Copenhagen By Michael Frayn Summary

1011 Words 5 Pages
It is a common misconception that science and literature are opposed. The common belief held is that the two cannot coexist because scientists are too focused on science and authors are too focused on the humanities. However, there is much blending between the two, with many scientists becoming authors and many authors taking an appreciation to science. As evidence, Michael Frayn’s Copenhagen is a perfect example as to how the two can cohabitate the same plane of knowledge and work together in unison to create something more educational and entertaining.
Copenhagen is a play written by Michael Frayn that highlights a meeting between two globally known physicists, Niels Bohr and Werner Heisenberg, in Bohr’s house in Copenhagen. The two discuss
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In doing so, they also uncover the fact that Heisenberg, who was under the employment of the Nazis, did not do an equation that would have placed the possibility of a nuclear bomb within their grasp, taking multiple lives in an instant and changing the tide of the war. It is not revealed whether the equation was intentionally forgotten, and it is heavily debated in the play.
From a literal standpoint, this play is filled with an overwhelming amount of scientific facts that aid in the storytelling. For example, Heisenberg compares the uncertainty principle of quantum mechanics to skiing, saying, “Suddenly there’s the edge of nothingness in front of you. Swerve left? Swerve right? Or think about it and die? In your head you swerve both ways…” (25). What Heisenberg is saying here is that the way scientists observe particles mimics the style of a skier heading towards certain death, where if the situation is observed directly and consciously, then the outcome changes to a negative one. In much the same way, if a particle is observed directly, then the
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The entire play is based on the singular question: why did Heisenberg visit Bohr on that day in 1941? There are multiple answers to this question given throughout the play, but each time one of them is talked about in more detail, the answer changes and the truth is not known. The way this situation is written mimics the behavior of electrons in an atom, where if one observes an electron’s position at a given time, the position is in fact changed by the act of observation itself. This is the uncertainty principle of quantum mechanics, proposed by none other than Werner Heisenberg in 1927. Another reason of how this play is modeled after scientific principles is the fact that the characters’ beliefs can both be correct at the same time even if they seem to contradict each other. This demonstrates the section of quantum mechanics called complementarity. Complementarity is when a photon can behave in multiple ways at once, existing as both a wave and a particle simultaneously even though it should be impossible. The theory of complementarity was discovered by Niels Bohr in 1927, when he combined the ideologies of Heisenberg’s particle-based quantum mechanics with Erwin Schrodinger’s more wave-based approach

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