Quantum Mechanics: An Empiricist View

By Bas C. Van Fraassen | Go to book overview

7 Composite Systems, Interaction, and Measurement

The three main issues in the philosophical foundations of quantum mechanics are measurement, the 'paradoxes' (Schroedinger's Cat, EPR, etc.), and the problem of identical particles. Each of these concerns the composition of several systems—sometimes interacting and sometimes not—which is a subtle matter in quantum mechanics. Dirk Aerts very aptly sums up these issues as the problem of the One and the Many, which has here taken on a new form of life. This chapter contains the technical background for those discussions, with only a little philosophical discussion to explain their putative significance. 1


1 Composition

Some systems are composed of others, or may be so modelled—a solid or gas composed of molecules, molecules of atoms, atoms of elementary particles. Any physical theory must allow the representation of compound systems, and give some guidance as to how the state of the whole is related to the state of the parts. Whether there should be very strict constraints on this has long been a question in natural philosophy; a logical or philosophical atomism holds that the properties of the parts entirely determine those of the whole, while a holism allows for some independence of the whole. The question is sometimes logically finessed: could not the relations between the parts be themselves parts of the whole—or, being related in some fashion, be itself a property of the part? But since a physical theory begins with a specific form of representation for the states of systems in general, the question still remains whether the state of the whole, as represented, is determined by the states of the parts, so represented. We shall see here that the

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