Abner Shimony (1928-2015)

From Don Howard:

One of the world’s finest philosophers of science has passed. His many students and friends will miss him dearly.

ABNER ELIEZER SHIMONY Obituary (from the Boston Globe)

Shimony, Abner Eliezer Of New Haven Connecticut, formerly of Wellesley, Massachusetts, passed away at the Mary Wade Nursing Home on August 8. His life-time work was investigating connections between physics and philosophy. Abner was born in Columbus, Ohio on March 10th, 1928. His father, Morris Shimony, had emigrated from Palestine; his mother, Sarah Altman Shimony, from Poland. The family moved to Memphis, Tennessee in 1932, where Morris was a cantor and Hebrew-school teacher at the Anshei Sphard Synagogue. Following his wife’s death in 1935, Morris married Dora Farber, an emigrant from Russia and a member of the congregation. After graduating Summa cum Laude in mathematics and philosophy from Yale in 1948, Abner was a student of Austrian philosopher Rudolph Carnap at the University of Chicago.

He subsequently returned to Yale, entering the Graduate Program in Philosophy where he earned his doctoral degree in 1953. It was there that Abner met Annemarie Anrod of Evanston, Illinois, then a graduate student in Yale’s Department of Anthropology. They were married on September 1st, 1951 and remained together until her death forty-four years later. From 1953 to 1955 Abner was in the US Army’s Signal Corps of Engineers. It was during these years that he decided to continue his education. He said to Annemarie, “When I finish the military service, I’m going back to school to get a doctorate in physics.” Years later he recalled the event saying, “Any normal wife would say, ‘isn’t it about time that you get a job?’ She didn’t say that. She said, ‘if that’s what you want to do, that’s what you should do.’ ” Abner enrolled at Princeton in 1955 and studied with Nobel prize-winning physicist Eugene Wigner, earning a second doctoral degree in 1962. He taught philosophy of science at MIT from 1959 until 1968 in the school’s Department of Humanities. In that year he transferred to Boston University, beginning a 26 year appointment in both the Physics and Philosophy Departments. In successive sabbatical years Abner brought his family to France and Switzerland, where he taught at the Sorbonne, the University of Geneva, and the Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich. Abner contended that physics and philosophy are intimately related, contrary to the common notion that they are dissimilar disciplines. Already in the 1930s Albert Einstein had objected to quantum uncertainty on philosophical grounds, famously saying, “I am convinced that God does not play dice.” Then, in a famed paper, Einstein argued that paired particles must carry intrinsic features or “elements of reality” that do not exist in quantum mechanics. In the 1960s John Bell at CERN proved mathematically that such elements of reality are incompatible with some quantum predictions. Abner was a leader in proposing and designing an experimental resolution. Experiments in the 1970’s, first by John Clauser and subsequently improved by Alain Aspect, confirmed these quantum predictions, demonstrating that Einstein’s elements of reality do not exist. Einstein had argued that “spooky action at a distance” between separated particles was forbidden by the laws of relativity. Abner coined the alternative phrase “passion at a distance” to avoid suggesting a conflict with relativity. Abner was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1985, and he was president of the Philosophy of Science Association from 1995 to ’96. The Search for a Naturalistic World View, a two-volume collection of his essays on philosophy of science, was published in 1993. Three years later Abner won the Lakatos Award for his outstanding contribution to philosophy of science. In addition to his scientific writings, Abner also published his own poetry and the children’s book Tibaldo and the Hole in the Calendar. In the 1960’s and 1970’s Abner was a member of Veterans Against the Vietnam War. In the 1980’s he worked with the Nuclear Freeze movement in opposition to the Reagan-era arms build up. Abner’s life was greatly disrupted by his first wife’s death in 1995. In 1997 he married his high-school classmate Helen-Claire (Pierce) Walker. They remained married until her death in 2001. In 2005 Abner married Manana Sikic of New Haven, Connecticut. “Having the last ten years of one’s life include some of the best is something all of us want”, says his son Ethan. “Thanks to his marriage to Manana, my father was one of the lucky ones.” An exceptionally compassionate and generous man, Abner leaves his wife Manana Sikic of New Haven, his sons Ethan of Brookline, Massachusetts, Jonathan and daughter-in-law Francoise Delassus of Paris, France, and his wife’s son Niko Banac of Los Angeles. He is also mourned by his brother-in-law, Christopher Montgomery, his late sister Ruth’s husband, and their children Jennifer and Vivian Montgomery, Vivian’s husband John Morrison and their son Ezra. Abner leaves other relatives and many friends who all loved him dearly. Friends are welcome to attend a funeral service for Abner to be held at Stanetsky Memorial Chapel, 1668 Beacon Street, Brookline on Tuesday, August 11 at 10 am. The burial will be private. A memorial service will be held at a time to be announced at Boston University’s Marsh Chapel. Donations in Abner’s memory may be made to Americans for Peace Now (2100 M Street NW, Suite 619, Washington, DC 20037), Human Rights Watch (350 Fifth Ave, 34th floor, NY, NY 10118), or a similar charity. Please see http://www.stanetsky.com for directions, online condolences, and additional information.

Stanetsky Memorial Chapel 617-232-9300 http://www.stanetsky.com

Published in The Boston Globe on Aug. 11, 2015

– See more at: http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/bostonglobe/obituary.aspx?n=abner-eliezer-shimony&pid=175473099&fhid=5816#sthash.U7hnkRY9.dpuf

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