Four and a Half Axioms for Finite-Dimensional Quantum Probability

In Yemima Ben-Menahem & Meir Hemmo (eds.), Probability in Physics. Springer. pp. 281--298 (2012)


It is an old idea, lately out of fashion but now experiencing a revival, that quantum mechanics may best be understood, not as a physical theory with a problematic probabilistic interpretation, but as something closer to a probability calculus per se. However, from this angle, the rather special C *-algebraic apparatus of quantum probability theory stands in need of further motivation. One would like to find additional principles, having clear physical and/or probabilistic content, on the basis of which this apparatus can be reconstructed. In this paper, I explore one route to such a derivation of finite-dimensional quantum mechanics, by means of a set of strong, but probabilistically intelligible, axioms. Stated very informally, these require that systems appear completely classical as restricted to a single measurement, that different measurements, and likewise different pure states, be equivalent (up to the action of a compact group of symmetries), and that every state be the marginal of a bipartite non-signaling state perfectly correlating two measurements. This much yields a mathematical representation of (basic, discrete) measurements as orthonormal subsets of, and states, by vectors in, an ordered real Hilbert space – in the quantum case, the space of Hermitian operators, with its usual tracial inner product. One final postulate (a simple minimization principle, still in need of a clear interpretation) forces the positive cone of this space to be homogeneous and self-dual and hence, to be the state space of a formally real Jordan algebra. From here, the route to the standard framework of finite-dimensional quantum mechanics is quite short.

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