Newton Is Not “Bohr”-ing

In the 17th century, Isaac Newton was asked about the cause of gravity. How exactly does the Sun attract Earth across the large distance between them? Newton didn’t know the answer, so his response was reasonable. He said: “I don’t know.”

In the 20th century, Niels Bohr was asked about the cause of subatomic particle behavior. Bohr didn’t know the answer, but his response was different. He said: “Subatomic particles have no specific nature, so the concept ’cause’ is inapplicable and your question is invalid.”

Newton understood that the equations of physics identify an aspect of a total reality that exists independent of us, and many aspects of that totality are unknown. Bohr, however, denied the independent reality of the microscopic world and therefore denied that there is anything to know beyond our percepts and equations.

Newton’s view was: “There’s a world out there; let’s investigate it.” Bohr’s view was: “There’s a world in here (consciousness); let’s describe it.”

There’s a (real) world of difference between these views. Newton was free to explore the universe. Bohr was trapped inside his mind and stopped from asking questions.