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In quantum mechanics, the measurement problem considers how, or whether, wave function collapse occurs. The inability to observe such a collapse directly has given rise to different interpretations of quantum mechanics and poses a key set of questions that each interpretation must answer.
The wave function in quantum mechanics evolves deterministically according to the Schrödinger equation as a linear superposition of different states. However, actual measurements always find the physical system in a definite state. Any future evolution of the wave function is based on the state the system was discovered to be in when the measurement was made, meaning that the measurement "did something" to the system that is not obviously a consequence of Schrödinger evolution. The measurement problem is describing what that "something" is, how a superposition of many possible values becomes a single measured value.
To express matters differently (paraphrasing Steven Weinberg),the Schrödinger wave equation determines the wave function at any later time. If observers and their measuring apparatus are themselves described by a deterministic wave function, why can we not predict precise results for measurements, but only probabilities? As a general question: How can one establish a correspondence between quantum reality and classical reality?
A thought experiment often used to illustrate the measurement problem is the "paradox" of Schrödinger's cat. A mechanism is arranged to kill a cat if a quantum event, such as the decay of a radioactive atom, occurs. Thus the fate of a large-scale object, the cat, is entangled with the fate of a quantum object, the atom. Prior to observation, according to the Schrödinger equation and numerous particle experiments, the atom is in a quantum superposition, a linear combination of decayed and undecayed states, which evolve with time. Therefore the cat should also be in a superposition, a linear combination of states that can be characterized as an "alive cat" and states that can be characterized as a "dead cat". Each of these possibilities is associated with a specific nonzero probability amplitude. However, a single, particular observation of the cat does not find a superposition: it always finds either a living cat, or a dead cat. After the measurement the cat is definitively alive or dead. The question is: How are the probabilities converted into an actual, well-defined classical outcome?
The views often grouped together as the Copenhagen interpretation are the oldest and, collectively, probably still the most widely held attitude about quantum mechanics.N. David Mermin coined the phrase "Shut up and calculate!" to summarize Copenhagen-type views, a saying often misattributed to Richard Feynman and which Mermin later found insufficiently nuanced.
Generally, views in the Copenhagen tradition posit something in the act of observation which results in the collapse of the wave function. This concept, though often attributed to Niels Bohr, was due to Werner Heisenberg, whose later writings obscured many disagreements he and Bohr had had during their collaboration and that the two never resolved.In these schools of thought, wave functions may be regarded as statistical information about a quantum system, and wave function collapse is the updating of that information in response to new data. Exactly how to understand this process remains a topic of dispute.
Bohr offered an interpretation that is independent of a subjective observer, or measurement, or collapse; instead, an "irreversible" or effectively irreversible process causes the decay of quantum coherence which imparts the classical behavior of "observation" or "measurement".
Hugh Everett's many-worlds interpretation attempts to solve the problem by suggesting that there is only one wave function, the superposition of the entire universe, and it never collapses—so there is no measurement problem. Instead, the act of measurement is simply an interaction between quantum entities, e.g. observer, measuring instrument, electron/positron etc., which entangle to form a single larger entity, for instance living cat/happy scientist. Everett also attempted to demonstrate how the probabilistic nature of quantum mechanics would appear in measurements, a work later extended by Bryce DeWitt. However, proponents of the Everettian program have not yet reached a consensus regarding the correct way to justify the use of the Born rule to calculate probabilities.
De Broglie–Bohm theory tries to solve the measurement problem very differently: the information describing the system contains not only the wave function, but also supplementary data (a trajectory) giving the position of the particle(s). The role of the wave function is to generate the velocity field for the particles. These velocities are such that the probability distribution for the particle remains consistent with the predictions of the orthodox quantum mechanics. According to de Broglie–Bohm theory, interaction with the environment during a measurement procedure separates the wave packets in configuration space, which is where apparent wave function collapse comes from, even though there is no actual collapse.
A fourth approach is given by objective-collapse models. In such models, the Schrödinger equation is modified and obtains nonlinear terms. These nonlinear modifications are of stochastic nature and lead to a behaviour that for microscopic quantum objects, e.g. electrons or atoms, is unmeasurably close to that given by the usual Schrödinger equation. For macroscopic objects, however, the nonlinear modification becomes important and induces the collapse of the wave function. Objective-collapse models are effective theories. The stochastic modification is thought to stem from some external non-quantum field, but the nature of this field is unknown. One possible candidate is the gravitational interaction as in the models of Diósi and Penrose. The main difference of objective-collapse models compared to the other approaches is that they make falsifiable predictions that differ from standard quantum mechanics. Experiments are already getting close to the parameter regime where these predictions can be tested.The Ghirardi–Rimini–Weber (GRW) theory proposes that wave function collapse happens spontaneously as part of the dynamics. Particles have a non-zero probability of undergoing a "hit", or spontaneous collapse of the wave function, on the order of once every hundred million years. Though collapse is extremely rare, the sheer number of particles in a measurement system means that the probability of a collapse occurring somewhere in the system is high. Since the entire measurement system is entangled (by quantum entanglement), the collapse of a single particle initiates the collapse of the entire measurement apparatus. Because the GRW theory makes different predictions from orthodox quantum mechanics in some conditions, it is not an interpretation of quantum mechanics in a strict sense.
Erich Joos and Heinz-Dieter Zeh claim that the phenomenon of quantum decoherence, which was put on firm ground in the 1980s, resolves the problem.The idea is that the environment causes the classical appearance of macroscopic objects. Zeh further claims that decoherence makes it possible to identify the fuzzy boundary between the quantum microworld and the world where the classical intuition is applicable. Quantum decoherence become an important part of some modern updates of the Copenhagen interpretation based on consistent histories. Quantum decoherence does not describe the actual collapse of the wave function, but it explains the conversion of the quantum probabilities (that exhibit interference effects) to the ordinary classical probabilities. See, for example, Zurek, Zeh and Schlosshauer.
The present situation is slowly clarifying, described in a 2006 article by Schlosshauer as follows:
Several decoherence-unrelated proposals have been put forward in the past to elucidate the meaning of probabilities and arrive at the Born rule ... It is fair to say that no decisive conclusion appears to have been reached as to the success of these derivations. ...
As it is well known, [many papers by Bohr insist upon] the fundamental role of classical concepts. The experimental evidence for superpositions of macroscopically distinct states on increasingly large length scales counters such a dictum. Superpositions appear to be novel and individually existing states, often without any classical counterparts. Only the physical interactions between systems then determine a particular decomposition into classical states from the view of each particular system. Thus classical concepts are to be understood as locally emergent in a relative-state sense and should no longer claim a fundamental role in the physical theory.
For a more technical treatment of the mathematics involved in the topic, see Measurement in quantum mechanics.
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The role of irreversibility in the theory of measurement has been emphasized by many. Only this way can a permanent record be obtained. The fact that separate pointer positions must be of the asymptotic nature usually associated with irreversibility has been utilized in the measurement theory of Daneri, Loinger and Prosperi (1962). It has been accepted as a formal representation of Bohr's ideas by Rosenfeld (1966).
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The Copenhagen interpretation is a collection of views about the meaning of quantum mechanics principally attributed to Niels Bohr and Werner Heisenberg. It is one of the oldest of numerous proposed interpretations of quantum mechanics, as features of it date to the development of quantum mechanics during 1925–1927, and it remains one of the most commonly taught.
The many-worlds interpretation (MWI) is an interpretation of quantum mechanics that asserts that the universal wavefunction is objectively real, and that there is no wavefunction collapse. This implies that all possible outcomes of quantum measurements are physically realized in some "world" or universe. In contrast to some other interpretations, such as the Copenhagen interpretation, the evolution of reality as a whole in MWI is rigidly deterministic. Many-worlds is also called the relative state formulation or the Everett interpretation, after physicist Hugh Everett, who first proposed it in 1957. Bryce DeWitt popularized the formulation and named it many-worlds in the 1960s and 1970s.
The Einstein–Podolsky–Rosen paradox is a thought experiment proposed by physicists Albert Einstein, Boris Podolsky and Nathan Rosen (EPR), with which they argued that the description of physical reality provided by quantum mechanics was incomplete. In a 1935 paper titled "Can Quantum-Mechanical Description of Physical Reality be Considered Complete?", they argued for the existence of "elements of reality" that were not part of quantum theory, and speculated that it should be possible to construct a theory containing them. Resolutions of the paradox have important implications for the interpretation of quantum mechanics.
Quantum mechanics is a fundamental theory in physics that provides a description of the physical properties of nature at the scale of atoms and subatomic particles. It is the foundation of all quantum physics including quantum chemistry, quantum field theory, quantum technology, and quantum information science.
In quantum mechanics, Schrödinger's cat is a thought experiment that illustrates a paradox of quantum superposition. In the thought experiment, a hypothetical cat may be considered simultaneously both alive and dead as a result of its fate being linked to a random subatomic event that may or may not occur.
The de Broglie–Bohm theory, also known as the pilot wave theory, Bohmian mechanics, Bohm's interpretation, and the causal interpretation, is an interpretation of quantum mechanics. In addition to the wavefunction, it also postulates an actual configuration of particles exists even when unobserved. The evolution over time of the configuration of all particles is defined by a guiding equation. The evolution of the wave function over time is given by the Schrödinger equation. The theory is named after Louis de Broglie (1892–1987) and David Bohm (1917–1992).
An interpretation of quantum mechanics is an attempt to explain how the mathematical theory of quantum mechanics "corresponds" to reality. Although quantum mechanics has held up to rigorous and extremely precise tests in an extraordinarily broad range of experiments, there exist a number of contending schools of thought over their interpretation. These views on interpretation differ on such fundamental questions as whether quantum mechanics is deterministic or stochastic, which elements of quantum mechanics can be considered real, and what the nature of measurement is, among other matters.
In quantum mechanics, wave function collapse occurs when a wave function—initially in a superposition of several eigenstates—reduces to a single eigenstate due to interaction with the external world. This interaction is called an "observation". It is the essence of a measurement in quantum mechanics which connects the wave function with classical observables like position and momentum. Collapse is one of two processes by which quantum systems evolve in time; the other is the continuous evolution via the Schrödinger equation. Collapse is a black box for a thermodynamically irreversible interaction with a classical environment. Calculations of quantum decoherence show that when a quantum system interacts with the environment, the superpositions apparently reduce to mixtures of classical alternatives. Significantly, the combined wave function of the system and environment continue to obey the Schrödinger equation. More importantly, this is not enough to explain wave function collapse, as decoherence does not reduce it to a single eigenstate.
Quantum decoherence is the loss of quantum coherence. In quantum mechanics, particles such as electrons are described by a wave function, a mathematical representation of the quantum state of a system; a probabilistic interpretation of the wave function is used to explain various quantum effects. As long as there exists a definite phase relation between different states, the system is said to be coherent. A definite phase relationship is necessary to perform quantum computing on quantum information encoded in quantum states. Coherence is preserved under the laws of quantum physics.
The many-minds interpretation of quantum mechanics extends the many-worlds interpretation by proposing that the distinction between worlds should be made at the level of the mind of an individual observer. The concept was first introduced in 1970 by H. Dieter Zeh as a variant of the Hugh Everett interpretation in connection with quantum decoherence, and later explicitly called a many or multi-consciousness interpretation. The name many-minds interpretation was first used by David Albert and Barry Loewer in 1988.
In physics, hidden-variable theories are proposals to provide explanations of quantum mechanical phenomena through the introduction of unobservable hypothetical entities. The existence of fundamental indeterminacy for some measurements is assumed as part of the mathematical formulation of quantum mechanics; moreover, bounds for indeterminacy can be expressed in a quantitative form by the Heisenberg uncertainty principle. Most hidden-variable theories are attempts at a deterministic description of quantum mechanics, to avoid quantum indeterminacy, but at the expense of requiring the existence of nonlocal interactions.
The quantum Zeno effect is a feature of quantum-mechanical systems allowing a particle's time evolution to be arrested by measuring it frequently enough with respect to some chosen measurement setting.
In theoretical physics, the pilot wave theory, also known as Bohmian mechanics, was the first known example of a hidden-variable theory, presented by Louis de Broglie in 1927. Its more modern version, the de Broglie–Bohm theory, interprets quantum mechanics as a deterministic theory, avoiding troublesome notions such as wave–particle duality, instantaneous wave function collapse, and the paradox of Schrödinger's cat. To solve these problems, the theory is inherently nonlocal.
Quantum Darwinism is a theory meant to explain the emergence of the classical world from the quantum world as due to a process of Darwinian natural selection induced by the environment interacting with the quantum system; where the many possible quantum states are selected against in favor of a stable pointer state. It was proposed in 2003 by Wojciech Zurek and a group of collaborators including Ollivier, Poulin, Paz and Blume-Kohout. The development of the theory is due to the integration of a number of Zurek's research topics pursued over the course of twenty-five years including: pointer states, einselection and decoherence.
The Penrose interpretation is a speculation by Roger Penrose about the relationship between quantum mechanics and general relativity. Penrose proposes that a quantum state remains in superposition until the difference of space-time curvature attains a significant level.
Objective-collapse theories, also known as models of spontaneous wave function collapse or dynamical reduction models, were formulated as a response to the measurement problem in quantum mechanics, to explain why and how quantum measurements always give definite outcomes, not a superposition of them as predicted by the Schrödinger equation, and more generally how the classical world emerges from quantum theory. The fundamental idea is that the unitary evolution of the wave function describing the state of a quantum system is approximate. It works well for microscopic systems, but progressively loses its validity when the mass / complexity of the system increases.
The Ghirardi–Rimini–Weber theory (GRW) is a spontaneous collapse theory in quantum mechanics, proposed in 1986 by Giancarlo Ghirardi, Alberto Rimini, and Tullio Weber.
In physics, the observer effect is the disturbance of an observed system by the act of observation. This is often the result of instruments that, by necessity, alter the state of what they measure in some manner. A common example is checking the pressure in an automobile tire; this is difficult to do without letting out some of the air, thus changing the pressure. Similarly, it is not possible to see any object without light hitting the object, and causing it to reflect that light. While the effects of observation are often negligible, the object still experiences a change. This effect can be found in many domains of physics, but can usually be reduced to insignificance by using different instruments or observation techniques.
This is a glossary for the terminology applied in the foundations of quantum mechanics and quantum metaphysics, collectively called quantum philosophy, a subfield of philosophy of physics.
The von Neumann–Wigner interpretation, also described as "consciousness causes collapse", is an interpretation of quantum mechanics in which consciousness is postulated to be necessary for the completion of the process of quantum measurement.