Quantum nonlocality and the challenge to scientific realism

Foundations of Science 5 (1):3-45 (2000)

In this essay I examine various aspects of the nearcentury-long debate concerning the conceptualfoundations of quantum mechanics and the problems ithas posed for physicists and philosophers fromEinstein to the present. Most crucial here is theissue of realism and the question whether quantumtheory is compatible with any kind of realist orcausal-explanatory account which goes beyond theempirical-predictive data. This was Einstein's chiefconcern in the famous series of exchanges with NielsBohr when he refused to accept the truth orcompleteness of a doctrine (orthodox QM) which ruledsuch questions to be strictly inadmissible. I discussthe later history of quantum-theoretical debate withparticular reference to the issue of nonlocality,i.e., the phenomenon of superluminal(faster-than-light) interaction betweenwidely-separated particles. Then I show how thestandard `Copenhagen' interpretation of QM hasinfluenced current anti-realist orontological-relativist approaches to philosophy ofscience. Indeed, there are clear signs that somephilosophers have retreated from a realist positionvery largely in response to just these problems. So itis important to ask exactly why – on what scientificor philosophical grounds – any preferred alternative(causal-realist) construal should have been ruled outas a matter of orthodox QM wisdom. Moreconstructively, my paper presents various arguments infavour of one such alternative, the `hidden-variables'theory developed since the early 1950s by David Bohmand consistently marginalised by proponents of theCopenhagen doctrine.
Keywords Bohr  Einstein  nonlocality  quantum theory  realism
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Reprint years 2004
DOI 10.1023/A:1026447021096
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