Niels Bohr and the Formalism of Quantum Mechanics

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Dieks, Dennis
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It has often been remarked that Bohr's writings on the interpretation of quantum mechanics make scant reference to the mathematical formalism of quantum theory; and it has not infrequently been suggested that this is another symptom of the general vagueness, obscurity and perhaps even incoherence of Bohr's ideas. Recent years have seen a reappreciation of Bohr, however. In this article we broadly follow this "rehabilitation program". We offer what we think is a simple and coherent reading of Bohr's statements about the interpretation of quantum mechanics, basing ourselves on primary sources and making use of and filling lacunas in|recent secondary literature. We argue that Bohr's views on quantum mechanics are more firmly connected to the structure of the quantum formalism than usually acknowledged, even though Bohr's explicit use of this formalism remains on a rather global and qualitative level. In our reading, Bohr's pronouncements on the meaning of quantum mechanics should first of all be seen as responses to concrete physical problems, rather than as expressions of a preconceived philosophical doctrine. In our final section we attempt a more detailed comparison with the formalism and conclude that Bohr's interpretation is not far removed from present-day non-collapse interpretations of quantum mechanics.