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(2018) Handbook of potentiality, Dordrecht, Springer.

Potentiality in physics

Max Kistler

pp. 353-374

The term "potentiality" is nowadays used neither in physics nor in most philosophical interpretations of physical theories. However, it can be helpful to use it in the context of the metaphysical interpretation of both classical and quantum physics. Potentiality is only pragmatically different from dispositionality. The use of the term "potentiality" is appropriate under two conditions: (1) the actualization takes (more or less) time and (2) the potentiality makes its actualization (more or less) probable but not necessary. Examples in classical physics are potentials (such as the gravitational potential) and capacities (such as heat capacity). Heisenberg used the concept of potentiality in his interpretation of quantum mechanical systems in superposed states. I develop an interpretation of Heisenberg's conception according to which, (1) a quantum system that is, with respect to a given observable, in a superposed state, is potentially (but not actually) in one of its available eigenstates; (2) the superposed state itself is a powerful state that plays the role of a theoretical property: It provides a unifying explanation of a set of dispositions, corresponding to the measurement of various observables, where the measurement is the triggering condition and the outcome the manifestation.

Publication details

DOI: 10.1007/978-94-024-1287-1_14

Full citation:

Kistler, M. (2018)., Potentiality in physics, in K. Engelhard & M. Quante (eds.), Handbook of potentiality, Dordrecht, Springer, pp. 353-374.

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