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Rothenberg, A. (1982). Albert Rothenberg on Freud and the Principle of Complementarity. Int. R. Psycho-Anal., 9:104-105.

(1982). International Review of Psycho-Analysis, 9:104-105

Albert Rothenberg on Freud and the Principle of Complementarity

Albert Rothenberg, M.D.


George Devereux's article on Freud and the principle of complementarity (Int. Rev. Psychoanal., 7: 521) is an interesting contribution regarding psychoanalytic epistemology. However, it contains both an inaccuracy and an excess.

Devereux mistakenly states that Niels Bohr formulated the principle of complementarity on the basis of Werner Heisenberg's indeterminacy principle. That this is not so has been indicated by historians of science (Jammer, 1966) ; (Holton, 1973), and by Heisenberg himself (1955), (1967), (1969). Bohr and Heisenberg were both working on the young science of quantum physics during the same period of time and at the same place—the Bohr Institute in Copenhagen. Together, they pondered the problems posed by conflicting explanations deriving from the antithetical wave and particle viewpoints about light and electron behaviour. However, at the end of 1926 and during the early part of 1927, the two men separated for various reasons and during that period of separation each discovered his famous principle independently. Bohr and Heisenberg both agreed that the complementarity principle was the broader one; the indeterminacy principle involved a special instance. The indeterminacy principle allows for predictions that take into consideration the disturbing effect of observation and measurement of a phenomenon upon that same phenomenon. The complementarity principle states that two descriptions or sets of concepts, though mutually exclusive, are nevertheless both necessary for an exhaustive description of the situation.

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