WIGNER, Eugene Paul. Autograph manuscript of "Reduction of direct products and restriction of representations to subgroups: The everyday tasks of the quantum theorists." N.p., n.d. . 36 pages written on rectos of lined paper (several pages composed of fragments and held together with tape, old tape removed, some staining); cloth folding case.
Wigner's article deals with group theory and the principles of symmetry, areas central to Wigner's life work. In 1963 he was awarded half the Nobel Prize in physics in part for his discovery and application of fundamental principles of symmetry to the theory of atomic nuclei particles. The Hungarian-born Wigner was a key player in the development of quantum and nuclear physics. He played an important role in the Manhattan Project and served as director of the AEC Laboratory at Oak Ridge in 1946-47. The manuscript is an excellent example not only of Wigner's scientific thought, but of his method of composing a scholarly paper.
Autograph manuscript draft, with corrections of a chapter from an unidentified book or paper, with later inscription: "Greetings from E.P. Wigner" in upper left corner of first leaf. N.p., n.d. [circa 1973 or later]. 4o, written on verso of mimeographed paper. Housed with the above manuscript in cloth folding case. Wigner discusses here the subconscious processes involved in scientific discovery. This manuscript further develops the interest in the philosophy of science that formed the background of Wigner's 1963 Nobel lecture ("Events, laws of nature, and invariance principles"), and occupied much of Wigner's thought over the last two decades of his active career. Mehra, in his biographical sketch of Wigner, states that in the postwar years Wigner "continued to work in all the fields he had cultivated before the war except solid state physics, but he broadened his interests to include philosophical and semi-philosophical subjects. 'I also become interested in what is called the interpretation and epistemology of quantum mechanics'" ("Eugene Paul Wigner: A biographical sketch," in The Collected Works of Eugene Paul Wigner , p. 13; see also pp. 3-12).
Noting that he had dealt in previous chapters with the formal methods for acquiring new scientific knowledge, Wigner states here:
It is fitting to say a few words about the mental processes accompanying this acquisition even though they can not be discussed equally objectively. How do we so isolate the initial situations (initial conditions) which render the resulting situation so simple that we can interpret the outcome as a law of nature? How did our ancestors conceive the idea to develop mathematics by abstract thinking? . . . Clearly, since science is communicable, it is part of conscious knowledge. However, it is created, to a large extent, by subconscious processes. This was recognized most clearly by mathematicians who noticed that the solution of their problems did not come to them by logical reasoning, it surfaced from the subconscious suddenly by a miraculous process. . . . Von Neumann told me that, when facing a problem, he felt as if he were surrounded by fog. Then the fog lifted at one small spot, and then another, and suddenly he knew where he was. . . . Of course, the method we use to discover laws of nature or choose our experimental conditions is not described by the fact that the subconscious plays a decisive role in it. This is an important observation but only a beginning of an understanding. . . . What we call scientific discovery can not be the result of some well established and recognised process, such as used when multiplying two numbers, say 77 and 13. If it were so, scientific discovery would require only industry and perseverance. We call something a scientific discovery only if it can not be achieved that way, if it tells us something that few of us would have discovered, and none of us easily. In order to solve it, even the great scientist must keep the problem constantly in his mind so that his subconscious can contribute to it even when he does other daily work and even when he sleeps. What is remarkable is that some subconsciousnesses do have the ability to do this, not that some exceptional faculty is needed for the solution of a problem most of us would find very difficult to solve. (2)