After his publications on nuclear fission and its possibilities for the development of an atomic bomb, Werner Heisenberg led a – secret – reactor research group in Leipzig and advised a larger reactor research group at the university in Berlin on the basis of the knowledge gained here. Werner was actually more or less forced. In 1939, after the invasion of Poland and the start of the war, he was called upon to report to the Heereswaffenambt in Berlin. Here he was instructed to contribute to the development of atomic energy from uranium. Werner had not seen this as an obligation, but as an opportunity to carry out scientific experiments. Now he was also in charge of this nuclear programme. Doubts as to whether he should participate in the development of an atomic bomb did not arise from moral considerations. For him, morality and science were independent of each other. Morality and ethical questions were part of faith. Science had to be free from these questions and had to be able to devote itself completely and value-free to research; to providing answers to scientific questions. It had not always been that way. Werner ended up in his mind at his parents’ home. From them he had learned that before Christianity came into being, there was no distinction between science and religion. Especially the Greeks gave their philosophers high wisdom. The Greek philosophers had as their purpose in life the search for answers to the many questions of life. This led to almost purely scientific analyses and laws, but also to philosophically religious theories. Always driven by the question; the constant search for the how and the why. With the dominance of Christianity in the first centuries A.D., these questions did not please the church. There was only one truth: that of God, as He had written it down in His Book, the Bible. This truth was infallible and beyond doubt and questions. The search was over. For a long time, the Church suppressed the scientists who did ask questions and seek answers, and claimed a monopoly on science and research. After the Enlightenment, oppression gradually disappeared in Europe and the dilemma was “solved” by severely separating religion from science.
The Heisenberg family also had a clear division of the world in this respect: you had your faith to fill in the moral questions of your own life; and you had the science that was not personal and on which no moral judgments were attached. For Werner, this had always remained the case. He had respect for other religions; he himself had a lot to hold on to his own faith in daily life. The way in which he practiced science was not related to this. This gave him the freedom not to have to set limits for the practice of science. He was convinced that setting limits on science, as the Church had done for centuries, brought a society to a standstill; it stopped developments. It would lead to a society in which knowledge and intelligence would be seen as a danger and the illiterate would take power; a society of fear and oppression.
Therefore: the question of what is good and what is bad in the development of a nuclear programme should not lead to its rejection. As a scientist, Werner knew no doubt. Or was it? What was that terrifying feeling that became stronger and stronger? Didn’t the scientist Werner have anything to do with what Werner’s parents had given him in love and Christian values? And didn’t he have any obligations to his fellow scientists who were persecuted by the Nazi regime? He had received several requests for help from Jewish colleagues: Soloman, a son-in-law of colleague Hoffman, had already been killed before the request for help came. A Belgian, Cousyns, had disappeared in a Gestapo camp and even after investigations by Himmler’s staff, at his request, it was not clear whether he was dead or alive. Werner assumed that he was also dead. Also for the mathematician Cammaille, Werner’s attempts to help had little effect: he was shot. A number of Polish and Jewish colleagues whose names he no longer knew were also murdered.
All such atrocities were explained semi-scientifically as a contribution to progress, to an imaginary millennial empire. A millennial empire is, if you take it literally – and everything pointed to the fact that the Nazi regime did indeed take it literally – stagnation; and science reduced to defending that stagnation; reduced to propaganda of ignorance. Like Otto Rahn had to give a scientific foundation to Himmler’s delusions; the legitimization had to be for the theory of the German as “Übermensch” who can suppress and kill people of another race or kind to his heart’s content. Had Himmler not also tried to make him an accomplice in this deformity of science?
Werner stood still. His whole life seemed to falter. He had always strictly separated science and morality or faith. But here his Lutheran upbringing, his faith, came into direct conflict with his own concept of science. Could he still maintain that science and faith were separate? Arnold Gehlen’s notes involuntarily came to his mind: the perception of God is the retrieval of man’s relationship with his environment. Due to circumstances, man at a later stage reduced the perception of God to something that stands outside of man himself; to an external God that we have to serve. He hated Gehlen and certainly did not see him as a scientist. But if there was a grain of truth in his story, he could no longer place the responsibility for morality outside himself. No more laying down with an external God. Then that God in himself and with that the responsibility for morality – responsibility for one’s fellow man, a good stewardship over the environment and the world – also applied to his role as a scientist.
Suddenly he no longer looked forward to his role in the uranium project. If a super bomb, an atom bomb, was to be developed with this project – and he was convinced that this was possible – then he was partly responsible for it. Then the Übermensch would be able to make his millennial empire a reality, and the science business would be over. Sooner or later he would probably be silenced, murdered, just like his Jewish colleagues are now. Because scientists are no longer needed in a millennial empire; because scientists ask questions and question the credibility, the omnipotence of the millennial empire, as once the church in Rome had determined that philosophers and science affect the omnipotence of God.
He called his friend Pascual: “Pascual, can you come to my home and have lunch with me on Sunday, I need someone to discuss with. I’m not going to explain it all on the phone, so if you have time, come by and we’ll have a drink after lunch.”
Sunday at exactly one o’clock, Pascual was at the door. Werner’s wife Elisabeth opened the door. Laughing she looked at Pascual. “Werner meets up with you for lunch, but don’t think he’ll take care of that lunch himself. Come on in, I’ve prepared some of what we had in the house.” In the room the table was set with a white damask tablecloth. On the table porcelain bowls with warm vegetables and salads, fried potatoes, a fragrant rollade, a bowl with bread and beer. Their twins, who were now 4 years old, also came to the table so that the table discussions were mainly about daily events.
After lunch, Werner and Pascual helped to clear the place, after which they retreated to Werner’s study. Elizabeth brought coffee. After some theoretical philosophizing about the possibilities of uranium U235, Werner donated an Apfelkorn for both of them. The conversation came to the subject of morality. What were the moral limits of a scientist’s abilities? Pascual had little trouble with moral considerations. He had recently joined the rocketry programme in Penemunde and he worked diligently on it. Werner reacted – in an attempt to get a point of view from Pascual anyway – as he had done so many times as a scientist: as long as he was co-responsible for it he could guard the process; he could probably guard the scientific process from his religious morality in such a way that the development of such an atom bomb would not lead to extreme human misery.
“Extreme Misery?” Pascual asked. “Is there an area where misery is still acceptable and where is it getting too extreme? I know that you disconnect science from your own moral values; from your faith. But remember what Arnold Gehlen wrote: religion, religion, the perception of God is a search for the origin and the place of the individual in the whole. So it is the question of the Why and the How. The search for God is scientific in this sense because it also asks the questions and seeks the answers to them.” Werner hesitated. Was it a good idea to start this discussion now? In Pascual’s eyes, he was the purest scientist. It was too early to disrupt that image now. But admittedly, Gehlen’s theory, which Pascual mentioned again, had a kind of logic that had already allowed him to get more deeply into that theory than he liked. Although in Werner’s eyes it was not a science – interspersed with unproven theorems and a lack of research results – this kind of theories probably could not be thoroughly researched either and had to remain assumptions with a clear logic. It was not a science, but rather a form of faith. Faith in theory.
For a moment it remained silent. Werner made a final attempt to make his thesis of science, which he had professed to date, independent of morality, nevertheless acceptable. “The question is whether atomic research is justified if it can lead to the making of a super bomb. But I am not interested in the development of a super-bomb, but in the theoretical scientific possibilities of atomic fission. A bomb is one of those possible outcomes; a derivative of the development we have set in motion.
The fact that I will be directly or indirectly involved in this is inherent in the progress of science. You cannot stop that progress. That is why there is little point in discussing the morality of science. “And moreover – he mirrored Pascual and himself on the escape route – “the actual development of a bomb would probably be a large and long-term project for which, in the middle of wartime, you can’t ask for money now. It is clear that enormous amounts of energy can be extracted from uranium, and that this energy can also lead to explosions that are incredibly much more powerful (“mehrere Zehnerpotenzen”) than anything that has been shown in this area so far, but it is equally clear that this energy is not easily accessible. Bohr has pointed out that U235 is responsible for the fission reaction, but I don’t think it will be easy. I estimate that the technical problems of isotope separation will be so great that Germany will not be able to solve them in the short term, even during the war, which will only last a few years at the most. Pascual, I think that the war is long over before it is possible to develop an atomic bomb.”
At the beginning of July 1942, Werner was approached by Hitler’s General Staff: “…whether the nuclear division, the nuclear fission, which had already been researched in Leipzig and which was now also being worked on in Berlin, could in the short term lead to the production of a super-bomb; an atomic bomb”. Werner did not respond immediately. Not that Werner was overwhelmed by the question. But, he told them, he was a theoretical scientist and not a technician. He couldn’t tell if they could make such a bomb quickly. There had been experiments with splitting Uranium U235, but you needed a lot of uranium to make nuclear fuel for a bomb. And such a bomb was also bound to a certain size. Actually, Werner didn’t want to make these kinds of practical considerations at all. As he said: he was not a technician, not an engineer; he was a researcher and a scientist.
In the summer of 1942 a conference was held on the future of the “Uranprojekt”, in which Albert Speer, the newly appointed armaments minister, participated. At this conference, Werner once again explained in scientific terms the problems surrounding the development of a super-bomb without expressing a negative opinion. The army, supported by Albert Speer, was quick to make its decision. they withdrew from the project. It was decided that the development of a nuclear reactor would be continued on a limited scale for the time being, under civil control. The prospect of a nuclear bomb becoming available soon was too small, and in addition, the army command was working on other secret weapons, which would soon be available. With this, the chance that Germany would have a nuclear weapon during the Second World War was definitively lost.
In 1943 Werner was given the chair in theoretical physics at the University of Berlin and he could continue to deal with publications on theoretical subjects, which he preferred to work on. Werner continued to wrestle with the growing horror of the Nazi regime, which was also felt by Werner. How to deal with the attacks on his former friends and colleagues – the Jewish scientists – by the Nazi regime? Some of them had been transported to camps and put to death. Others should have fled like Einstein and Bohr. Not only was science itself threatened and destroyed here, but human dignity itself was also at risk.
Berlin, August 21, 1943.
It was late in the evening and Werner had enjoyed a few glasses of excellent red wine. Sitting behind the piano, while he played Symphony in B minor, “der Unvollendete ” by Schubert, it was as if he was back home a bit. Feelings of security and love. But also fragments of the conversations he had with his parents until late in the evening. His father was an expert in Greek philology and his mother was an authority on Greek tragedy. They could talk endlessly about the ancient Greeks, the myths, the gods, the culture, the philosophers. In Werner’s head vague images of string theories and pythagorean connections between music and physics were created. And in that tangle of Greek philosophers a name persistantly bubbled up in his head: Heraclitus, Herakleitos in Greek. “The Dark one” as he was called, lived in the 6th century B.C. and was known for his doctrine of the unity of opposites.
While playing, Werner’s thoughts wandered into his discussions with Einstein. The assumption that the opposite units of account are not communicative. The formulas continued to haunt his mind in an attempt to make the quantum mechanics and relativity theory of Einstein fit together. If successful, he would be close to the “law of all things”; close to God’s all-encompassing law; close to God himself.
He was dizzying for a moment. His Lutheran upbringing told him that if he found the solution, it could never be the real solution, for there is only one God and God’s ways are and remain unfathomable. It should be nothing more than attempts, but a vision of the all-encompassing law grew in his mind. He was, like Pascual, German and working for the Nazis, the opposite of the Jewish scientists Bohr and Einstein. And yet, or just for that reason, he had developed together with Pascual and Bohr the quantum field theory in which Einstein’s theory of realism was merged with this theory. As if by thunder, he realized that he knew: he had the formula, the law, the theory that would connect Einstein with him. He saw it clearly in front of him: the positive and the negative as one unbreakable unit, applicable to all particles and compositions; the whole universe. With this revelation he was sure to have found the missing link between the general theory of relativity of Einstein and quantum mechanics. If he could work this out into laws, he would have a comprehensive law. A law of everything. The first sentence he wrote was: “Wenn es das Hässliche nicht geben würde, wäre das Schöne zwecklos; könnte nicht bestehen. Wir sollen der liebe HerrGott danken für das Hässliche.”
He was writing until late in the night and fell asleep on his bed at 3 a.m. content. The next morning he woke up at eleven o’clock. It was Sunday, so a bit of sleep was allowed, but immediately he blamed himself for not having gotten up earlier to continue with the development of his theory. He forced himself to have breakfast first, but already during his second cup of coffee he started reading what he had produced that night:
There is no God without a devil, there is no light without darkness, there is no positive without a negative. In a universal law, all particles have an anti-particle. But more than that: Everything – what we know and do not (yet) know – is subject to an anti-parallel association, the complementary – and indivisible – unity of opposites. This universal law implies that there is an anti-gravity linked to gravity. Another consequence of the complementary indivisible unity of opposites is that there is also anti-energy associated with energy. The theorem has far-reaching implications for our assumptions about particles and matter. Following this thesis we have to conclude that anti-matter is not the complementary negative of matter because both matter and anti-matter are matter or are derived from it. Space is filled with matter and at the same time with its complementary negative: non-matter or immaterial. Matter is manipulated into its smallest particle and connected by its inverse relation; the supernegative non-matter, which in turn is manipulated by matter. Both, matter and non-matter, do not exist next to each other, but at the same time in the same place. As an antagonistic unity.
Werner read a little further, stared in front of him and after a while laid down the epistle. No matter how much he tried to re-experience the enthusiasm of that night, he had no way of getting the euphoric feeling he had had that night from those first lines. He took his notes again and tried to discover that one line of thought which had made him think that this theory would be world-shattering; the connection between his quantum mechanics and Einstein’s theory of relativity; the all-encompassing law. But the further he read, the more his self-criticism increased. Perhaps he had tried too hard to give a law to his theory. Maybe there was one, but it was hidden in the convolutions of thoughts which he had the night before with great certainty bombed to the law of everything. It all seemed much less important than he had thought that night. In fact, he got the unpleasant feeling that he had turned a wheel on himself. His euphoria was probably the result of his subconscious urge to prove to the world-famous Jewish scientists such as Einstein and Bohr that a German had found the ultimate binding all-encompassing law. A law which on the one hand would show how much German science stood out from other scientists and on the other hand would link this German science inseparably to the Jewish science condemned by the Nazi regime: Einstein’s theory of relativity. But it was precisely this urge that had obscured a purely scientific approach. It would have been amateurish nonsense. Dialectic Taoism. A synthesis of the conflict of the opposites of the Hegelian dialectic and the harmony of inextricably linked energy flows of Yin and Yang.
For a moment, the comparison was made with his own “uncertainty relationship” in quantum mechanics, to which Einstein commented: “Der Herrgott würfelt nicht”, God doesn’t play dice. And immediately a deep sense of shame struck him. How could he have written down such a wild thought without any scientific research or proof? He quickly collected the notes. “. “For God’s sake, don’t give them any new material for the thesis that I am practicing pseudo science prompted by Marxist-Bolshevik Judaism. Werner did not want to go through the same hell he went after the publication of an article in the SS magazine in which he was called a “white Jew”. And on top of that: Werner did not want to jeopardize the nuclear program he had started.
Heisenberg and the Search for a final Theory