Article ID: CBB001320783

A Pedestrian Approach to the Measurement Problem in Quantum Mechanics (2013)

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The quantum theory of measurement has been a matter of debate for over eighty years. Most of the discussion has focused on theoretical issues with the consequence that other aspects (such as the operational prescriptions that are an integral part of experimental physics) have been largely ignored. This has undoubtedly exacerbated attempts to find a solution to the measurement problem. How the measurement problem is defined depends to some extent on how the theoretical concepts introduced by the theory are interpreted. In this paper, we fully embrace the minimalist statistical (ensemble) interpretation of quantum mechanics espoused by Einstein, Ballentine, and others. According to this interpretation, the quantum state description applies only to a statistical ensemble of similarly prepared systems rather than representing an individual system. Thus, the statistical interpretation obviates the need to entertain reduction of the state vector, one of the primary dilemmas of the measurement problem. The other major aspect of the measurement problem, the necessity of describing measurements in terms of classical concepts that lay outside of quantum theory, remains. A consistent formalism for interacting quantum and classical systems, like the one based on ensembles on configuration space that we refer to in this paper, might seem to eliminate this facet of the measurement problem; however, we argue that the ultimate interface with experiments is described by operational prescriptions and not in terms of the concepts of classical theory. There is no doubt that attempts to address the measurement problem have yielded important advances in fundamental physics; however, it is also very clear that the measurement problem is still far from being resolved. The pedestrian approach presented here suggests that this state of affairs is in part the result of searching for a theoretical/mathematical solution to what is fundamentally an experimental/observational question. It suggests also that the measurement problem is, in some sense, ill-posed and might never be resolved. This point of view is tenable so long as one is willing to view physical theories as providing models of nature rather than complete descriptions of reality. Among other things, these considerations lead us to suggest that the Copenhagen interpretation's insistence on the classicality of the measurement apparatus should be replaced by the requirement that a measurement, which is specified operationally, should simply be of sufficient precision.

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Authors & Contributors
Monaldi, Daniela
Charles Kostelnick
Nagasawa, Nobukata
Spałek, Józef
Rogers, David M.
Miles A. Kimball
Journals
Studia Historiae Scientiarum
Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part B: Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics
Substantia: An International Journal of the History of Chemistry
TG Technikgeschichte
Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences
Physics in Perspective
Publishers
University of Chicago Press
Oxford University Press
Routledge
Ashgate
Concepts
Quantum mechanics
Statistics
Statistical mechanics
Physics
Visual representation; visual communication
Measurement
People
Natanson, Wladyslaw
Einstein, Albert
Rosenfeld, Léon
Wigner, Eugene Paul
Tausk, Klaus
Poincaré, Jules Henri
Time Periods
20th century, early
20th century, late
21st century
19th century
20th century
18th century
Places
United States
Soviet Union
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