Abner Eliezer Shimony (1928-2015)
Abner Eliezer Shimony, former President of the Philosophy of Science Association (1995-1996), passed away on August 8. His lifetime 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. 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. 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 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 1996. In 1996, he won the Lakatos Award for his work, The Search for a Naturalistic World View, a two-volume collection of his essays on philosophy of science, which was published in 1993. 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.