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Jos Uffink joins the Vossius Center in August 2018 for three months as a Research Fellow with two projects 'Tatiana Afanassjewa’s work' and 'Schrödinger’s development of the concept of entanglement'.

About the projects

Tatiana Ehrenfest-Afanassjewa (1876-1964)

The first concerns the work of Tatiana Ehrenfest-Afanassjewa (1876-1964). With my colleagues Charlotte Werndl (Salzburg), Giovanni Valente (Pittsburgh) and Lena Zuchowski (Bristol), I co-organized the workshop “The Legacy of Tatiana Afanassjewa” in Salzburg, 17-18 June 2017. Springer has confirmed that it will publish a book that collects papers from this workshop, and other papers to be invited and selected annotated translations from her work (mostly in German and Dutch). This volume is scheduled to appear in 2019. 

For this book project, in Springer’s Series Women in Engineering and Science, we are aiming to collect essays covering all aspects of her work, which ranges across the didactics of mathematics, the foundations of thermodynamics, the interpretation of probability, and more general themes in philosophy like Tolman’s Principle of Similitude, the Châtelier-Braun Principle, and her joint work with Paul Ehrenfest on statistical physics.

Apart from an immediate goal of making the quite original but largely unknown work of Tatiana Afanassjewa in the 1910s-1960s towards the foundations and teaching of physics and mathematics accessible and to point out their relevance to recent debates in the philosophy of science, the historical goal is to identify key factors by which Afanassjewa, whose background training was in mathematics, could transfer her knowledge from this field to the physical sciences, where she was extremely successful in pointing out hidden assumptions in the arguments of reputed scientists like Boltzmann, Gibbs, Tolman, Planck, and Carathéodory.

Schrödinger’s development of the concept of entanglement

In 1935, Schrödinger coined the term entanglement (Verschränkung) for composite systems whose wave function does not factorize. He famously argued that entanglement was the crucial aspect in which quantum physics diverged from classical physics. More recently, it has become clear that entanglement is indeed key to the interpretational problems of this theory (and to such new developments as quantum information, computation, and communication technology).

During a research visiting fellowship in 2016 to the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, (Berlin) collaborating with Christoph Lehner, I have studied Schrödinger’s unpublished notebooks to collect writings on entanglement predating 1935. It became clear that he was already aware in 1926 of what we now call entanglement, and that this aspect, indeed, was the main reason why he discarded this interpretation. At this time, however, he believed that the orthodox (Copenhagen) interpretation did not suffer from such problems.

But in 1929, he prepared notes for a talk at the German Physical Society (DPG) with extensive criticism of “dogmatic quantum mechanics”. By then, he clearly realized that entanglement raises problems for the Copenhagen Interpretation just as well. (Interestingly, Schrödinger actually delivered this talk on a less controversial topic.)

Even more interestingly, in 1931, Schrödinger already worked out essentially all details of the celebrated Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen (EPR) argument, of 1935, now regarded as the pivotal argument in the debate on the interpretation of quantum theory.

Of particular interest for this project is how Schrödinger used his knowledge of entanglement, which he saw in 1926 as a decisive problem for his own interpretation of quantum theory and transferred it to a powerful objection against the Copenhagen Interpretation in 1931. Also of interest is what prevented Schrödinger from publishing his insights (or delivering the talk he prepared in 1929) and thus left the priority to EPR. 

For this project, I intend to finish a publication that provides a major revision of the received history of quantum mechanics.