Article ID: CBB001320783

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


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.

Citation URI

Similar Citations

Book Rickles, Dean; (2008)
The Ashgate Companion to Philosophy of Physics (/isis/citation/CBB001024230/)

Article Rowlinson, J. S.; (2005)
Einstein: The Classical Physicist (/isis/citation/CBB000651781/)

Article David M. Rogers; (2019)
Range separation: the divide between local structures and field theories (/isis/citation/CBB974572915/)

Article Daniela Monaldi; (2019)
The Statistical Style of Reasoning and the Invention of Bose-Einstein Statistics (/isis/citation/CBB327349848/)

Article Pechenkin, Alexander; (2012)
The Early Statistical Interpretations of Quantum Mechanics in the USA and USSR (/isis/citation/CBB001210779/)

Article Arata, Luis O.; (2014)
Reflections on Modelling Across the Arts and Sciences (/isis/citation/CBB001201228/)

Article Causá, Mauro; Savin, Andreas; Silvi, Bernard; (2014)
Atoms and Bonds in Molecules and Chemical Explanations (/isis/citation/CBB001321116/)

Article Monaldi, Daniela; (2009)
A Note on the Prehistory of Indistinguishable Particles (/isis/citation/CBB000933687/)

Article Pessoa, Osvaldo; Freire, Olival, Jr.; De Greiff, Alexis; (2008)
The Tausk Controversy on the Foundations of Quantum Mechanics: Physics, Philosophy, and Politics (/isis/citation/CBB000932026/)

Book Miles A. Kimball; Charles Kostelnick; (2016)
Visible Numbers: Essays on the History of Statistical Graphics (/isis/citation/CBB863564987/)

Article Matthew L. Jones; (2023)
Users Gone Astray: Spreadsheet Charts, Junky Graphics, and Statistical Knowledge (/isis/citation/CBB004679501/)

Book Barrett, Jeffrey Alan; (1999)
The Quantum Mechanics of Minds and Worlds (/isis/citation/CBB000110489/)

Book Bouk, Daniel B.; (2015)
How Our Days Became Numbered: Risk and the Rise of the Statistical Individual (/isis/citation/CBB013286991/)

Book James Woodward; (2021)
Causation with a Human Face: Normative Theory and Descriptive Psychology (/isis/citation/CBB906408144/)

Book Kaiser, David; (2005)
Drawing Theories Apart: The Dispersion of Feynman Diagrams in Postwar Physics (/isis/citation/CBB000651152/)

Authors & Contributors
Monaldi, Daniela
Charles Kostelnick
Nagasawa, Nobukata
Spałek, Józef
Rogers, David M.
Miles A. Kimball
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
University of Chicago Press
Oxford University Press
Quantum mechanics
Statistical mechanics
Visual representation; visual communication
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
United States
Soviet Union

Be the first to comment!

{{ comment.created_by.username }} on {{ comment.created_on | date:'medium' }}

Log in or register to comment