Review of Simon Saunders, Jonathan Barrett, Adrian Kent, David Wallace (eds.), Many Worlds? Everett, Quantum Theory, and Reality [Book Review]

Hugh Everett III died of a heart attack in July 1982 at the age of 51. Almost 26 years later, a New York Times obituary for his PhD advisor, John Wheeler, mentioned him and Richard Feynman as Wheeler’s most prominent students. Everett’s PhD thesis on the relative state formulation of quantum mechanics, later known as the “Many Worlds Interpretation”, was published (in its edited form) in 1957, and later (in its original, unedited form) in 1973, and since then has given rise to one of the most radical schools of thought in the foundations of quantum theory. Several years ago two conferences held in Oxford and in the Perimeter Institute celebrated the occasion of 50 years to the first publication of Everett’s thesis. The book Many worlds? grew out from contributions to these conferences, but, as its editors emphasize, it is more than mere conference proceedings. Instead, an attempt was made to assemble an impressive collection of papers which together illustrate the promise of the many worlds interpretation and the obstacles it faces. 23 papers divided into six sections follow an introduction by Simon Saunders, one of Oxford’s fiercest Everettians. The first four sections cover two thorny issues that have been flagged by contemporary opponents to the many worlds interpretation, namely, the problem of ontology and the problem of probability, while the fifth discusses alternatives to Everett such as Bohmian mechanics and information–theoretic approaches to quantum theory. The sixth section seems to be a wild card, hosting several papers unrelated to each other, including one of the most interesting contributions to this volume on the history of Everett’s thesis and his (some may say all too) short academic career. Each section concludes with transcripts of the discussion session that took place after the talks, thus giving an additional emphasis to the points of contention. Apart from general comments on the volume, in what follows I would like to concentrate on few papers I found especially illuminating. Start with ontology..
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