Prolegomenon to a proper interpretation of quantum field theory

Philosophy of Science 57 (4):594-618 (1990)
This paper digests technical commonplaces of quantum field theory to present an informal interpretation of the theory by emphasizing its connections with the harmonic oscillator. The resulting "harmonic oscillator interpretation" enables newcomers to the subject to get some intuitive feel for the theory. The interpretation clarifies how the theory relates to observation and to quantum mechanical problems connected with observation. Finally the interpretation moves some way towards helping us see what the theory comes to physically. The paper also argues that, in important respects, interpretive problems of quantum field theory are problems we know well from conventional quantum mechanics. An important exception concerns extending the puzzles surrounding the superposition of properties in conventional quantum mechanics to an exactly parallel notion of superposition of particles. Conventional quantum mechanics seems incompatible with a classical notion of property on which all quantities always have definite values. Quantum field theory presents an exactly analogous problem with saying that the number of "particles" is always definite
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DOI 10.1086/289581
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