On Participatory Realism

To appear in “Information & Interaction: Eddington, Wheeler, and the Limits of Knowledge”, edited by Ian T. Durham and Dean Rickles
In the Philosophical Investigations, Ludwig Wittgenstein wrote, ” ‘I’ is not the name of a person, nor ‘here’ of a place, …. But they are connected with names. … [And] it is characteristic of physics not to use these words.” This statement expresses the dominant way of thinking in physics: Physics is about the impersonal laws of nature; the “I” never makes an appearance in it. Since the advent of quantum theory, however, there has always been a nagging pressure to insert a first-person perspective into the heart of physics. In incarnations of lesser or greater strength, one may consider the “Copenhagen” views of Bohr, Heisenberg, and Pauli, the observer-participator view of John Wheeler, the informational interpretation of Anton Zeilinger and Caslav Brukner, the relational interpretation of Carlo Rovelli, and, most radically, the QBism of N. David Mermin, Ruediger Schack, and the present author, as acceding to the pressure. These views have lately been termed “participatory realism” to emphasize that rather than relinquishing the idea of reality (as they are often accused of), they are saying that reality is more than any third-person perspective can capture. Thus, far from instances of instrumentalism or antirealism, these views of quantum theory should be regarded as attempts to make a deep statement about the nature of reality. This paper explicates the idea for the case of QBism. As well, it highlights the influence of John Wheeler’s “law without law” on QBism’s formulation. Full text

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