We pose and resolve a seeming paradox about spontaneous symmetry breaking in the quantum theory of infinite systems. For a symmetry to be spontaneously broken, it must not be implementable by a unitary operator. But Wigner's theorem guarantees that every symmetry is implemented by a unitary operator that preserves transition probabilities between pure states. We show how it is possible for a unitary operator of this sort to connect the folia of unitarily inequivalent representations. This result undermines interpretations of quantum (...) theory that hold unitary equivalence to be necessary for physical equivalence. (shrink)
Nature seems to be such that we can describe it accurately with quantum theories of bosons and fermions alone, without resort to parastatistics. This has been seen as a deep mystery: paraparticles make perfect physical sense, so why don't we see them in nature? We consider one potential answer: every paraparticle theory is physically equivalent to some theory of bosons or fermions, making the absence of paraparticles in our theories a matter of convention rather than a mysterious empirical discovery. We (...) argue that this equivalence thesis holds in all physically admissible quantum field theories falling under the domain of the rigorous Doplicher-Haag-Roberts approach to superselection rules. Inadmissible parastatistical theories are ruled out by a locality-inspired principle we call Charge Recombination. (shrink)
Halvorson (2012) argues that the semantic view of theories leads to absurdities. Glymour (2013) shows how to inoculate the semantic view against Halvorson's criticisms, namely by making it into a syntactic view of theories. I argue that this modified semantic-syntactic view cannot do the philosophical work that the original "language-free" semantic view was supposed to do.
Physical cosmology purports to establish precise and testable claims about the origin of the universe. Thus, cosmology bears directly on traditional metaphysical claims -- in particular, claims about whether the universe has a creator (i.e. God). What is the upshot of cosmology for the claims of theism? Does big-bang cosmology support theism? Do recent developments in quantum and string cosmology undermine theism? We discuss the relations between physical cosmology to theism from both historical and systematic points of view.
According to the semantic view of scientific theories, theories are classes of models. I show that this view -- if taken seriously as a formal explication -- leads to absurdities. In particular, this view equates theories that are truly distinct, and it distinguishes theories that are truly equivalent. Furthermore, the semantic view lacks the resources to explicate interesting theoretical relations, such as embeddability of one theory into another. The untenability of the semantic view -- as currently formulated -- threatens to (...) undermine scientific structuralism. (shrink)
The nature of antimatter is examined in the context of algebraic quantum field theory. It is shown that the notion of antimatter is more general than that of antiparticles. Properly speaking, then, antimatter is not matter made up of antiparticles—rather, antiparticles are particles made up of antimatter. We go on to discuss whether the notion of antimatter is itself completely general in quantum field theory. Does the matter–antimatter distinction apply to all field theoretic systems? The answer depends on which of (...) several possible criteria we should impose on the space of physical states. (shrink)
Algebraic quantum field theory provides a general, mathematically precise description of the structure of quantum field theories, and then draws out consequences of this structure by means of various mathematical tools -- the theory of operator algebras, category theory, etc.. Given the rigor and generality of AQFT, it is a particularly apt tool for studying the foundations of QFT. This paper is a survey of AQFT, with an orientation towards foundational topics. In addition to covering the basics of the theory, (...) we discuss issues related to nonlocality, the particle concept, the field concept, and inequivalent representations. We also provide a detailed account of the analysis of superselection rules by Doplicher, Haag, and Roberts (DHR); and we give an alternative proof of Doplicher and Robert's reconstruction of fields and gauge group from the category of physical representations of the observable algebra. The latter is based on unpublished ideas due to J. E. Roberts and the abstract duality theorem for symmetric tensor *-categories, a self-contained proof of which is given in the appendix. (shrink)
Clifton, Bub, and Halvorson (CBH) have recently argued that quantum theory is characterized by its satisfaction of three fundamental information-theoretic constraints. However, it is not difficult to construct apparent counterexamples to the CBH characterization theorem. In this paper, we discuss the limits of the characterization theorem, and we provide some technical tools for checking whether a theory (specified in terms of the convex structure of its state space) falls within these limits.
We show that Bohr's principle of complementarity between position and momentum descriptions can be formulated rigorously as a claim about the existence of representations of the CCRs. In particular, in any representation where the position operator has eigenstates, there is no momentum operator, and vice versa. Equivalently, if there are nonzero projections corresponding to sharp position values, all spectral projections of the momentum operator map onto the zero element.
We show that three fundamental information-theoretic constraints -- the impossibility of superluminal information transfer between two physical systems by performing measurements on one of them, the impossibility of broadcasting the information contained in an unknown physical state, and the impossibility of unconditionally secure bit commitment -- suffice to entail that the observables and state space of a physical theory are quantum-mechanical. We demonstrate the converse derivation in part, and consider the implications of alternative answers to a remaining open question about (...) nonlocality and bit commitment. (shrink)
David Malament (1996) has recently argued that there can be no relativistic quantum theory of (localizable) particles. We consider and rebut several objections that have been made against the soundness of Malament’s argument. We then consider some further objections that might be made against the generality of Malament’s conclusion, and we supply three no‐go theorems to counter these objections. Finally, we dispel potential worries about the counterintuitive nature of these results by showing that relativistic quantum field theory itself explains the (...) appearance of “particle detections.”. (shrink)
Although Bohr's reply to the EPR argument is supposed to be a watershed moment in the development of his philosophy of quantum theory, it is difficult to find a clear statement of the reply's philosophical point. Moreover, some have claimed that the point is simply that Bohr is a radical positivist. In this paper, we show that such claims are unfounded. In particular, we give a mathematically rigorous reconstruction of Bohr's reply to the _original_ EPR argument that clarifies its logical (...) structure, and which shows that it does not rest on questionable philosophical assumptions. Rather, Bohr's reply is dictated by his commitment to provide "classical" and "objective" descriptions of experimental phenomena. (shrink)
Philosophical reflection on quantum field theory has tended to focus on how it revises our conception of what a particle is. However, there has been relatively little discussion of the threat to the ‘reality’ of particles posed by the possibility of inequivalent quantizations of a classical field theory, i.e. inequivalent representations of the algebra of observables of the field in terms of operators on a Hilbert space. The threat is that each representation embodies its own distinctive conception of what a (...) particle is, and how a ‘particle’ will respond to a suitably operated detector. Our main goal is to clarify the subtle relationship between inequivalent representations of a field theory and their associated particle concepts. We also have a particular interest in the Minkowski versus Rindler quantizations of a free Boson field, because they respectively entail two radically different descriptions of the particle content of the field in the very same region of spacetime. We shall defend the idea that these representations provide complementary descriptions of the same state of the field against the claim that they embody completely incommensurable theories of the field. (shrink)
Entanglement has long been the subject of discussion by philosophers of quantum theory, and has recently come to play an essential role for physicists in their development of quantum information theory. In this paper we show how the formalism of algebraic quantum field theory (AQFT) provides a rigorous framework within which to analyse entanglement in the context of a fully relativistic formulation of quantum theory. What emerges from the analysis are new practical and theoretical limitations on an experimenter's ability to (...) perform operations on a field in one spacetime region that can disentangle its state from the state of the field in other spacelike-separated regions. These limitations show just how deeply entrenched entanglement is in relativistic quantum field theory, and yield a fresh perspective on the ways in which the theory differs conceptually from both standard non-relativistic quantum theory and classical relativistic field theory. (shrink)
This dissertation reconsiders some traditional issues in the foundations of quantum mechanics in the context of relativistic quantum field theory (RQFT); and it considers some novel foundational issues that arise first in the context of RQFT. The first part of the dissertation considers quantum nonlocality in RQFT. Here I show that the generic state of RQFT displays Bell correlations relative to measurements performed in any pair of spacelike separated regions, no matter how distant. I also show that local systems in (...) RQFT are "open" to influence from their environment, in the sense that it is generally impossible to perform local operations that would remove the entanglement between a local system and any other spacelike separated system. The second part of the dissertation argues that RQFT does not support a particle ontology -- at least if particles are understood to be localizable objects. In particular, while RQFT permits us to describe situations in which a determinate number of particles are present, it does not permit us to speak of the location of any individual particle, nor of the number of particles in any particular region of space. Nonetheless, the absence of localizable particles in RQFT does not threaten the integrity of our commonsense concept of a localized object. Indeed, RQFT itself predicts that descriptions in terms of localized objects can be quite accurate on the macroscopic level. The third part of the dissertation examines the so-called observer-dependence of the particle concept in RQFT -- that is, whether there are any particles present must be relativized to an observer's state of motion. Now, it is not uncommon for modern physical theories to subsume observer-dependent descriptions under a more general observer-independent description of some underlying state of affairs. However, I show that the conflicting accounts concerning the particle content of the field cannot be reconciled in this way. In fact, I argue that these conflicting accounts should be thought of as "complementary" in the same sense that position and momentum descriptions are complementary in elementary quantum mechanics. (shrink)
Within the traditional Hilbert space formalism of quantum mechanics, it is not possible to describe a particle as possessing, simultaneously, a sharp position value and a sharp momentum value. Is it possible, though, to describe a particle as possessing just a sharp position value (or just a sharp momentum value)? Some, such as Teller, have thought that the answer to this question is No – that the status of individual continuous quantities is very different in quantum mechanics than in classical (...) mechanics. On the contrary, I shall show that the same subtle issues arise with respect to continuous quantities in classical and quantum mechanics; and that it is, after all, possible to describe a particle as possessing a sharp position value without altering the standard formalism of quantum mechanics. (shrink)
Many of the "counterintuitive" features of relativistic quantum field theory have their formal root in the Reeh-Schlieder theorem, which in particular entails that local operations applied to the vacuum state can produce any state of the entire field. It is of great interest then that I.E. Segal and, more recently, G. Fleming (in a paper entitled "Reeh-Schlieder meets Newton-Wigner") have proposed an alternative "Newton-Wigner" localization scheme that avoids the Reeh-Schlieder theorem. In this paper, I reconstruct the Newton-Wigner localization scheme and (...) clarify the limited extent to which it avoids the counterintuitive consequences of the Reeh-Schlieder theorem. I also argue that there is no coherent interpretation of the Newton-Wigner localization scheme that renders it free from act-outcome correlations at spacelike separation. (shrink)
The centerpiece of Jeffrey Bub's book Interpreting the Quantum World is a theorem (Bub and Clifton 1996) which correlates each member of a large class of no-collapse interpretations with some 'privileged observable'. In particular, the Bub-Clifton theorem determines the unique maximal sublattice L(R,e) of propositions such that (a) elements of L(R,e) can be simultaneously determinate in state e, (b) L(R,e) contains the spectral projections of the privileged observable R, and (c) L(R,e) is picked out by R and e alone. In (...) this paper, we explore the issue of maximal determinate sets of observables using the tools provided by the algebraic approach to quantum theory; and we call the resulting algebras of determinate observables, "maximal *beable* subalgebras". The capstone of our exploration is a generalized version of Bub and Clifton's theorem that applies to arbitrary (i.e., both mixed and pure) quantum states, to Hilbert spaces of arbitrary (i.e., both finite and infinite) dimension, and to arbitrary observables (including those with a continuous spectrum). Moreover, in the special case covered by the original Bub-Clifton theorem, our theorem reproduces their result under strictly weaker assumptions. This added level of generality permits us to treat several topics that were beyond the reach of the original Bub-Clifton result. In particular: (a) We show explicitly that a (non-dynamical) version of the Bohm theory can be obtained by granting privileged status to the position observable. (b) We show that Clifton's (1995) characterization of the Kochen-Dieks modal interpretation is a corollary of our theorem in the special case when the density operator is taken as the privileged observable. (c) We show that the 'uniqueness' demonstrated by Bub and Clifton is only guaranteed in certain special cases -- viz., when the quantum state is pure, or if the privileged observable is compatible with the density operator. We also use our results to articulate a solid mathematical foundation for certain tenets of the orthodox Copenhagen interpretation of quantum theory. For example, the uncertainty principle asserts that there are strict limits on the precision with which we can know, simultaneously, the position and momentum of a quantum-mechanical particle. However, the Copenhagen interpretation of this fact is not simply that a precision momentum measurement necessarily and uncontrollably disturbs the value of position, and vice-versa; but that position and momentum can never in reality be thought of as simultaneously determinate. We provide warrant for this stronger 'indeterminacy principle' by showing that there is no quantum state that assigns a sharp value to both position and momentum; and, a fortiori, that it is mathematically impossible to construct a beable algebra that contains both the position observable and the momentum observable. We also prove a generalized version of the Bub-Clifton theorem that applies to "singular" states (i.e., states that arise from non-countably-additive probability measures, such as Dirac delta functions). This result allows us to provide a mathematically rigorous reconstruction of Bohr's response to the original EPR argument -- which makes use of a singular state. In particular, we show that if the position of the first particle is privileged (e.g., as Bohr would do in a position measuring context), the position of the second particle acquires a definite value by virtue of lying in the corresponding maximal beable subalgebra. But then (by the indeterminacy principle) the momentum of the second particle is not a beable; and EPR's argument for the simultaneous reality of both position and momentum is undercut. (shrink)