Planck’s Confession

· blackbody radiation

  • The more success the quantum theory has, the sillier it looks (Einstein)

The Theory of Heat Radiation (1914) is a translation of the Second Edition of Planck’s Wärmestrahlung.  Planck states in the Preface to the First Edition that The Theory of Heat Radiation is based on the Eight Lectures on Theoretical Physics given at the University of Berlin in 1907 including the derivation of Planck’s Law first presented in 1900.  In the Second Edition (1912) Planck feels an urge to tell us that:

  • Recent advances in physical research have , on the whole, been favorable to the special theory outlined in this book, in particular to the hypothesis of an elementary quantity of action.
  • The main fault of the original treatment (presented in Eight Lectures) was that it began with the classical electrodynamics laws of emission and absorption, whereas later on it became evident that in order to meet the demand of experimental measurements, the assumption of finite energy elements must be introduced, an assumption which is in direct contradiction to the fundamental ideas of classical electrodynamics.
  • The treatment must have left the reader with the unsatisfactory feeling that is was not clearly to be seen which of the assumptions made in the beginning could, and could not, be finally retained.
  • In contrast hereto I have now attempted to treat the subject from very outset in such a way that none of the laws stated need, later on, be restricted or modified.
  • For anyone who would make his attitude concerning the hypothesis of quanta depend on whether the significance of the quantum if action for the elementary physical processes is made clear in every respect or may be demonstrated by some simple dynamical model, misunderstands, I believe, the character and meaning of the hypothesis of quanta. 
  • It is impossible to express a really new principle in terms of a model following old laws.
  • And, as regards the final formulation of the hypothesis, we should not forget that, from the classical point of view, the physics of the atom really has always remained a very obscure, inaccessible region, into which the introduction of the elementary quantum of action promises to throw some light.

We read that, in short, Planck between 1909 and 1912 by the apparent success of the idea of quanta, which he so reluctantly had introduced in 1900, turned his back to the ideal of his youth of classical continuous deterministic electrodynamics to fully embrace statistics of discrete quanta as the road to modern physics.

Accordingly, the deterministic electrodynamics, which forms the core of Eight Lectures, is in The Theory of Heat Radiation replaced with even more statistics. Gone is understandable rational deterministic physics and come is statistics as non-understandable irrational physics.

We see in Planck a scientist who sells his scientific soul for wordly fame, a phenomenon which is analyzed in more detailed in Dr Faustus of Modern Physics.

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