Are We Machines?

  • E. P. Wigner
Part of the The Scientific Papers book series (WIGNER, volume A / 3)


Writing as a physicist for a journal of a philosophical society, and on a subject which is now in the realm of philosophy, I am doubly conscious of the differences which exist between physics and philosophy—fundamental differences in spite of the commonness of the goals of the two disciplines: to provide a more coherent and at the same time deeper and more elevating picture of the world.


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  1. 1.
    R. P. Feynman, address to the American Physical Society in Washington, April, 1966.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Quoted from Molecules and Men by Francis Crick (Seattle, University of Washington Press, 1966), p. 16. The reader will find a more cautious presentation of this point of view, not oblivious of the remaining problems and difficulties, in G. W. Corner’s “A Glimpse of Incomprehensibles,” American Scholar 23 (1954): p. 321.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Philip C. Ritterbush’s review of Mortimer J. Adler’s The Difference of Man and the Difference It Makes. See Science 160 (April 5, 1968 ): p. 57.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    The analyses in question were initiated by W. Heisenberg’s famous article, “Ober den anschaulichen Inhalt der quantentheoretischen Kinematik und Mechanik,” Zeiss. f. Physik 43 (1927): p. 172. For more comprehensive reviews, see F. London and E. Bauer, La Théorie de l’observation en Mécanique Quantique (Paris, Hermann et Cie, 1939); N. Bohr, Atomic Physics and Human Knowledge (New York, Interscience, 1963); Atomic Physics and Humai Knowledge (New York: Wiley, 1958); Atomic Theory and the Description of Nature (Cambridge University Press, 1934) and also the present writer’s article, Amer. Jour. Phys. 31 (1963): p. 6; also R. J. Hall, ibid. 33 (1965): p. 624.Google Scholar
  5. 6.
    See, for instance, M. Abraham and R. Becker, Theorie der Elektri-ität (Leipzig, B. G. Teubner, 1930), Section 18.Google Scholar
  6. 10.
    According to views expressed by J. H. Greidanus (see, e.g., Proceedings Kon. Nederlandse Akad. Wetensch. 70 [19671), the task is impossible in principle. The same view appears in W. Elsasser’s The Physical Foundations of Biology ( London, Pergamon Press, 1938 ).Google Scholar
  7. 11.
    Remarks on the Mind-Body Question (article in The Scientist Speculates, I. J. Good, editor, London, William Heinemann, 1961), reprinted in Symmetries and Reflections (Bloomington, Indiana University Press, 1967). Among articles of more recent origin, but preceding the address which served as the basis for the present article, this writer wishes to mention (in addition to those mentioned before) those of H. Zanstra, Prot. Kon. Nederlandse Akad. Wetensch. B66 (1963): p. 178; B70 (1967): p. 214; B71 (1968): p. 13, and the note of P. T. Landsberg, Nature 203 (1964): p. 928. See also the discussion between M. Ageno, P. T. Landsberg, and the present author in Nature 205 (1965): p. 1306. The biologists’ view—both the standard and the more progressive one—can be gleaned from Towards a Theoretical Biology (C. H. Waddington, editor, Chicago, Aldine Publishing Co., 1968). See also H. H. Pattee, !our. Theor. Biology 17 [1967): p. 410 and an unpublished paper by Patricia Barron. Since presenting the aforementioned address, this writer received a score of manuscripts on the subject, including J. Duchesné s “Reflexions sur l’Essence de la Vie” and E. H. Walker’s “On the Nature of Consciousness”; also J. M. Burgers’ aforementioned article, “Some Philosophical Problems of Physics and Biology.”Google Scholar

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© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 1997

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