a century ago, albeit in such elliptic ways that the core of his message has been lost or distorted beyond recognition. Then as now, the objectivity of empirical science was called into question. It was defended by Bohr along the lines of Kant’s (then) revolutionary theory of science, according to which the possibility of empirical science hinges on the possibility of thinking of experiences as experiences of a system of interacting, re-identifiable objects. What Bohr added to Kant’s theory was his insight that empirical knowledge was not necessarily limited to what is directly accessible to the senses, and that, therefore, it does not have to be solely a knowledge of objects of sensible intuition. It can also be a knowledge of phenomena that are not objects of sensible intuition but instead are constituted by experimental contexts, which are objects of sensible intuition. Bohr’s grounding of objectivity (or the objectivity consistent with quantum mechanics), however, is weaker than Kant’s (or the objectivity consistent with Newtonian physics). This conclusion is based on an examination of Bohr’s intentions in appealing to irreversible amplification effects or the sufficient size and weight of the measurement apparatus.


Bohr Experience Irreversibility Kant Measurement Objectivity QBism 



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© Chapman University 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Sri Aurobindo International Centre of EducationPondicherryIndia

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