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Oppenheimer Explains Unfamiliar Order in Recent Atomic Mechanics

In Fifth James Lecture

By Paul H. Plotz

The new physics of atomic mechanics, developed from a paradox in physics, is able to explain all the things known classically in a more general way, J. Robert Oppenheimer '26 told a Sanders Theatre audience yesterday.

In the fifth of the eight William James Lectures on Philosophy and Psychology, the physicist outlined the history of the new physics showing how it led to "An Unfamiliar Order." (This was the title of the lecture.)

Wave v. Particle

Continuing the history he had begun in his last lecture, Oppenheimer explained how the wave and particle aspects of light led the French physicist deBroglie to postulate that all matter could be represented mathematically by waves.

From this suggestion, the German physicist Schrodinger expanded the theory for these waves to a form where many of the paradoxes of the new physics fell out in a concise mathematical form.

Along with the new mechanics founded by Heisenberg, the new physics incorporated Newtonian physics in a general form. However, the consequence of this new formulation is that in a very fundamental way, our ability to measure certain properties is limited.

Statictical Limit

While the waves can tell physicists some thing exactly, he said, their statistical nature allows us to know other things only within a probability. This, Oppenheimer explained, is not "an ignorance of something we have failed to measure, but something that cannot be logically said to exist unless we measure it."

Oppenheimer also showed how the quantum phenomena and the Newtonian description of physics, though mutually exclusive, are both useful and essentially correct.

The final three lectures, to be delivered this Friday, and next Monday and Friday, are entitled "The Proper Study of Mankind," "Power and Learning," and "The Hope of Order."

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