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Copenhagen For most people, the principles of nuclear physics are not only incomprehensible but inhuman The popular image of the men who made the bomb is of dispassionate intellects who number crunched their way towards a weapon whose devastating power they could not even imagine But in his Tony Award winning play Copenhagen, Michael Frayn shows us that these men were passionate, philosophical, and all too human, even though one of the three historical figures in his drama, Werner Heisenberg, was the head of the Nazis effort to develop a nuclear weapon The play s other two characters, the Danish physicist Niels Bohr and his wife, Margrethe, are involved with Heisenberg in an after death analysis of an actual meeting that has long puzzled historians In , the German scientist visited Bohr, his old mentor and long time friend, in Copenhagen After a brief discussion in the Bohrs home, the two men went for a short walk What they discussed on that walk, and its implications for both scientists, have long been a mystery, even though both scientists gave conflicting accounts in later years Frayn s cunning conceit is to use the scientific underpinnings of atomic physics, from Schr dinger s famous cat to the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, to explore how an individual s point of view renders attempts to discover the ultimate truth of any human interaction fundamentally impossible To Margrethe, Heisenberg was always an untrustworthy student, eager to steal from her husband s knowledge To Bohr, Heisenberg was a brilliant if irresponsible foster son, whose lack of moral compass was part of his genius As for Heisenberg, the man who could have built the bomb but somehow failed to, his dilemma is at the heart of the play s conflict Frayn s clever dramatic structure, which returns repeatedly to particular scenes from different points of view, allows several possible theories as to what his motives could have been This isn t the first play to successfully merge the world I saw the play in 2003 in a memorable version that was presented to science students at the University of Buenos Aires, which was followed by intense debate Also, I ve watched the play movie version with Stephen Rea and Daniel Craig several times since i use the movie for teaching I read the play this week to extract quotes for further work with my students It s pure genius, one of the best plays i have ever seen Quantum EthicsIntentions maketh the man in love, life, and war Well perhaps not Who knows anyone s genuine motives, especially one s own Our reasons for acting the way we do involve telling a story Stories justify intentions as rational, beneficial, necessary, or just plain good But whose story All stories are arbitrary, or at least incomplete And they re all told after the fact Stories require a point of view which can only be adopted after the consequences of action have emerged So Quantum EthicsIntentions maketh the man in love, life, and war Well perhaps not Who knows anyone s genuine motives, especially one s own Our reasons for acting the way we do involve telling a story Stories justify intentions as rational, beneficial, necessary, or just plain good But whose story All stories are arbitrary, or at least incomplete And they re all told after the fact Stories require a point of view which can only be adopted after the consequences of action have emerged So how compelling are these stories about intentions Sometimes, as in Quantum Physics, different, fundamentally incompatible, stories appear necessary to account for what happens Wave vs Particle stories for example Quantum physics raises the question of what is real in the physical world Analogously, Copenhagen, raises the same issue of reality in the moral world Frayn uses multiple fictional dialogues between Niels Bohr and Werner Heisenberg in 1941, with Bohr s wife in a role of moderator, as a way to investigate this reality.Formerly intimate friends, Bohr and Heisenberg found themselves mortal enemies after Germany invaded Denmark in 1940 Both had been instrumental in the discovery of the possibility of nuclear fission, and therefore the the atomic bomb The purpose of their meeting, initiated by Heisenberg, has always been somewhat mysterious Frayn uses the confusions of memory and possible misinterpretations of both men to invent his own story about the meeting.Scientists like Bohr and Heisenberg tend to tell their stories about the physical world in multiple drafts that are then critiqued by their colleagues So Frayn has them do this dramatically about their own intentions The first draft is purely professional, all about scientific necessity and the analytic challenges of quantum theory Intellectual importance, the interests of science, the dignity of humankind are the sorts of motives at hand Pragmatics, in other words the theory was useful it worked But do these motives work to explain the phenomena of their own behaviour The second draft opens the possibility of personal ambition This version involves a considerable degree of self rationalisation and putting the best possible gloss on matters of faded memory Personal reputation, fears, jealousies, and antipathies emerge as things farimportant than science or the advance of knowledge But who can be sure of the combined effects of these hidden emotions Many of these emotions may be unconsciously harboured and never reach the level of articulate thought A principle of moral uncertainty emerges Can we be aware of these motives and act on them at the same time The third draft includes the bigger picture , like involvement in non scientific ethics other things that were done, or prevented from being done during the war, that point to justification of one s actions Influence rather than direct undertaking is what s relevant here Therefore actions aredifficult to pin down as the origin of a chain of events, a chain reaction, indicating an overall programme Intention becomes murky and its justification even murkier Can moral reality be described as a sort of quantum entanglement among events or is it a profoundly artificial abstraction of a sociological system It is clear that Copenhagen highlights the issue of scientific ethics What isn t clear is what contribution it makes to either the debate or the moral thinking of individual scientists Heisenberg worked to help a homicidal maniac Bohr worked to stop that maniac and participated in killing several hundred thousand Japanese as a result Both men enabled a global reign of terror that persists Is there an ethic in this story which makes sense So, uncertainty rules everywhere However it is Margarethe, Bohr s wife, who sees through the male logic and understands the central moral import of the situationIf it s Heisenberg at the centre of the universe,she says,then the one bit of the universe that he can t see is HeisenbergEthics come from elsewhere we can t trust ourselves with the burden Who else to trust, therefore, is the critical question If you re into stuff like this, you can read the full review.Theatre and Physics Copenhagen by Michael FraynWhy do I go to the theatre The question bears the same gravitas as the one regarding books Much like books, the theatre allows me to experience something different Not like books or movies though, the theatre often feelsreal since I share the same space as the actors While books can help me enter the world of the story, and temporarily leave my own life, being a theatre buff c If you re into stuff like this, you can read the full review.Theatre and Physics Copenhagen by Michael FraynWhy do I go to the theatre The question bears the same gravitas as the one regarding books Much like books, the theatre allows me to experience something different Not like books or movies though, the theatre often feelsreal since I share the same space as the actors While books can help me enter the world of the story, and temporarily leave my own life, being a theatre buff can also bring meaning into my life as well Maybe the play shows me a different perspective of the world that I did not notice before Often, plays give me that something extra, be it the love, the strength, or the determination that I need to move forward in my life What about Copenhagen Bottom line It s a Hamlet play It s also about the fallibility of memory, human relationships, and being at a crossroad in life Now we re all dead and gone, yes, and there are only two things the world remembers about me One is the uncertainty principle, and the other is my mysterious visit to Niels Bohr in Copenhagen in 1941 Everyone understands uncertainty Or thinks he does No one understands my trip to Copenhagen Time and time again I ve explained it To Bohr himself, and Margrethe To interrogators and intelligence officers, to journalists and historians TheI ve explained, the deeper the uncertainty has become Well, I shall be happy to make oneattempt Now we re all dead and gone Now no one can be hurt, now no one can be betrayed Act One The rest of this review can be found elsewhere So what did you think I liked it A lot of really interesting historical stuff about the Bohr Heisenberg Schr dinger triangle And I just had no idea about Heisenberg s involvement in the Nazi nuclear project Fascinating Can t imagine how I missed reading about that earlier Ah, come on George, surely you gotout of it than that Well, okay, okay, it was technically pretty impressive too The way he uses quantum mechanics as a sustained metaphor throughout I didn t think he d be a So what did you think I liked it A lot of really interesting historical stuff about the Bohr Heisenberg Schr dinger triangle And I just had no idea about Heisenberg s involvement in the Nazi nuclear project Fascinating Can t imagine how I missed reading about that earlier Ah, come on George, surely you gotout of it than that Well, okay, okay, it was technically pretty impressive too The way he uses quantum mechanics as a sustained metaphor throughout I didn t think he d be able to pull it off, but it worked Nice going, Mr Frayn Damn, you re still giving me that look George, you know perfectly well that s not what the play was about It was about relationships People trying their best to be decent human beings when all they have are bad choices It was very moving You just won t admit it Look, it was about quantum mechanics too Bohr was always sceptical about Heisenberg s matrix algebra, but Heisenberg s line was that if it made the right predictions then it doesn t matter that there s no intuitive interpretation I thought Frayn was clever to twist it around and apply Heisenberg s reasoning to his own life I m not sure you really understood that bit I did so understand it It wasn t that hard to follow You did Yeah You re pretty bright For an arts graduate And you ve got a lot of emotional intelligence for a scientist I noticed tears in your eyes at one point Damn I thought I d got away with it Look, it s both, isn t it Science and emotion Neither one explains the whole story, you have to keep going back and forward between them It s like, what do you call it The Principle of Complementarity Exactly Hm You might have a point there Yes, that can t be accidental He was smart to do that I was smart to figure it out You were And, ah, you re kind of beautiful too I was wondering if I could kiss you I was wondering when you d ask Mm Mmmm George Yes I think your place is closer, isn t it

  • Paperback
  • 132 pages
  • Copenhagen
  • Michael Frayn
  • 10 September 2019
  • 0385720793

About the Author: Michael Frayn

Michael Frayn is an English playwright and novelist He is best known as the author of the farce Noises Off and the dramas Copenhagen and Democracy His novels, such as Towards the End of the Morning, Headlong and Spies, have also been critical and commercial successes, making him one of the handful of writers in the English language to succeed in both drama and prose fiction His works often raise philosophical questions in a humorous context Frayn s wife is Claire Tomalin, the biographer and literary journalist.


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