Ryan Cochrane (RC): How did you become interested in physics and how did you end up working with Wolfgang Pauli and Werner Heisenberg?
Henry Stapp (HS): Already in high school I was solving every mathematical puzzle I could find, and was proposing theories about how the world works for example how light is propagated. As a junior, I read a book Inside the Atom that described, in effect, the double-slit experiment, and I decided that this was a puzzle that I needed to solve. As a junior in college, at the University of Michigan, I carried out, during Easter vacation a double-slit experiment where the photons were, on average, 1 km apart, and verified that effect was not due different photons interfering with one another. As a young post-doc at UCB [University of California, Berkeley] in 1956, I was chosen to write up the lecture notes describing lectures that Pauli was giving. I talked often to Pauli, and expressed my objections to a theory that he was then working on with Heisenberg. Pauli invited me to come to Zurich. I arrived in September, we talked every weekday, and he treated me with great kindness and respect. In December he went to the hospital for a check-up, and sent a message that he wanted me to come to the hospital. But because I knew he was not at work, I worked at my apartment. When I returned to my office I found out that he had died. After his death I completed what we had been working on together, and then read von Neumann’s book. I wrote for myself as essay “Mind, Matter, and Quantum Mechanics”. I pursued the topic as a sideline to my main more practical work at the lab, and in 1993 published a book with the same title.
It was years later, in 1970 or 1971, that Heisenberg invited me to come to the Max Planck Institute in Munich, of which he was then the director. I had been working in Berkeley on Axiomatic S-Matrix Theory, but had become deeply involved with the question of locality (faster-than-light transfer of information about which experiment an experimenter chooses to perform) stimulated by a 1935 paper by Einstein, Podolsky, and Rosen, and Bohr’s response, and some more recent works by John Bell. We talked about these deep problems, and stimulated by those, and by my readings of William James, and many others, I wrote an article, “The Copenhagen Interpretation,” which was published in 1972 in AJP [American Journal of Physics]. Heisenberg commented favorably upon it in letters recorded in the appendix.
RC: What do you think quantum mechanics [QM] has to say about the nature of the universe?
HS: I think the fantastic success and accuracy of QM, and its capacity to rationally encompass our conscious thoughts and their evident empirical capacity to influence our bodily behavior, together with the mind-like behavior of the physical aspects of the quantum mechanical description of nature — its sudden global jumps to new forms compatible with newly received information — suggest that the world is in closer accord with our conception of mind than with our conception of classically conceived matter. More.
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