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Michael Frayn

The Play

The Idea 


The idea for Copenhagen came to me out of my interest in philosophy.

It was when I read a remarkable book called Heisenberg's War by Thomas Powers, that I came across the story of Werner Heisenberg's visit to Niels Bohr in 1941. As soon as I read it I began to think that this story reflected some of the problems that I had been thinking about in philosophy for a long time.

How we know why people do what they do, and even how one knows what one does oneself.

It's a fundamental question... this is the heart of the play.
 

Cover from Heisenberg's War

Book cover, Heisenberg's War

Indeterminacy 


We can [in theory] never know everything about human thinking.

I wanted to suggest with Copenhagen that there is some kind of parallel between the indeterminacy of human thinking, and the indeterminacy that Heisenberg introduced into physics with his famous Uncertainty Principle.

Though I'm not trying to say they're exactly parallel.

The uncertainty principal says that there is no way, however much we improve our instruments, that we can ever know everything about the behavior of a physical object.

And I think it's also true about human thinking.
 

Werner Heisenberg
Video 220KVideo 56K

Michael Frayn on Indeterminacy
 
Photo: Werner Heisenberg, 1927 Photo credits
 
See www.aip.org for more information on Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle.
 
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Playwright Michael Frayn

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