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Wave function collapse in QED?

  1. May 20, 2014 #1
    Does the measurement problem ("wave function collapse") or something similar somehow manifest itself in QED and other quantum field theories? Is it somehow built-in into the propagators etc. "away from sight"? If so, how does it affect the theories and is this a problem, which needs to be solved?

    A related question: Is there a "barrier" between the classical world and the quantum world in the standard model, as there is in the old (Copenhagen) quantum mechanics?
     
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  3. May 20, 2014 #2

    DrDu

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    I don't think there is a principal difference between QFT and ordinary quantum mechanics wrt the measurement theory.
    The separation between the quantum and classical world is already built in the definition of the vacuum state.
    There is some nice discussion in the book "Local quantum physics" by R. Haag.
     
  4. May 20, 2014 #3
    Thanks, I will take a look at the book. Yes, my understanding of the situation is also that QFT does not "solve the problem". But it is almost never discussed in the context of QFT.

    One reason I am asking the question is that Lee Smolin in his book "The Trouble with Physics" stated that solving the measurement problem is likely an important piece in constructing the quantum theory of gravitation.
     
  5. May 20, 2014 #4

    atyy

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    Yes, wave function collapse is just the same in QFT and QM (if one uses an interpretation with collapse). For example:
    http://arxiv.org/abs/quant-ph/0102043
    http://arxiv.org/abs/hep-th/0110205

    Smolin's remarks about quantum gravity are speculative. His colleague Rovelli speculated differently, eg. " Pick your favorite interpretation of quantum mechanics, and use it for interpreting the quantum aspects of the theory." http://relativity.livingreviews.org/Articles/lrr-2008-5/fulltext.html [Broken] (section 5.4).
     
    Last edited by a moderator: May 6, 2017
  6. May 20, 2014 #5

    bhobba

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    QFT does not solve the measuement problem, its still there but in a slightly different form, but in many ways makes a lot of the mystery of QM easier to understand.

    Check out the following:
    https://www.amazon.com/Fields-Color-theory-escaped-Einstein/dp/0473179768

    If you are just starting out in QM its a very good book, and the Kindle version is dirt cheap.

    BTW dont get too caught up in the quantum gravity thing. Its not quite the issue some poularisations make it out to be:
    http://arxiv.org/pdf/1209.3511v1.pdf
    'Effective field theory shows that general relativity and quantum mechanics work together perfectly normally over a range of scales and curvatures, including those relevant for the world that we see around us. However, effective field theories are only valid over some range of scales. General relativity certainly does have problematic issues at extreme scales. There are important problems which the effective field theory does not solve because they are beyond its range of validity. However, this means that the issue of quantum gravity is not what we thought it to be. Rather than a fundamental incompatibility of quantum mechanics and gravity, we are in the more familiar situation of needing a more complete theory beyond the range of their combined applicability. The usual marriage of general relativity and quantum mechanics is fine at ordinary energies, but we now seek to uncover the modifications that must be present in more extreme conditions. This is the modern view of the problem of quantum gravity, and it represents progress over the outdated view of the past.'

    Thanks
    Bill
     
    Last edited by a moderator: May 6, 2017
  7. May 20, 2014 #6

    bhobba

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    Copenhagen is bit outdated these days - but its a bit subtle:
    http://motls.blogspot.com.au/2011/05/copenhagen-interpretation-of-quantum.html

    Its not wrong - but modern interpretations fix up an issue it has. Copenhagen assumes a classical common-sense world observations appear in. But how can a theory that assumes such a world explain that world? That's the conundrum.

    Nowadays everything is assumed to be quantum and how the classical world emerges is explained by decoherence:
    http://www.ipod.org.uk/reality/reality_decoherence.asp [Broken]

    However some issues do remain, although research is of course ongoing, and progress is being made.

    Thanks
    Bill
     
    Last edited by a moderator: May 6, 2017
  8. May 21, 2014 #7

    DrDu

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    Personally, I can't see any difference between "decoherence" and the Copenhagen interpretation.
    This explanation seems to have been detailed already by von Neumann long ago.
    The point is that for decoherence really to explain the measurement, you have to exclude the possibility of recurrences, i.e. restoration of the original wavefunction after a long time. Mathematically, this requires coupling to an infinite system (although already for systems consisting of a dozen or so particles recurrence times can be practially infinite) which allows for classical operators.
     
  9. May 21, 2014 #8

    Demystifier

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    It is true that some essential ideas of decoherence have already been implicit in the von Neumann (1932) theory of quantum measurement. However, it does not mean that there is no difference between Copenhagen interpretation and decoherence. The main difference is that decoherence is not an interpretation. Decoherence more-or-less explains how the total wave function of the whole system (including the environment and even the observer) splits into separate branches. But this does not explain why only one of the branches becomes effective. To resolve that problem, von Neumann's interpretation was that a wave function collapse happens due to the observer's cosciousness. Not all interpretations agree on the relevance of consciousness, even when they do agree that decoherence plays an important role.
     
  10. May 21, 2014 #9

    DrDu

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    I think that axiomatic QFT made really a contribution here.
    Namely, a QFT contains infinite degrees of freedom and the theorem of von Neumann on the equivalence of all representations of the Heisenberg algebra breaks down.
    I was struggling with this in the theory of superconductivity. There, you usually consider representations with unsharp particle number, which is not meaningfull for finite systems. For infinite systems, it can be shown that this description is equivalent to a description with fixed particle number, the former being irreducible, the latter being irreducible.
    For infinite systems, there is no way to distinguish the two.
    See the following article by R. Haag:
    http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/BF02731446
    In the same spirit, we have no means to tell apart whether the statistical mixture obtained after a measurement process is in reality a coherent superposition of observers obtaining different outcomes or a projection to one definite outcome.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: May 23, 2014
  11. May 21, 2014 #10

    bhobba

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    Decoherence is not an interpretation, its implicit in the formulation itself.

    It simply clarified a slight blemish Copenhagen had in exactly what counts as an observation without assuming a classical world. You simply assume its when decoherence occurs which is entirely quantum. It also explains apparent collapse - not actual collapse - but still it was a step forward.

    It also led to interpretations where it takes central stage such as the ignorance ensemble interpretation and consistent histories.

    Thanks
    Bill
     
  12. May 21, 2014 #11

    bhobba

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    The models of how decoherence occurred in practice were not fully worked out eg tracing over the environment - at least as far as I know anyway - there is nothing along those lines in his mathematical foundations tome that I can recall. Even now they have not been fully worked out in all generality eg we don't even know for sure if its really an artefact of dividing the system into environment and system being observed.

    Personally I am with Wigner who was in the Von Neumann camp. He realized this conciousness causes collapse wasn't required from some early work by Zurek. Just after decoherence is the obvious place to put the Von Neumann cut, for me anyway, and is exactly where I put it. When that's done tons of issues go out the door.

    Thanks
    Bill
     
  13. May 21, 2014 #12

    Demystifier

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    When you say that "we have no means to tell apart", do you mean "tell by EXPERIMENT", or "tell by THEORY"? If you mean "tell by experiment", then I agree. But if you mean "tell by theory", then I disagree. By using theory I can definitely tell whether it is a coherent superposition or a projection. For example, by using Schrodinger equation (and nothing else) I can tell that it is a coherent superposition and not a projection.

    Of course, you may say that a part of theory which does not have experimental consequences is irrelevant. My objection is that relevance or irrelevance of something is a subjective category. For example, it may be irrelevant to a practical engineer, but relevant to a philosopher. Physicists are somewhere in between, so it may be irrelevant to some physicists but relevant to other physicists.

    So when you say that you "can't see any difference between decoherence and the Copenhagen interpretation", it probably means that you find the theoretical difference (which cannot be seen experimentally) irrelevant. And if I am right, then it probably means that by "Copenhagen" interpretation you mean the interpretation number 2:
    https://www.physicsforums.com/showthread.php?t=332269
     
  14. May 21, 2014 #13

    DrDu

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    So, so you think you can tell Heaven from Hell, blue skies from pain.

    This problem is even more urgent in QFT than in QM. In QFT we use much more abstract constructs which are far from being - even theoretically - observable. For example creation and anihilation operators, vector potentials and not even to mention the unrenormalized quantities.
     
  15. May 21, 2014 #14

    bhobba

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    Mate I am with you on that one.

    Observationally there is no difference between an improper mixture and a proper one - easiest solution - assume its a proper one - measurement problem a non issue. Seems simple to me.

    You will find however convincing others of it is not quite that simple.

    Thanks
    Bill
     
  16. May 21, 2014 #15

    George Jones

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    Not according to Steven Weinberg.
     
  17. May 21, 2014 #16

    bhobba

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    Cant quite follow that one.

    Von Neumann showed the cut can be placed anywhere - so why not just after decoherence? That is you consider the improper mixture as a proper one which amounts to the same thing.

    Or did you have something else in mind?

    Thanks
    Bill
     
  18. May 21, 2014 #17
    No, it doesn't explain anything. Because it presupposes some other fundamental structure, a subdivision of the world into systems.

    Of course, if one names one thing "system", and the other one "observer" or "environment", this subdivision is hidden from the reader in a slightly better way that if it is named "classical part" and "quantum part". "System" and "observer" sounds quite objective, while "classical part" and "quantum part" is clearly artificial, a subdivision which can be made only by a scientist who decides that for one part the classical approximation is sufficient, clearly not an objective feature of this device. But the subdivision into "system" and "environment" is arbitrary too. So there remains an arbitrary subdivision in decoherence-based interpretations.

    The subdivision is required, without subdivision no decoherence.

    See http://arxiv.org/abs/0901.3262 why some additional structure is necessary, also http://arxiv.org/abs/0903.4657.
     
  19. May 21, 2014 #18

    stevendaryl

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    Yes, for practical purposes, that's the solution. It's not very satisfactory from a philosophical perspective, because we know that's it not a proper mixture, because proper mixtures do not evolve from pure states. So we can pretend that it's a proper mixture, to get on with our lives, but in the back of our minds, we know that it's only pretending.

    (Actually, I think that Hawking claims, or has claimed in the past, that near a black hole, pure states can evolve into mixed states. I'm not sure if I understand that claim, but I think it is related to the claim that Hawking radiation is incoherent and thermal.)
     
  20. May 21, 2014 #19

    stevendaryl

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    I agree that QFT doesn't actually solve the problem.

    However, there is something that's interesting about QFT compared with QM. In the usual treatments of QM, the wave function is where the action is, and the wave function is a weird beast. People are misled by single-particle quantum mechanics into thinking of the wave function as a kind of field propagating through space, in the same way that the electromagnetic field does. That's not correct, and it becomes obvious when you consider multiparticle wave functions. The wave function does not exist in ordinary physical 3D space, it exists in 3N dimensional configuration space, where N is the number of particles. So when people talk about the wave function being local or nonlocal, I think that that's a little jumbled, because usually people mean "local in physical 3D space", while the wave function, if it is local in any sense, is only local in configuration space. It doesn't really make sense to talk about it being local in physical space.

    The contrast with QFT is this: where the action is in quantum field theory is not the wave function, it's the field operators. The field operators ARE fields that propagate in ordinary space, they're just operator-valued fields, rather than real-number-valued fields. They obey a perfectly local evolution equation.

    Of course, QFT has something in addition to the field operators, which is the state. The state doesn't get much discussion in QFT, because nobody really ever does much with the full state. Instead, what people usually deal with is the vacuum state, the state with no particles, or fields or anything. The quantities of interest are almost always rewritten in terms of matrix elements of operators sandwiched between vacuum states. So the formalism of QFT tends to de-emphasize the parts that are spooky and nonlocal.

    The Heisenberg formulation of ordinary quantum mechanics does the same sort of thing--it puts all the dynamics into operators, and then the state is just something that is constant.
     
  21. May 21, 2014 #20

    DrDu

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    I am not sure if we really know this. While it holds for simple QM systems it may not hold for QFT with infinite number of dimensions.
    If we leave aside gravitation, which may or may not offer another solution, but probably an even more difficult one, space is flat and infinite. For an infinite volume, no wavefunction exists, vulgo also no unitary evolution of all space.
     
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