Hermann Weyl

Hermann Weyl

Hermann Weyl (9 November 18858 December 1955) was a German mathematician, theoretical physicist and philosopher..


In chronological order
  • We cannot hope to give here a final clarification of the essence of fact, judgement, object, property; this task leads into metaphysical abysses; about these one has to seek advice from men whose name cannot be stated without earning a compassionate smile—e.g. Fichte.
  • It seems clear that [set theory] violates against the essence of the continuum, which, by its very nature, cannot at all be battered into a single set of elements. Not the relationship of an element to a set, but of a part to a whole ought to be taken as a basis for the analysis of a continuum.
    • Reimanns geometrische Ideen, ihre Auswirkungen und ihre Verknüpfung mit der Gruppentheorie (1925), as quoted/translated by Erhard Scholz, "Philosophy as a Cultural Resource and Medium of Reflection for Hermann Weyl" (2004)
  • We now come to a decisive step of mathematical abstraction: we forget about what the symbols stand for... [The mathematician] need not be idle; there are many operations which he may carry out with these symbols, without ever having to look at the things they stand for.
    • The Mathematical Way of Thinking (1941)
  • [Physicists and philosophers] stick stubbornly to the principles of a mechanistic interpretation of the world after physics has, in its factual structure, already outgrown the latter. They have the same excuse as the inhabitant of the mainland who for the first time travels on the open sea: he will desperately try to stay in sight of the vanishing coast line, as long as there is no other coast in sight, towards which he steers.
  • Symmetry is a vast subject, significant in art and nature. Mathematics lies at its root, and it would be hard to find a better one on which to demonstrate the working of the mathematical intellect.
    • Symmetry (1952)

Space—Time—Matter (1952)Edit

First American Printing of the Fourth Edition (1922); tr. Henry L. Brose (orig. title: Raum, Zeit, Materie (1918))
  • A new development began for relativity theory after 1925 with its absorption into quantum physics. The first great success was scored by Dirac's quantum mechanical equations of the electron, which introduced a new sort of quantities, the spinors, besides the vectors and tensors into our physical theories. ...But difficulties of the gravest kind turned up when one passed from one electron or photon to the interaction among an indeterminate number of such particles. In spite of several advances a final solution of this problem is not yet in sight and may well require a deep modification of the foundation of quantum mechanics, such as would account in the same basic manner for the elementary electric charge e as relativity theory and our present quantum mechanics account for c and h.
    • Preface to the First American Printing (1950) Note: see Paul Dirac, The Principles of Quantum Mechanics (1947)
  • Einstein's theory of relativity has advanced our ideas of the structure of the cosmos a step further. It is as if a wall which separated us from Truth has collapsed. Wider expanses and greater depths are now exposed to the searching eye of knowledge, regions of which we had not even a presentiment. It has brought us much nearer to grasping the plan that underlies all physical happening.
    • From the Author's Preface to First Edition (1918)
  • It was my wish to present this great subject as an illustration of the itermingling of philosophical, mathematical, and physical thought, a study which is dear to my heart. This could be done only by building up the theory systematically from the foundations, and by restricting attention throughout to the principles. But I have not been able to satisfy these self-imposed requirements: the mathematician predominates at the expense of the philosopher.
    • From the Author's Preface to First Edition (1918)
  • To gaze up from the ruins of the oppressive present towards the stars is to recognise the indestructible world of laws, to strengthen faith in reason, to realise the "harmonia mundi" that transfuses all phenomena, and that never has been, nor will be, disturbed.
    • From the Author's Preface to Third Edition (1919)
  • A new theory by the author has been added, which draws the physical inferences consequent on the extension of the foundations of geometry beyond Reimann... and represents an attempt to derive from world-geometry not only gravitational but also electromagnetic phenomena. Even if this theory is still only in its infant stage, I feel convinced that it contains no less truth than Einstein's Theory of Gravitation—whether this amount of truth is unlimited or, what is more probable, is bounded by the Quantum Theory.
    • From the Author's Preface to Third Edition (1919)
  • With Mie's view of matter there is contrasted another, according to which matter is a limiting singularity of the field, but charges and masses are force-fluxes in the field. This entails a new and more cautious attitude towards the whole problem of matter.
    • From the Author's Preface to Fourth Edition (1920)
  • Space and time are commonly regarded as the forms of existence of the real world, matter as its substance. A definite portion of matter occupies a definite part of space at a definite moment of time. It is in the composite idea of motion that these three fundamental conceptions enter into intimate relationship.
    • Introduction
  • The Greeks made Space the subject-matter of a science of supreme simplicity and certainty. and certainty Out of it grew, in the mind of classical antiquity, the idea of pure science. Geometry became one of the most powerful expressions of that sovereignty of the intellect that inspired the thought of those times. At a later epoch, when the intellectual despotism of the Church... had crumbled, and a wave of scepticism threatened to sweep away all that had seemed most fixed, those who believed in Truth clung to Geometry as to a rock, and it was the highest ideal of every scientist to carry on his science "more geometrico". Matter... could be measured as a quantity and... its characteristic expression as a substance was the Law of Conservation of Matter... This, which has hitherto represented our knowledge of space and matter, and which was in many quarters claimed by philosophers as a priori knowledge, absolutely general and necessary, stands to-day a tottering structure.
    • Introduction
  • First, the physicists in the persons of Faraday and Maxwell, proposed the "electromagnetic field" in contradistinction to matter, as a reality of a different category. Then, during the last century, the mathematicians, … secretly undermined belief in the evidence of Euclidean Geometry. And now, in our time, there has been unloosed a cataclysm which has swept away space, time, and matter hitherto regarded as the firmest pillars of natural science, but only to make place for a view of things of wider scope and entailing a deeper vision. This revolution was promoted essentially by the thought of one man, Albert Einstein.
    • Introduction
  • The rapid development of science... has, as it were, burst its old shell, now become too narrow.
    • Introduction
  • Recognition of the subjectivity of the qualities of sense is found in Galilei (and also in Descartes and Hobbes) in a form closely related to the principle underlying the constructive mathematical method of our modern physics which repudiates" qualities".
    • Introduction
  • In the field of philosophy Kant was the first to take the next decisive step towards the point of view that not only the qualities revealed by the senses, but also space and spatial characteristics have no objective significance in the absolute sense; in other words, that space, too, is only a form of our perception.
    • Introduction
  • In the realm of physics it is perhaps only the theory of relativity which has made it quite clear that the two essences, space and time, entering into our intuition, have no place in the world constructed by mathematical physics. Colours are thus "really" not even æther-vibrations, but merely a series of values of mathematical functions in which occur four independent parameters corresponding to the three dimensions of space, and the one of time.
    • Introduction
  • It is the nature of a real thing to be inexhaustible in content; we can get an ever deeper insight into this content by the continual addition of new experiences, partly in apparent contradiction, by bringing them into harmony with one another. In this interpretation, things of the real world are approximate ideas. From this arises the empirical character of all our knowledge of reality.
    • Introduction
  • Time is the primitive form of the stream of consciousness. ...If we project ourselves outside the stream of consciousness and represent its content as an object, it becomes an event happening in time, the separate stages of which stand to one another in the relations of earlier and later.
    • Introduction
  • All characteristics of material things as they are presented to us in the acts of external perception (e.g. colour) are endowed with the separateness of spatial extension, but it is only when we build up a single connected real world out of all our experiences that the spatial extension, which is a constituent of every perception, becomes a part of one and the same all-inclusive space. … every material thing can, without changing content, equally well occupy a position in Space different from its present one. This immediately gives us the property of the homogeneity of space which is the root of the conception, Congruence.
    • Introduction
  • Consciousness spreads out its web, in the form of time, over reality.
    • ...spannt aber dadurch auch das Bewußtsein seine Form, die Zeit, über die Wirklichkeit aus...
    • Introduction

Quotes about WeylEdit

  • Hermann Weyl’s 1918 text Das Kontinuum... investigates how much of the mathematical corpus can be retained if we restrict ourselves to predicative definitions and methods of proof. He presents a foundational system in which it is impossible to perform an impredicative definition. ...It is an excellent example of a fully developed non-mainstream foundational system for mathematics.
  • Weyl considered an aspect about general relativity... the nonpreservation of direction in a curved space. ...[He] decided to consider the possibility that length was also not preserved. ...To effect this change mathematically, Weyl had to make a slight modification in the structure of general relativity. He assumed that in addition to the usual metric (set of numbers or variables) that described the gravitational field, there was another one related to length. ...amazingly when the result was analyzed Maxwell's equations mysteriously appeared. It almost seemed as if a bit of magic had occurred and scientists quickly became interested in the miracle. ...but with detailed analysis the theory was shown to be flawed. Einstein was the first to put his finger on the flaw. ...Weyl soon acknowledged the flaw and laid his theory to rest. It may have been a failure (actually it was not an entire failure; a similar idea is used today in modern field theory), but it did accomplish something important: it got people interested in the possibility that the electromagnetic and gravitational field could be unified. Einstein soon began working on an alternative theory, as did others.
    • Barry Parker, Einstein's Dream: The Search for a Unified Theory of the Universe (1986)
  • He realized that formal mathematics might even have an advantage over immediately insightful ("phenomenological") mathematics, because in its conceptual constitution it was free from the restrictions of the latter. I will call this view the symbolic realism of the "mature" Weyl.
    • Erhard Scholz, "Philosophy as a Cultural Resource and Medium of Reflection for Hermann Weyl" (2004)
  • Quantum theory does not trouble me at all. It is just the way the world works. What eats me, gets me, drives me, pushes me, is to understand how it got that way. What is the deeper foundation underneath it? Where does it come from? So that we won’t see it as something that is unwelcome by friends that we admire—John Bell and many others—it will be something that will make you say, ‘It couldn’t have been otherwise.’ We haven’t gotten to that stage yet, and until we do, we have not met the challenge that is right there. I continue to say that the quantum is the crack in the armor that covers the secret of existence. To me it’s a marvelous stimulus, hope, and driving force. And yet I am afraid that just the word—‘hope’—is what does not eat, or possess, or drive so many of our colleagues in the field. They’re content to take the theory for granted, rather than to find out where it comes from. But you would hardly feel the drive to find out where from if you don’t feel that the theory is utterly right. I have been brought up from ‘childhood’ to feel that it is utterly right. Here I was, reading that book of Weyl’s at the age of eighteen and just crazy about it.

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