The papers written by J S Bell have been collected and published entitled ‘Speakable and unspeakable in quantum mechanics‘. One of the clearest thinkers in the field and someone willing to confront established ideas, John Bell played a major role in stimulating a critical assessment of the way in which understanding of quantum mechanics was developing. He quotes from A Koestler‘s book The Sleepwalkers.
‘…the history of cosmic theories may without exaggeration be called a history of collective obsessions and controlled schizophrenics; and the manner in which some of the most important individual discoveries was arrived at reminds one of a sleepwalker’s performance..’
Describing the Copernican revolution and the heroic involvement of Copernicus, Kepler and Galilei against a background of entrenched opposition by the establishment and the Church behind which lay threats to them personally. .Koestler points out the enormous step that was made at this time. Man ceased to be the centre around which the world the sun and the stars turned. However rather than a step it was more of a stumble involving irrationality, prejudice, errors, obstinacy and obsessional behaviour.
Bell points out that for decades our understanding of how the universe works has been based on two great pillars, relativity and quantum theory. Enormous strides have been made and, via practical application of the transistor and lasers, these theories have transformed our world. Bell points out though, that our understanding is limited and the most frequently used approach is ‘the Copenhagen interpretation‘. With the other approaches this still tends to put ‘us’ as the observers at the centre and is really a series of fudges and assumptions. Are we not participants in rather than observers of the universe? Are we not involved with our own emotions, feelings, authority and free will?