Are there signs that any Quantum Interpretation can be proved or disproved?

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timmdeeg
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The concept of decoherence seems to be a major progress in quantum mechanics. Has decoherence or any other new finding the potential that a particular interpretation of quantum mechanics will prove correct or incorrect resp. in the foreseeable future?
 
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Before proving a particular interpretation correct, it might be more interesting to prove a particular interpretation incorrect. (Interesting in the sense of observing how its proponents will react.) Just like elliptic and hyperbolic geometry proved some intuitive claims incorrect. Even an interpretation that has been proven incorrect will not just vanish, but will probably just slightly adapt itself such that it is either no longer incorrect, or at least needs significant more effort to be proven incorrect.
 
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  • #3
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Agreed, I have edited #1 accordingly, thanks.

Does decoherence or any other progress improve our understanding of the measurement problem? This unresolved problem seems to be the starting point for contradictory interpretations.
 
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Decoherence has improved the understanding of the measurement problem, but only for the part which recognizes that it does not solve the measurement problem. For those who think that it has solved the measurement problem it has added only confusion.

Decoherence solves a different problem, namely it allows to distinguish those cases where the strange quantum predictions related with superpositions and entanglement lead to probabilities different from classical predictions, with all those interference effects, from those where classical probabilities are a good approximation for computing the probabilities.

But Schroedinger's cat is not about this. Knowing the classical observables counted by the Geiger counter we can with certainty predict what happens with that poor cat, but this does not help us at all understanding it.
 
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I was unaware that "decoherence" counts as an interpretation of QM, and I don't think it constitutes real progress. But one sign that does make me optimistic is the empirical fact that QM can be successfully applied without knowing the solution of the so-called "measurement problem". Another sign is the Schwinger / Keldysh formalism that seamlessly joins the disparate processes of unitary evolution and measurement.

In my view the various interpretations of QM are attempts to fit obsolete metaphysical baggage into quantum theory. In the case of electrodynamics it took physicists four decades to realize that it is a perfect theory without a mechanical model of the ether. After almost ten deacdes it's about time to find a formulation of quantum theory that does not rely on the concept of "measurement".
 
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timmdeeg
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I was unaware that "decoherence" counts as an interpretation of QM
It doesn't but nobody has mentioned it does.
 
  • #7
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It doesn't but nobody has mentioned it does.
You were talking about "progress". Which interpretation, if any, has it made more plausible?
 
  • #8
timmdeeg
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You were talking about "progress". Which interpretation, if any, has it made more plausible?
This is what I was asking in post #1.

Could you elaborate a bit about "the Schwinger / Keldysh formalism"?
 
  • #9
timmdeeg
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Decoherence has improved the understanding of the measurement problem, but only for the part which recognizes that it does not solve the measurement problem. For those who think that it has solved the measurement problem it has added only confusion.
So from this point of view decoherence doesn't support a particular interpretation, correct?
 
  • #10
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Neumaier's thermal interpretation of quantum physics proposes a novel solution of the measurement problem. I am not at all familiar with this proposal but shouldn't it support a particular interpretation depending on how it attempts to solve the measurement problem?
 
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Could you elaborate a bit about "the Schwinger / Keldysh formalism"?
Schwinger's pioneering paper (J. Math. Phys 2, 407) is sixty years old, and seems to have attracted most interest in the field of non-equlibrium processes (which is appropriate for real measurements involving Geiger counters, photo multipliers, bubble chambers etc!)
The central idea is to express observable quantities directly in terms of an integral over a closed time-path extending over a forward and a backward time branch. Unitary evolution and the Born rule are built in from the start; there's no need to talk about measurements. Interference effects are accounted for automatically, because on the backward path particles can travel on a different path than in the forward direction.
In QFT one frequently contents oneself with computing an S-matix element ## S_{fi} ## and then taking the squared modulus. The correct way to include interference terms of competing processes is to compute the product of two S-matrices for forward and backward times (which can be distinct). Of course this is more work, and people do this only when they have to. :-)

John Cramer proposed a "transactional interpretation" of QM which introduced quite similar ideas. But I believe one cannot consider the "offer" and "confirmation" waves of that formalism as something physically real; they are just pieces of a mathematical apparatus ("propagators").
 
  • #12
PeterDonis
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Before proving a particular interpretation correct, it might be more interesting to prove a particular interpretation incorrect.
You can't prove any QM interpretation incorrect since they all make the same predictions for all experimental results.

Does decoherence or any other progress improve our understanding of the measurement problem?
IMO no. If provides a lot of useful detail if you already have a solution to the measurement problem, but it doesn't help you to find any such solution.

decoherence doesn't support a particular interpretation, correct?
Correct. It can't, since, as noted above, all QM interpretations make the same predictions for all experimental results, and that is because they all use the same (or at least equivalent) underlying math, and decoherence is part of the underlying math.
 
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So from this point of view decoherence doesn't support a particular interpretation, correct?
Correct.
 
  • #14
timmdeeg
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Schwinger's pioneering paper (J. Math. Phys 2, 407) is sixty years old, and seems to have attracted most interest in the field of non-equlibrium processes (which is appropriate for real measurements involving Geiger counters, photo multipliers, bubble chambers etc!)
The central idea is to express observable quantities directly in terms of an integral over a closed time-path extending over a forward and a backward time branch. ...
Thanks for your explanations. I had suspected that the Schwinger- Keldidysh-formalism would shed some light on my question but it seems it doesn't. Thanks again.
 
  • #15
timmdeeg
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You can't prove any QM interpretation incorrect since they all make the same predictions for all experimental results.
Isn't the main issue our lack of understanding the measurement process? The prediction that there are ManyWorlds can't be proved experimentally but - if I see it correctly - would gain plausibility in case an improved understanding of the measurement process would suggest that the wave function doesn't collapse. Or otherwise that the wave function reduces to a single eigenstate - not in contradiction to QM - would strengthen the instrumentalist interpretation. Sorry the latter is very vague and questionable.
 
  • #16
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Thanks for your explanations. I had suspected that the Schwinger- Keldidysh-formalism would shed some light on my question but it seems it doesn't. Thanks again.
It may be helpful as a change of perspective. We may have been asking the wrong questions. As I said, QT can be applied successfully without solving the measurement problem (or identifying the "definitive" interpretation among the plethora of interpretations that have been proposed). I believe that none of the present interpretations will survive. On the other hand, the "forward" and "backward" times that Schwinger introduced may be more than a purely formal device. If we think of events (points in space-time) as really occurring in close pairs existing on two separate time "sheets", we can view QFT as what it is: a statistical theory describing patterns (correlations) of events in space-time.
 
  • #17
timmdeeg
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It may be helpful as a change of perspective. We may have been asking the wrong questions. As I said, QT can be applied successfully without solving the measurement problem.
"applied" yes, this is the instrumentalist perspective, but understood? There is the measurement problem, not understood till today. Of course you can say there is nothing to understand, Zeilinger argues in this sense. But this is an interpretation, so how can you be sure?
I believe that none of the present interpretations will survive.
Why do you think that? Do argue with "forward" and "backward" times that Schwinger introduced"?
 
  • #18
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"applied" yes, this is the instrumentalist perspective, but understood? There is the measurement problem, not understood till today.
No, I am not an instrumentalist. I also strive for a deeper understanding, and I think there's a big "aha" moment in store. Contrary to Bohr who thought that human understanding will forever be tied to "complementary" concepts of classical physics. And QM must in some sense be "transcendental".

Why do you think that? Do argue with "forward" and "backward" times that Schwinger introduced"?
Yes. I believe that QT is a microscopic theory that can (and must!) be formulated without recourse to classical concepts. Certainly not "measurements" using "classical" apparatus. The processes in the interior of the sun are now fairly well understood -- why insist on a description involving measurements?

Particles and fields are fundamentally classical ideas, though many physicists insist that quantum particles and quantum fields are quite different. Particles are problematic because they don't always have definite properties, or only when "measured". The two photons in the Aspect et al. experiments would have to engage in superluminal communication to produce the observed correlations. The description of the experiment is simple only when we focus on the production and detection events. On what happens between the source and the detectors the theory remains silent. That's why I said QFT is a theory of events.
 
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PeterDonis
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Isn't the main issue our lack of understanding the measurement process?
No. The main issue is that in standard QM, there is no way to experimentally test whether the wave function collapses or not. See further comments below.

The prediction that there are ManyWorlds can't be proved experimentally but - if I see it correctly - would gain plausibility in case an improved understanding of the measurement process would suggest that the wave function doesn't collapse. Or otherwise that the wave function reduces to a single eigenstate - not in contradiction to QM - would strengthen the instrumentalist interpretation.
There is no way to test these alternatives within standard QM. It should be obvious that there can't be, since both MWI and collapse interpretations are interpretations of standard QM and share the same underlying math and make the same experimental predictions.

The only way to actually resolve the measurement problem will be to discover a different theory that makes different predictions from standard QM, and which is inconsistent with one of the two groups of interpretations of our current QM ("no collapse" or "collapse"). The problem is that every proposal so far for such a different theory has not worked; it has made predictions that were easily falsified.
 
  • #20
timmdeeg
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The only way to actually resolve the measurement problem will be to discover a different theory that makes different predictions from standard QM, and which is inconsistent with one of the two groups of interpretations of our current QM ("no collapse" or "collapse"). The problem is that every proposal so far for such a different theory has not worked; it has made predictions that were easily falsified.
Thanks for this clear statement. It seems to include Neumaier's proposal which I mentioned in post #10, right?
 
  • #21
PeterDonis
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It seems to include Neumaier's proposal which I mentioned in post #10, right?
I'm not sure. Neumaier calls his proposal an "interpretation" (the thermal interpretation), but I suspect that if carried far enough it would make predictions different from standard QM for some situations.
 
  • #22
timmdeeg
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Particles and fields are fundamentally classical ideas, though many physicists insist that quantum particles and quantum fields are quite different. Particles are problematic because they don't always have definite properties, or only when "measured". The two photons in the Aspect et al. experiments would have to engage in superluminal communication to produce the observed correlations. The description of the experiment is simple only when we focus on the production and detection events. On what happens between the source and the detectors the theory remains silent. That's why I said QFT is a theory of events.
As I understand it Aspect et al proved quantum non-locality and not superluminal communication. This and the silence of the theory you mentioned has to be accepted unless we have an advanced theory. I am not knowledgeably enough to understand your point regarding QFT though.
 
  • #23
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As I understand it Aspect et al proved quantum non-locality and not superluminal communication.
Yes. I don't believe in superluminal communication either. That would be required if you would think of photons as particles carrying polarization information with them.

This and the silence of the theory you mentioned has to be accepted unless we have an advanced theory.
I don't think we will ever have an "advanced" theory (a theory of "measurements"). We have to make sense of QFT as it is.
 
  • #24
timmdeeg
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We have to make sense of QFT as it is.
Interesting point, are you aware of any attempts?
 
  • #25
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Interesting point, are you aware of any attempts?
Many people seem to think that if QM is beyond human understanding, then QFT must be even more so. But it's the other way round, and a wrong approach trying to "understand" QM first, because it is a chimera, half quantum, half classical. QFT is the real thing that can also describe spontaneous emission from an excited atom, for example.

I consider it a waste of time to discuss the collapse of wave functions. To me it's obvious that a time-dependent wave function describes only an average of sorts; the time-dependent Schrödinger equation with continuous, even deterministic evolution is completely at odds with the graininess and randomness in the real world. And "measurement" doesn't help, because a free neutron will decay even in the absence of a detector.

Condensed matter physicists have been dealing successfully with the graininess of matter. And they use QFT (or statistical fied theory) as a phenomenological theory to describe fluctuations and correlations. They feel confident that they deal with really existing structures in, say, liquid helium or spin systems, not something that is brought about through their "measurements".
 

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