AN IMPORTANT LETTER BY MAX PLANCK ON THE NATURE OF SCIENCE AND REALITY.
Planck writes to Dr. R.L. Worrall, of the Royal Society of Medicine, who had written him soliciting his views on the relation of science and materialism (for use in his forthcoming book The Outlook of Science: Modern Materialism (1933)). Indicating that Worrall’s usage of terms differs from their normative usage in Germany, Planck declines to be called a “materialist” but rather affirms himself a “realist.” Planck then proceeds to explain his view of the relationship between science and reality with great clarity and directness:
“The real universe, while it certainly exists, is something metaphysical, and cannot in principle be realized. All science can do is to form an image of this universe. And I believe that the many controversies which take place in natural philosophy only exist because the ‘real universe’ and the ‘physical image of the universe’ are not sufficiently clearly distinguished. When, for example, Eddington says, ‘Something unknown is doing we don’t know what’, he obviously means the real universe. The progress of science rests in my opinion on a continual approach of the physical image of the universe towards the real universe. But a complete realization of this object is fundamentally impossible.”
In addition to being “The Founding Father of Quantum Physics,” Planck was a noted and vocal philosopher of science who authored several major books, articles, and talks on the subject. Planck refused to view the scientific enterprise within the narrow confines proposed by Logical Positivism, but rather conceived it entailing a richer use of the mind.
20 April 1930. Two pages on one leaf of Planck’s Berlin letterhead. Signed “M. Planck” and end of second page. Modest wear and folds. Most of Planck’s correspondence is institutionalized and the present letter is unquestionably one of the finest still in private hands.