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Einstein's Peculiar Kind of Realism

The Shaky Game: Einstein, Realism, and the Quantum Theory. Arthur Fine. The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1986. 198 pp. $25. The Shaky Game gives an excellent, well-documented account of Einstein's concept of realism. The title comes from a statement made by Einstein. Referring to quantum theorists, he said, "Most of them simply do not see what a risky game they are playing with reality." According to Arthur Fine, the risky (or "shaky," as he calls it) game puts traditional physics in je

By | March 23, 1987

The Shaky Game: Einstein, Realism, and the Quantum Theory. Arthur Fine. The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1986. 198 pp. $25.


The Shaky Game gives an excellent, well-documented account of Einstein's concept of realism. The title comes from a statement made by Einstein. Referring to quantum theorists, he said, "Most of them simply do not see what a risky game they are playing with reality." According to Arthur Fine, the risky (or "shaky," as he calls it) game puts traditional physics in jeopardy. But with the proper philosophical attitude he believes that the problems can be overcome.

The appeal of Fine's book comes both from his smooth and interesting writing style and his openminded approach to the subject. The first half is primarily historical; the development of Einstein's objections to quantum theory are traced from their origins to his publication with Podoisky and Rosen of the now-famous EPR paradox.

In chapter two the young Einstein—daring and unafraid of new ideas—is compared to the old Einstein, whom some describe as conservative and. unable to rid himself of early prejudices. Fine, however, does not accept this "traditional" view of the older Einstein. He notes that the older man was "so much on top of the problem that he was able to reconstruct the Schrödinger equation from fundamentals" after receiving only a "garbled" account of it. Einstein was, of course, dissatisfied not with the numbers that came out of quantum theory, but with its philosophical implications and what he felt was an incompleteness of the theory. He believed that any physical theory that did not have an observer-independent reality "denied the most basic goal of rational science." And, as is well-known, this attitude eventually led to a debate with the antirealist Niels Bohr. According to Fine, this debate was far more than a mere sideshow in physics. Bohr was seriously worried that Einstein's views, if accepted, might impede the progress of physics for years—yet he knew they could not be dismissed.

Fine also points out that while Einstein was a realist, his realism was of a peculiar kind. He believed in an external objective physical reality that we may not be able to grasp with fullest certainty, but one to which we are at least guided by the totality of our experience.

After presenting arguments on both sides of the realism-antirealism debate, Fine introduces what he refers to as the "natural ontological attitude," a view that insists that "any philosophical description of science must include a variety of scientific practices, without attempting to encompass them all in a single philosophy." This attitude, he believes, is the key to our understanding of realism.

The book, written by a professor of moral and intellectual history at Northwestern University, is geared to physicists and philosophers but should also be of interest to historians of science. Fine has, in fact, used a considerable amount of material from the Princeton archives that has never appeared in print. In short, the book is a must for anyone interested in the philosophy of quantum theory.

Parker is a professor of physics at Idaho State University, Pocatello, 83209: He is the author of Einstein's Dream: The Search for a Unified Theory of the Universe (Plenum Press, 1986.)

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