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Mathematics Goes to the Movies

by Burkard Polster and Marty Ross


Copenhagen (2002)

conversation about a time when Heisenberg pointed out that Bohr’s mathematics is wrong.

HEISENBERG: Of course, you wanted to win. What about those games of poker then at the ski hut in Bayrisch Zell. You wanted to clean us out, remember, with a nonexisting straight. We are all mathematicians, we are all counting cards, we were all 90% certain he hasn’t got anything, but on he goes raising us and raising us. This insane confidence, till our faith in mathematical probability begins to waver and one by one we all throw in.
BOHR: I thought I had a straight, I misread the cards, I bluffed myself.

HEISENBERG: I was always envious, the way you and Margareta, your work, your problems, me no doubt.
BOHR: I was formed by nature to be a mathematically curious entity, not one, but half of two.
HEISENBERG: Mathematics becomes very odd when you apply it to people. One and one can add up to so many different sums.

BOHR: We are going to make the whole thing clear to Margareta. You know how strongly I believe that we don’t do science for ourselves that we can explain to others…
HEISENBERG: In plain language
BOHR: In plain language. Not your view, I know. You’d be happy to describe what you are up to purely in differential equations if you could, but for Margareta’s sake...
HEISENBERG: In plain language.

HEISENBERG: Scroedinger said my mathematics were repulsive
BOHR: You had gone mad by that time. You had become fanatical. You were refusing to allow wave theory any place in quantum mechanics at all.
HEISENBERG: You completely turned your coat.
BOHR: I said that wave mechanics and matrix mechanics were simply alternative tools.
HEISENBERG: Something you are always accusing me of. If it works it works, never mind what it means.
BOHR: Of course I mind what it means.
HEISENBERG: What it means in language.
BOHR: In plain language.
HEISENBERG: What something means is what it means in mathematics.
BOHR: You think so long as the mathematics works out the sense doesn’t matter.
HEISENBERG: The sense is mathematics, that’s what sense is.

You actually love the paradoxes, I mean that’s your problem. You revel in the contradictions.
BOHR: Yes and you have never been able to understand the suggestiveness of paradox and contradiction that’s your problem.

Nice description of quantum mechanics reminiscent of Marilyn Monroe conversation with Einstein.

Mathematics not right