Identical Quantum Particles as Distinguishable Objects

Journal for General Philosophy of Science / Zeitschrift für Allgemeine Wissenschaftstheorie 53 (3):1-16 (2020)
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According to classical physics particles are basic building blocks of the world. These classical particles are distinguishable objects, individuated by unique combinations of physical properties. By contrast, in quantum mechanics the received view is that particles of the same kind are physically indistinguishable from each other and lack identity. This doctrine rests on the quantum mechanical symmetrization postulates together with the “factorist” assumption that each single particle is represented in exactly one factor space of the tensor product Hilbert space of a many-particle system. Even though standard in theoretical physics and the philosophy of physics, the assumption of factorism and the ensuing indistinguishability of particles are problematic. Particle indistinguishability is irreconcilable with the everyday meaning of “particle”, and also with how this term is used in the practice of physics. Moreover, it is a consequence of the standard view that identical quantum particles remain indistinguishable even in the classical limit, which makes a smooth transition to the classical particle concept impossible. Lubberdink and Dieks and Lubberdink have proposed an alternative conception of quantum particles that does not rely on factorism and avoids these difficulties. We further explain and discuss this alternative framework here. One of its key consequences is that particles in quantum theory are not fundamental but emergent; another that once they have emerged, quantum particles are always physically distinguishable and thus possess a physically grounded identity.



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Dennis Dieks
Utrecht University

Citations of this work

Identity and individuality in quantum theory.Steven French - 2008 - Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
How to Justify the Symmetrization Postulate in Quantum Mechanics.Tomasz Bigaj - 2022 - Journal for General Philosophy of Science / Zeitschrift für Allgemeine Wissenschaftstheorie 53 (3):239-257.

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Discerning elementary particles.F. A. Muller & M. P. Seevinck - 2009 - Philosophy of Science 76 (2):179-200.

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