Making the wave observable in the double-slit experiment

In summary, Physicist Dr. Muthuna Yoganathan thought the wave function was just a calculation tool, which is the standard minimal interpretation of QM. But then she started doing her own versions of the double-slit experiment at home using a red laser, culminating in purchasing a smoke machine. With that, you can see the entire trajectory of the laser beam as it forms an interference pattern on a screen. This is in contrast to how the double-slit is usually presented, where the wave isn't visible, and the wave function is seen as a mathematical tool for making stochastic predictions.
  • #36
Nugatory said:
What physical process justifies discarding some components of the wave function in a collapse interpretation, or confining our attention to one branch of the wave function in MWI interpretations?
In GRW, it would be stochastic as I understand it. In MWI, it's because we're in this decohered branch.
 
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  • #37
Quantum Waver said:
In GRW, it would be stochastic as I understand it. In MWI, it's because we're in this decohered branch.
Right, and that's just restating the problem not resolving it. Why this decohered branch and not that one? Why are we only able to access one branch?
 
  • #38
Nugatory said:
Right, and that's just restating the problem not resolving it. Why this decohered branch and not that one? Why are we only able to access one branch?
Entanglement with the environment causes the interference with different branches to be suppressed. As for why we're in one branch and not another, that's a philosophical question of indexicality that would apply the same in an infinite universe. Why here and not somewhere far away? Because we're here and our doppelgängers are elsewhere is the only answer i can give to that question.
 
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  • #39
Quantum Waver said:
That would be Bohr's complementarity. Bohmian mechanics would say the wave guides the particles. MWI would say particle-behavior emerges from decoherence.

The decoherence from the smoke isn't destroying the interference pattern of the beam. The core issue here is that the double slit experiment is presented as classical-looking particles forming an interference pattern until their path to the screen is detected. But that doesn't explain cancellation unless the particles are waving on their way to the screen.

Sure that the unobserved particle isn't a wave. The two videos are making a case for particles being waves, and only particle-like in a non-classical way.
You are mixing metaphors with you commentary. First, as @PeterDonis explained, the experiment with a laser and smoke has no useful connection to the quantum description of light in a double slit setup. That would be obvious if you reduced the intensity so that one photon at a time was present in the apparatus. Then you would notice that the addition of smoke merely causes some photons to be absorbed by the smoke and some others to have which slit information present.

As to whether the wave function is "real" i.e. "ontic": An important paper on that exact debate came out in 2012 (of course there have been many on the subject). Known as "PBR", the authors conclude that with a couple of reasonable assumptions, the quantum state is a description of reality - and not a description of our knowledge (or lack thereof). Not everyone accepts their result, and not all interpretations need be modified if you do accept it. But generally, quantum interpretations featuring "epistemic" descriptions are excluded. Those include Bayesian-type interpretations, though those followers typically deny the PBR result. I would label the PBR paper otherwise as generally accepted.

https://arxiv.org/abs/1111.3328

"Here we present a no-go theorem: if the quantum state merely represents information about the real physical state of a system, then experimental predictions are obtained which contradict those of quantum theory. The argument depends on few assumptions. One is that a system has a “real physical state” – not necessarily completely described by quantum theory, but objective and independent of the observer."
 
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  • #40
DrChinese said:
As to whether the wave function is "real" i.e. "ontic": An important paper on that exact debate came out in 2012 (of course there have been many on the subject). Known as "PBR", the authors conclude that with a couple of reasonable assumptions, the quantum state is a description of reality - and not a description of our knowledge (or lack thereof). Not everyone accepts their result, and not all interpretations need be modified if you do accept it. But generally, quantum interpretations featuring "epistemic" descriptions are excluded. Those include Bayesian-type interpretations, though those followers typically deny the PBR result. I would label the PBR paper otherwise as generally accepted.

https://arxiv.org/abs/1111.3328

"Here we present a no-go theorem: if the quantum state merely represents information about the real physical state of a system, then experimental predictions are obtained which contradict those of quantum theory. The argument depends on few assumptions. One is that a system has a “real physical state” – not necessarily completely described by quantum theory, but objective and independent of the observer."
I've seen that paper mentioned on here, but haven't read it. Thanks for the link.
 
  • #41
Nugatory said:
Why this decohered branch and not that one? Why are we only able to access one branch?
Let me try to restate this in a way that might help make the problem clearer.

Normally in QM, when a system is entangled with another system, we don't describe it as there being multiple "copies" or "branches" of each system, each in a different state. We say that neither system by itself has any definite state at all: only the joint system comprising both of them does. For example, if we have two electrons in the singlet state, we say that neither electron has a definite spin by itself; we say that only the joint two-electron system has a definite state.

The MWI, however, changes this for the case of a measuring device being entangled with a measured system. In this case, according to the MWI, we do describe it as there being multiple "copies" or "branches", each in a different state. (Everett's original thesis used the term "relative state", but that doesn't change anything.) The question is, why is this justified? Why does it suddenly become OK to describe this case of entanglement in a way that we don't describe any other case of entanglement (i.e., any case that doesn't involve a measurement)?

"Decoherence" by itself doesn't solve this problem, because the way we normally describe ordinary entangled systems makes no mention of quantum coherence. The two entangled electrons in my example above could just as well fly off into space in opposite directions and never interact again, and it wouldn't make any difference.
 
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  • #42
PeroK said:
When it reaches a single slit it is effectively in an infinite potential well. The Gaussian must then be decomposed into eigenstates of the potential well, each of which has a charteristic lateral momentum.

When it exits the slit it is in a superposition of these eigenstates and already has a superposition of quantized lateral momenta.

This is how the wave pattern immediately after the slits is explained.

As a side note, Sean Carroll maintains (or is exploring the idea) that fundamental reality is best described by a list of energy eigenvalues and the components of a vector in Hilbert space. Everything else emerges from that structure. But that's way too abstract for me to make sense of.
 
  • #43
PeterDonis said:
"Decoherence" by itself doesn't solve this problem, because the way we normally describe ordinary entangled systems makes no mention of quantum coherence. The two entangled electrons in my example above could just as well fly off into space in opposite directions and never interact again, and it wouldn't make any difference.
Does entanglement with many different systems make the difference? A detector being many particles, plus everything else nearby.
 
  • #44
Quantum Waver said:
Does entanglement with many different systems make the difference?
What I have said about the normal way entanglement is described is the same regardless of how many systems/degrees of freedom are involved in the entanglement.
 
  • #45
Quantum Waver said:
As a side note, Sean Carroll maintains (or is exploring the idea) that fundamental reality is best described by a list of energy eigenvalues and the components of a vector in Hilbert space. Everything else emerges from that structure. But that's way too abstract for me to make sense of.
Sounds like orthodox QM to me!
 
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  • #46
PeterDonis said:
What I have said about the normal way entanglement is described is the same regardless of how many systems/degrees of freedom are involved in the entanglement.
Branches would be the classical appearance of the world for observers. Decoherence would explain why the world looks classical for an observe relative to that part of the entangled system.
 
  • #47
Quantum Waver said:
Branches would be the classical appearance of the world for observers. Decoherence would explain why the world looks classical for an observe relative to that part of the entangled system.
Not according to the way we normally describe entanglement. "Branches" don't correspond to anything observable the way we normally describe entanglement. Decoherence does nothing to change that.

The MWI has to change this normal way of describing entanglement in order to make claims like the ones you make in the quote above.
 
  • #48
PeterDonis said:
Not according to the way we normally describe entanglement. "Branches" don't correspond to anything observable the way we normally describe entanglement. Decoherence does nothing to change that.

The MWI has to change this normal way of describing entanglement in order to make claims like the ones you make in the quote above.
I understand MWI to be a critique of the way QM is normally described because of its insistence on classical notions of observation, going back to Bohr and Heisenberg. That was my motivation for this thread, inspired by the two videos in the first post.
 
  • #49
Quantum Waver said:
I understand MWI to be a critique of the way QM is normally described because of its insistence on classical notions of observation
But MWI still has a classical notion of observation: it says each branch contains a definite observation of a measurement result, based on the fact that, if we restrict attention to that branch only, we have a "state" that corresponds to the same classical notion of observation that is used in collapse interpretations. The only difference is that in collapse interpretations, that state is the only one physically present; whereas in the MWI, all of the branches are physically present, we just ascribe a different classical observation to each branch and use decoherence to explain why they can't interfere with or interact with each other.

Quantum Waver said:
That was my motivation for this thread, inspired by the two videos in the first post.
The experiments in those videos say nothing about any QM interpretation vs. any other. All QM interpretations make the same predictions for experimental results.
 
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  • #50
Quantum Waver said:
1. Entanglement with the environment causes the interference with different branches to be suppressed.

Quantum Waver said:
2. Because we're here and our doppelgängers are elsewhere is the only answer i can give to that question.

1. This is a word salad that has no meaning in physics. Entanglement is not present and has no impact on the predictions of QM vis a vis MWI branches. There is no "suppression" of branches, in standard MWI all branches are equally probable.

2. There are no "doppelgängers" in our universe, although I guess it is possible they exist in some other universe (branch). There could also be magic unicorns there, that's about equally likely from my perspective.

This is getting pretty far afield of the original post.
 
  • #51
DrChinese said:
Entanglement is not present and has no impact on the predictions of QM vis a vis MWI branches
I'm not sure what you mean by this. In the MWI, the fact that measurement entangles the measuring device with the measured system is taken literally: that's what actually, physically happens. Since there is no collapse in the MWI, the entanglement created by measurement never goes away.
 
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  • #52
I was paraphrasing the SEP article on MWI and Carroll makes similar statements about branch suppression and duplicate observers in his talks.
 
  • #53
Quantum Waver said:
I was paraphrasing the SEP article on MWI and Carroll makes similar statements about branch suppression and duplicate observers in his talks.
Please give specific references.
 
  • #54
PeterDonis said:
The experiments in those videos say nothing about any QM interpretation vs. any other. All QM interpretations make the same predictions for experimental results.
The videos are about how those two experiments changed Dr. Yoganathan’s understanding of QM.
 
  • #55
PeterDonis said:
Please give specific references.
The concept of a “world” in the MWI belongs to part (ii) of the theory, i.e., it is not a rigorously defined mathematical entity, but a term defined by us (sentient beings) to describe our experience. When we refer to the “definite classically described state” of, say, a cat, it means that the position and the state (alive, dead, smiling, etc.) of the cat is specified according to our ability to distinguish between the alternatives, and that this specification corresponds to a classical picture, e.g., no superpositions of dead and alive cats are allowed in a single world. https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/qm-manyworlds/#WhatWorl
The identity section is below that. On my phone, best I can do right now.
 
  • #56
Quantum Waver said:
The videos are about how those two experiments changed Dr. Yoganathan’s understanding of QM.
Which does not contradict what I said.
 
  • #57
Quantum Waver said:
The identity section is below that.
While the section you quote appears to disclaim any specific mathematical representation of a "world", sections 3.2 and 3.3 make clear that (a) each "world" is assigned a definite state (equation 1), which represents a classical state ("definite macroscopic state") for all "objects", and (b) the full quantum state of the universe (equation 2) is an entangled state, since it is a sum of terms and the same degrees of freedom appear in each term (i.e., in the "state" assigned to each "world"). Which is what I said earlier.
 
  • #58
Quantum Waver said:
The videos are about how those two experiments changed Dr. Yoganathan’s understanding of QM.
These videos are aimed at a general audience and attract thousands of comments. It's not clear the extent to which she has discussed this experiment with her peers. Occasionally, you see another physicist commenting on them, but the expert comment gets drowned out. In my experience, the people who post on YouTube tend to ignore expert comment. In any case, you shouldn't take such videos as peer-reviewed physics.

In a previous post I gave an explanation for the detection pattern after the slits. I would say it shouldn't have been a surprise. Although, she admits in the video that she'd hadn't thought much about what happens between the slits and the screen before.

If you could get Dr Yoganathan to post on here that would be great. Then we can have a serious discussion about this.
 
  • #59
PS this is why we shouldn't be discussing material in such videos. No matter how expert the poster. The videos are designed to spark an interest in QM and not be the definitive word on the subject.
 
  • #60
PeroK said:
Let's replace light with electrons and look at the double-slit experiment from a purely QM viewpoint.

The electron initially is constrained by a narrow uncertainty. In the rest frame of the electron it is perhaps a narrow Gaussian.
Well, the incoming wave function must be wide enough in position space to cover at least both slits! You can't see interference effects/wave properties with wave packets too narrow in space. They are then necessarily broad in momentum, and it's thus a priori hard to see intereference patterns, because the broad spectrum of the wave blurs the intereference patterns which you would when using an (almost) monochromatic wave.
PeroK said:
When it reaches a single slit it is effectively in an infinite potential well. The Gaussian must then be decomposed into eigenstates of the potential well, each of which has a charteristic lateral momentum.

When it exits the slit it is in a superposition of these eigenstates and already has a superposition of quantized lateral momenta.

This is how the wave pattern immediately after the slits is explained.

Note that the usual heuristic explanation in terms of the uncertainty principle does not fully explain the single or double slit in terms of the quantized lateral momenta.
One simpler but still pretty good approximation is to use Kirchhoff's theory of diffraction, which applies here as in electrodynamics, because all you solve is the Helmholtz equation with the appropriate boundary conditions imposed by the grating. Then you get the diffraction pattern for an arbitray wave by superposition (Fourier transform).
 
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  • #61
PeroK said:
PS this is why we shouldn't be discussing material in such videos. No matter how expert the poster. The videos are designed to spark an interest in QM and not be the definitive word on the subject.
Would supplementing the thread with a link and quotes from a David Wallace paper on MWI be acceptable, where he discusses measurement and branching? Dr Yoganathan's videos showed because of some Sean Carroll and Sabine Hossenfelder talks I had watched. Maybe he has a paper where he discusses the double slit or Stern-Gerlach experiment.

PeroK said:
Although, she admits in the video that she'd hadn't thought much about what happens between the slits and the screen before.
This could be seen as a critique of teaching the "shut up and calculate approach" without having students think about what's going on.
 
  • #62
Quantum Waver said:
This could be seen as a critique of teaching the "shut up and calculate approach" without having students think about what's going on.
I don't believe there is such a thing as "shut up and calculate". It's just a meaningless soundbite.

Almost everyone who studies QM thinks deeply about it. The Griffiths QM book, although fully Copenhagen and wave mechanics, has many insights and footnotes that encourage the student to think deeply about QM and highlight the limitations of the orthodox approach.

I know Feynman said it, but it was a mistake to say it, IMO.

PS my mistake, it was Mermin who said it apparently.
 
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  • #63
PeroK said:
I don't believe there is such a thing as "shut up and calculate". It's just a meaningless soundbite.

Almost everyone who studies QM thinks deeply about it. The Griffiths QM book, although fully Copenhagen and wave mechanics, has many insights and footnotes that encourage the student to think deeply about QM and highlight the limitations of the orthodox approach.

I know Feynman said it, but it was a mistake to say it, IMO.
Sean Carroll thinks it's an issue:
In either case, the textbooks should by all rights spend time exploring these option, and admit that even though quantum mechanics is extremely successful, we can't claim to be finished developing it just yet. They don't. For the most part, they pass over this issue in silence, preferring to sty in the physicist's comfort zone for writing down equations and challenging students to solve them. ~ prologue of Something Deeply Hidden
Maybe The Griffiths book is an exception to the rule.
 
  • #64
PeroK said:
I don't believe there is such a thing as "shut up and calculate". It's just a meaningless soundbite.

Almost everyone who studies QM thinks deeply about it. The Griffiths QM book, although fully Copenhagen and wave mechanics, has many insights and footnotes that encourage the student to think deeply about QM and highlight the limitations of the orthodox approach.
Well, before you "think depply about QM philosophy" you should learn the math and physics, and I don't think that Griffiths's book is the best source for that.
PeroK said:
I know Feynman said it, but it was a mistake to say it, IMO.
Well, the Feynman lectures have been written quite a while ago, and there has be a lot of physics, answering many of the philosophical quibbles, proofing most of them wrong, while QT survived all these high-precision tests, particularly all the Bell tests.
 
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  • #65
I would supplant "Shut up and calculate" with "First you must know how to calculate".
 
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  • #66
Quantum Waver said:
Sean Carroll thinks it's an issue
I think Sean Carroll conflates "shut up and calculate" with instrumentalism. Instrumentalism doesn't involve a primitive ontology of the microscopic like many-worlds or Bohmian mechanics does, but it does offer an answer as to what our calculations are, why the theory is structured the way it is etc.
 
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  • #67
PeroK said:
I don't believe there is such a thing as "shut up and calculate". It's just a meaningless soundbite.
...
I know Feynman said it, but it was a mistake to say it, IMO.
Morbert said:
I think Sean Carroll conflates "shut up and calculate" with instrumentalism. Instrumentalism doesn't involve a primitive ontology of the microscopic like many-worlds or Bohmian mechanics does, but it does offer an answer as to what our calculations are, why the theory is structured the way it is etc.
Can we please stop bashing Richard Feynman or Sean Carroll for things they have not even said themselves?
 
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  • #68
gentzen said:
Can we please stop bashing Richard Feynman or Sean Carroll for things they have not even said themselves?
Good point. I stand corrected.
 
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  • #69
gentzen said:
Can we please stop bashing Richard Feynman or Sean Carroll for things they have not even said themselves?


"it turns out you don't really need to know what's going on at the fundamental level so this idea of understanding the measurement problem in quantum mechanics became somewhat disreputable thinking about that wasn't what you were supposed to do you're supposed to do equations and you're supposed to think about what particles there are and stuff like that and so sadly in my mind for decades now physicists have simply ignored the deep questions of what's really going on in quantum mechanics"

Here he conflates an understanding of measurement with knowing "what's going on at the fundamental level", and hence and physicists "ignoring the deep questions of what's really going on in quantum mechanics" is akin to ignoring the measurement problem.

Instead, we can have a strong understanding of measurement without needing a primitive ontology of "what's going on". Rejecting a primitive ontology and adopting an instrumentalist approach does not mean abandoning the measurement problem.
 
  • #70
Morbert said:
Here he conflates an understanding of measurement with knowing "what's going on at the fundamental level", and hence and physicists "ignoring the deep questions of what's really going on in quantum mechanics" is akin to ignoring the measurement problem.
My impression is that you are reading things into this that he has not actually said (or meant). All he does is trying to explain why interpretation of QM was off-topic for a long time in physics departments, and why this state of affairs has changed in recent years. He is not pushing a specific interpretation of QM in that video, nor is he emphasizing the measurement problem about everything else, or claiming that having a primitive ontology would be the only way to make progress in interpretation of QM.
 

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