Henry Margenau

Henry Margenau (April 30, 1901 – February 8, 1997) was a German-American physicist, and philosopher of science.[1]

Henry Margenau
Born(1901-04-30)April 30, 1901
DiedFebruary 8, 1997(1997-02-08) (aged 95)
Alma materMidland College
University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Yale University
Known forMicrowave theory, Nuclear physics, Philosophical foundations of physics, Philosophy.
Scientific career
FieldsPhysics, Philosophy
InstitutionsYale University
Doctoral advisorLouis Williams McKeehan
Other academic advisorsBurton Evans Moore (M.S. advisor)
Notable studentsMurray Gell-Mann


Early lifeEdit

Born in Bielefeld, Germany, Margenau obtained his bachelor's degree from Midland Lutheran College, Nebraska before his M.Sc. from the University of Nebraska in 1926, and PhD from Yale University in 1929.

World War IIEdit

Margenau worked on the theory of microwaves and the development of duplexing systems that enabled a single radar antenna both to transmit and receive signals. He also worked on spectral line broadening, a technique used to analyse and review the dynamics of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima.

Philosophy and history of scienceEdit

Margenau wrote extensively on science, his works including: Ethics and Science, The Nature of Physical Reality, Quantum Mechanics and Integrative Principles of Modern Thought.

Free WillEdit

In 1968, Margenau was invited to give the Wimmer Lecture at St. Vincent College in Latrobe, Pennsylvania. His topic was Scientific Indeterminism and Human Freedom. Margenau embraced indeterminism as the first step toward a solution of the problem of human freedom.[2]

Then in 1982, Margenau called his two-stage model of free will a "solution" to what had heretofore had been seen as mere "paradox and illusion."[3] He very neatly separates "free" and "will" in a temporal sequence, as William James had done, naming the two stages simply "chance" followed by "choice."

"Our thesis is that quantum mechanics leaves our body, our brain, at any moment in a state with numerous (because of its complexity we might say innumerable) possible futures, each with a predetermined probability. Freedom involves two components: chance (existence of a genuine set of alternatives) and choice. Quantum mechanics provides the chance, and we shall argue that only the mind can make the choice by selecting (not energetically enforcing) among the possible future courses." [4]

Religious interestsEdit

Margenau served on a commission of the World Council of Churches in developing an ecumenical position on nuclear weapons and atomic warfare. However, his book The Miracle of Existence (Ox Bow Press, 1984) shows Margenau's broad interests not only in Christianity, but also in Eastern religions and his fascination with finding connections among different religious and philosophical traditions.

Post-war YaleEdit

Margenau was appointed Eugene Higgins Professor of Physics and Natural Philosophy as Yale in 1950, a post he was to hold until his retirement from formal academic life in 1986. He also became a staff member at both the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton and the MIT Radiation Laboratory. During his working career, he acted as consultant to the U.S. Air Force, the U.S. National Bureau of Standards, Argonne National Laboratory, Rand Corporation, General Electric Co. and Lockheed.

Margenau's work embraced investigation of intermolecular forces, spectroscopy, nuclear physics and electronics. He was also interested in parapsychology.[5] He co-authored parapsychological papers with his friend Lawrence LeShan.[6]

He was married to Liesel Noe and the couple parented two sons and a daughter. Margenau died in Hamden, Connecticut.

Honours and awardsEdit

  • Guggenheim Fellowship
  • Fulbright Fellowship
  • William Clyde DeVane Medal from the Yale chapter of Phi Beta Kappa for outstanding teaching and scholarship (1970).
  • Laszlo & Sellon (eds) (1976). Vistas in Physical Reality: Papers in Honor of Henry Margenau. Plenum Press.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)


James D. Watson on cover of 1964 TimeLife book, written by Henry Margenau and David Bergamini
  • Margenau, H. (1992). Cosmos, Bios, Theos: Scientists Reflect on Science, God, and the Origins of the Universe, Life, and Homo Sapiens. Open Court Publishing Company.
This book and Margenau each receive a mention in a December 28, 1992 Time magazine article: Galileo And Other Faithful Scientists

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Adair, Robert (August 1997). "Obituary: Henry Margenau". Physics Today. 50 (8): 77–78. Bibcode:1997PhT....50R..77A. doi:10.1063/1.881864. Archived from the original on 2013-10-12. Retrieved 2013-10-05.
  2. ^ Scientific Indeterminism and Human Freedom, The Archabbey Press (1968) p.69
  3. ^ Laurence LeShan and Henry Margenau, Einstein's Space and Van Gogh's Sky, Macmillan (1982)
  4. ^ ibid, p.240
  5. ^ McConnell, Robert A. (1981). Encounters with Parapsychology. Pittsburgh. pp. 118-126
  6. ^ LeShan, Lawrence. (1984). From Newton to ESP. Turnstone Press. pp. 13, 200
  7. ^ Cross, Paul C. (1945). "Review: The Mathematics of Physics and Chemistry, by H. Margenau and G. M. Murphy". Bull. Amer. Math. Soc. 51 (7): 508–509. doi:10.1090/s0002-9904-1945-08395-5.
  8. ^ Boas, R. P. (1959). "Review: The Mathematics of Physics and Chemistry, 2nd ed., by Henry Margenau and George Moseley Murphy". Bull. Amer. Math. Soc. D. VAN NOSTRAND COMPANY, Inc. 65 (4): 249–251. doi:10.1090/S0002-9904-1959-10327-X.

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