Philosophical Standpoints of Textbooks in Quantum Mechanics

Abstract

Quantum mechanics has proven to be a challenging subject for instructors to teach and conceptually difficult for students to understand. A major source of the difficulty is the lack of everyday experience that quantum mechanics can be related to and the change in thinking required in transitioning from deterministic classical mechanics to a probabilistic quantum theory. Philosophically, the transition has been difficult to reconcile even amongst the physics community. Despite this, the epistemological and ontological underpinnings of instruction in quantum mechanics have not been well documented. In this paper, the philosophical commitments of two popular textbooks that are a staple in undergraduate and graduate classrooms around the world are analyzed to examine their interpretative and philosophical grounding. The textbooks are analyzed from the perspective of a student encountering quantum mechanics for the first time and are related to the well documented problems students face in trying to understand quantum mechanics. Recommendations for future textbooks are also made along with a call to enable students to engage in meaningful discourse and debate over the meanings of quantum mechanical systems.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2

Notes

  1. 1.

    To avoid the trap of linguistic labels implying determinacy, I avoid using terms such as “wave” or “particle” and choose to adopt the more neutral term “entity” instead. While this runs the risk of technically inaccuracy in adopting a non-scientific term, the term is general enough to stand for any of the concepts under consideration.

References

  1. Albert, D., & Loewer, B. (1988). Interpreting the many worlds interpretation. Synthese, 77(2), 195–213.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Baily, C., & Finkelstein, N. (2008). Student perspectives in quantum physics (Vol. 1064). https://doi.org/10.1063/1.3021275.

  3. Baily, C., & Finkelstein, N. (2010). Teaching and understanding of quantum interpretations in modern physics courses. Physical Review Special Topics - Physics Education Research, 6(1), 10101. https://doi.org/10.1103/PhysRevSTPER.6.010101.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Bao, L., & Redish, E. F. (2002). Understanding probabilistic interpretations of physical systems: a prerequisite to learning quantum physics. American Journal of Physics, 70(3), 210–217. https://doi.org/10.1119/1.1447541.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Bazerman, C. (2006). Analysing the multidimensionality of texts in education. In J. Green, G. Camilla, & P. B. Elmore (Eds.), Handbook of complementary methods in education research (pp. 77–94). doi https://doi.org/10.4324/9780203874769.ch6.

  6. Budde, M., Niedderer, H., Scott, P., & Leach, J. (2002a). “Electronium”: a quantum atomic teaching model. Physics Education, 37(3), 197.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Budde, M., Niedderer, H., Scott, P., & Leach, J. (2002b). The quantum atomic model ‘Electronium’: a successful teaching tool. Physics Education, 37(3), 204.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Cataloglu, E., & Robinett, R. W. (2002). Testing the development of student conceptual and visualization understanding in quantum mechanics through the undergraduate career. American Journal of Physics, 70(3), 238–251. https://doi.org/10.1119/1.1405509.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Clement, J. (1982). Students’ preconceptions in introductory mechanics. American Journal of Physics, 50(1), 66–71. https://doi.org/10.1119/1.12989.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Duschl, R. A., & Osborne, J. (2002). Supporting and promoting argumentation discourse in science education. Studies in Science Education, 38(1), 39–72. https://doi.org/10.1080/03057260208560187.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Feynman, R. P., Sands, M., & Leighton, R. B. (1965). The Feynman lectures on physics: quantum mechanics. III. Addison-Wesley.

  12. Fischler, H., & Lichtfeldt, M. (1992). Modern physics and students’ conceptions. International Journal of Science Education, 14(2), 181–190.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. French, M., Taverna, F., Neumann, M., Paulo Kushnir, L., Harlow, J., Harrison, D., & Serbanescu, R. (2015). Textbook use in the sciences and its relation to course performance. College Teaching, 63(4), 171–177. https://doi.org/10.1080/87567555.2015.1057099.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. Greca, I. M., & Freire Jr, O. (2014). Meeting the challenge: quantum physics in introductory physics courses. In M. R. Matthews (Ed.), International handbook of research in history, philosophy and science teaching (pp. 183–209). https://doi.org/10.1007/978-94-007-7654-8.

  15. Griffiths, D. J. (2005). Introduction to quantum mechanics. Upper Saddle River: Pearson Prentice Hall.

    Google Scholar 

  16. Halloun, I. A., & Hestenes, D. (1985). The initial knowledge state of college physics students. American Journal of Physics, 53(11), 1043–1055. https://doi.org/10.1119/1.14030.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Hellman, G. (2009). Interpretations of probability in quantum mechanics: a case of “experimental metaphysics.” In Quantum reality, relativistic causality, and closing the epistemic circle (pp. 211–227). Springer.

  18. Johnston, I. D., Crawford, K., & Fletcher, P. R. (1998). Student difficulties in learning quantum mechanics. International Journal of Science Education, 20(4), 427–446. https://doi.org/10.1080/0950069980200404.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. Ke, J., Monk, M., & Duschl, R. (2005). Learning introductory quantum physics: sensori-motor experiences and mental models. International Journal of Science Education, 27(13), 1571–1594.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. Kelly, G. J. (1997). Research traditions in comparative context: a philosophical challenge to radical constructivism. Science Education, 81(3), 355–375. https://doi.org/10.1002/(SICI)1098-237X(199705)81:3<355::AID-SCE6>3.0.CO;2-D.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. Kelly, G. J., & Chen, C. (1999). The sound of music: Constructing science as sociocultural practices through oral and written discourse. Journal of Research in Science Teaching - Wiley Online Library, 36(8), 883–915.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. Kiefer, C. (2003). On the interpretation of quantum theory—from Copenhagen to the present day. In L. Castell & O. Ischebek (Eds.), Time, quantum and informationtime, quantum and information (1st ed., pp. 291–299). New York, NY: Springer Berlin Heidelberg.

    Google Scholar 

  23. Krijtenburg-Lewerissa, K., Pol, H. J., Brinkman, A., & Van Joolingen, W. R. (2017). Insights into teaching quantum mechanics in secondary and lower undergraduate education. Physical Review Physics Education Research, 13(1). https://doi.org/10.1103/PhysRevPhysEducRes.13.010109.

  24. Kuhn, T. S. (1970). The structure of scientific revolutions, 2nd. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Pr.

  25. Landau, L. D., & Lifshitz, E. M. (2013). Quantum mechanics: non-relativistic theory (Vol. 3). Elsevier.

  26. Lautesse, P., Vila Valls, A., Ferlin, F., Héraud, J. L., & Chabot, H. (2015). Teaching quantum physics in upper secondary School in France: ‘quanton’ versus ‘wave–particle’ duality, two approaches of the problem of reference. Science and Education, 24(7–8), 937–955. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11191-015-9755-9.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. Lynch, P., & Strube, P. (1983). Tracing the origins and development of the modern science text: are new text books really new? Research in Science Education, 13(1), 233–243. https://doi.org/10.1007/BF02356710.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. Lynch, P., & Strube, P. (1985). What is the purpose of the science textbook? A study of authors’ prefaces since the mid-nineteenth century. European Journal of Science Education, 7(2), 121–130. https://doi.org/10.1080/0140528850070202.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  29. Mannila, K., Koponen, I. T., & Niskanen, J. A. (2001). Building a picture of students’ conceptions of wave-and particle-like properties of quantum entities. European Journal of Physics, 23(1), 45.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  30. Marshman, E., & Singh, C. (2015). Framework for understanding the patterns of student difficulties in quantum mechanics. Physical Review Special Topics - Physics Education Research, 11(2), 1–26. https://doi.org/10.1103/PhysRevSTPER.11.020119.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  31. McDermott, L. C. (1991). Millikan lecture 1990: what we teach and what is learned—closing the gap. American Journal of Physics, 59(4), 301–315. https://doi.org/10.1119/1.16539.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  32. McKagan, S. B., Perkins, K. K., & Wieman, C. E. (2008). Deeper look at student learning of quantum mechanics: the case of tunneling. Physical Review Special Topics - Physics Education Research, 4(2), 1–17. https://doi.org/10.1103/PhysRevSTPER.4.020103.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  33. Mermin, N. D. (1985). Is the moon there when nobody looks? Reality and the quantum theory. Physics Today, 38(4), 38–47.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  34. Michelini, M., Ragazzon, R., Santi, L., & Stefanel, A. (2004). Discussion of a didactic proposal on quantum mechanics with secondary school students. Nuovo Cimento della Societa Italiana di Fisica C, 27(5), 555–567. https://doi.org/10.1393/ncc/i2005-10027-3.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  35. Mittelstaedt, P. (2003). Interpreting quantum mechanics—in the light of quantum logic. In L. Castell & O. Ischebek (Eds.), Time, quantum and information (1st ed., pp. 281–299). New York: Springer Berlin Heidelberg.

    Google Scholar 

  36. Osborne, J. (2010). Arguing to learn in science: the role of collaborative, critical discourse. Science, 328(5977), 463 LP–463466. https://doi.org/10.1126/science.1183944.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  37. Ploetzner, R., & VanLehn, K. (1997). The acquisition of qualitative physics knowledge during textbook-based physics training. Cognition and Instruction, 15(2), 169–205. https://doi.org/10.1207/s1532690xci1502.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  38. Plotnitsky, A., & Khrennikov, A. (2015). Reality without realism: on the ontological and epistemological architecture of quantum mechanics. Foundations of Physics, 45(10), 1269–1300. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10701-015-9942-1.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  39. Posner, G. J., Strike, K. A., Hewson, P. W., & Gertzog, W. A. (1982). Accommodation of a scientific conception: toward a theory of conceptual change*. Science Education, 66(2), 211–227.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  40. Pykacz, J. (2015). A brief survey of main interpretations of quantum mechanics. In J. Pykacz (Ed.), Quantum physics, fuzzy sets and logic: steps towards a many-valued interpretation of quantum mechanics (pp. 5–13). Cham: Springer International Publishing. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-19384-7_2.

    Google Scholar 

  41. Sakurai, J. J., & Napolitano, J. (2017). Modern quantum mechanics (2nd ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. DOI. https://doi.org/10.1017/9781108499996.

    Google Scholar 

  42. Säljö, R. (1982). Learning and understanding: a study of differences in constructing meaning from a text. Gothenburg: Acta Universitatis Gothoburgensis.

    Google Scholar 

  43. Shankar, R. (2012). Principles of quantum mechanics. Springer Science & Business Media.

  44. Sherman Heckler, W. (2014). Research on student learning in science: a Wittgensteinian perspective. In M. R. Matthews (Ed.), International handbook of research in history, philosophy and science teaching. Springer.

  45. Shiland, T. W. (1997). Quantum mechanics and conceptual change in high school chemistry textbooks. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 34(5), 535–545. https://doi.org/10.1002/(SICI)1098-2736(199705)34:5<535::AID-TEA7>3.0.CO;2-R.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  46. Singh, C. (2008). Student understanding of quantum mechanics at the beginning of graduate instruction. American Journal of Physics, 76(3), 277–287.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  47. Singh, C., & Marshman, E. (2015). Review of student difficulties in upper-level quantum mechanics. Physical Review Special Topics - Physics Education Research, 11(2), 1–24. https://doi.org/10.1103/PhysRevSTPER.11.020117.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  48. Singh, C., Belloni, M., & Christian, W. (2006). Improving students’ understanding of quantum mechanics. Physics Today, 59(8), 43–49. https://doi.org/10.1063/1.2349732.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  49. Smith, J. P., diSessa, A. A., & Roschelle, J. (1993). Misconceptions reconceived: a constructivist analysis of knowledge in transition. The Journal of the Learning Sciences, 3(2), 115–163. https://doi.org/10.3109/17453679509002302.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  50. Van Eijndhoven, S. J. L., & De Graaf, J. (1986). Dirac’s formalism according to Dirac and its relations with linear algebra. In S. J. L. Van Eijndhoven & J. D. B. T.-N.-H. M. L. Graaf (Eds.), A mathematical introduction to Dirac’s formalism (Vol. 36, pp. 285–308). Elsevier. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0924-6509(08)70137-5.

  51. van Kampen, G. N., (2008). The scandal of quantum mechanics. American Journal of Physics 76. doi https://doi.org/10.1119/1.2967702.

  52. Verhave, T., & Gilmour Sherman, J. (1968). Principles of textbook analysis. Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior, 11(5), 641–649.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  53. Weinert, F. (1995). Wrong theory—right experiment: the significance of the Stern-Gerlach experiments. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part B: Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics, 26(1), 75–86.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  54. Wittgenstein, L., Hacker, P. M. S., & Schulte, J. (2010). Philosophical investigations. New York: John Wiley & Sons Retrieved from http://nbn-resolving.de/urn:nbn:de:101:1-201502047380.

    Google Scholar 

  55. Zhu, G., & Singh, C. (2011). Improving students’ understanding of quantum mechanics via the Stern–Gerlach experiment. American Journal of Physics, 79(5), 499–507. https://doi.org/10.1119/1.3546093.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  56. Zhu, G., & Singh, C. (2012a). Improving students’ understanding of quantum measurement. I. Investigation of difficulties. Physical Review Special Topics - Physics Education Research, 8(1), 1–8. https://doi.org/10.1103/PhysRevSTPER.8.010117.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  57. Zhu, G., & Singh, C. (2012b). Improving students’ understanding of quantum measurement. II. Development of research-based learning tools. Physical Review Special Topics - Physics Education Research, 8(1), 1–13. https://doi.org/10.1103/PhysRevSTPER.8.010118.

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgments

I would like to thank Dr. Greg Kelly for his stellar mentorship as well as for feedback and comments on earlier drafts of the manuscript. Thanks are also owed to faculty and colleagues at the College of Education. The work was indirectly made possible by the Graduate Research Fellowship, and my thanks go out to the institute for facilitating the work.

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Ashwin Krishnan Mohan.

Ethics declarations

Conflict of Interest

There are no conflicts of interest in the writing and publishing of this article.

Additional information

Publisher’s Note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Mohan, A.K. Philosophical Standpoints of Textbooks in Quantum Mechanics. Sci & Educ 29, 549–569 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11191-020-00128-4

Download citation