A Forgotten Debate: E. P. Wigner and H. Margenau versus H. Putnam on Quantum Mechanics Measurement Problem

By Frederik Moreira dos Santos

Universidade Federal da Bahia


This paper will provide elements to better understand the reason why Eugene P. Wigner joined to H. Margenau, in a barely philosophical debate with Hilary Putnam in the early 1960s. I intend to show that it was a remarkable debate in so far as one tries to reconstruct historical landmarks (mainly to the young philosopher H. Putnam) on the reflections that each character had concern on the philosophical foundations of quantum mechanics. According to Margenau & Wigner (1962), Putnam (1961) presented an erroneous view on the interpretation of certain mathematical and conceptual points of quantum theory. On the other hand, in a later article (1964), Putnam was not satisfied with the Wigner’s mentalist proposal and asked for which would be the natural laws that would rule the mind interaction to the quantum system. When he answered this last question, Wigner gives us one of his most accurate presentations in relation to his heuristic model that was intended to resolve paradoxes extracted from the semantic structure in the theory of measurement in quantum mechanics. In this communication I intend to present an outline of this debate and at the same time exposing the particular view constructed by Wigner. Finally, the last part of this article, I will present the philosophical motivations that influenced Putnam in order to commit to the quantum logic program originally proposed by Birkhoff and von Neumann in 1936.