The Quantum Mechanics of Minds and Worlds

The Quantum Mechanics of Minds and Worlds

The Quantum Mechanics of Minds and Worlds

The Quantum Mechanics of Minds and Worlds


Jeffrey Barrett presents the most comprehensive study yet of a problem that has puzzled physicists and philosophers since the 1930s. The standard theory of quantum mechanics is in one sense the most successful physical theory ever, predicting the behaviour of the basic constituents of all physical things; no other theory has ever made such accurate empirical predictions. However, if one tries to understand the theory as providing a complete and accurate framework for the description of the behaviour of all physical interactions, it becomes evident that the theory is ambiguous, or even logically inconsistent. The most notable attempt to formulate the theory so as to deal with this problem, the quantum measurement problem, was initiated by Hugh Everett III in the 1950s. Barrett gives a careful and challenging examination and evaluation of the work of Everett and those who have followed him. His informal approach, minimizing technicality, will make the book accessible and illuminating for philosophers and physicists alike. Anyone interested in the interpretation of quantum mechanics should read it.


This book is about the quantum measurement problem, Hugh Everett III's proposed resolution, and some of the attempts to understand how it was supposed to work. While there is a brief review of the standard formulation of quantum mechanics (complete with a description of a two-slit experiment!) and a short appendix describing the Hilbert-space formalism, it is assumed that the reader already knows something about how quantum mechanics works and is comfortable with at least some of the mathematics. There is, in my opinion, no better introduction to the ways of quantum mechanics than David Albert's book Quantum Mechanics and Experience. One might also want to work through a careful presentation of the theory that includes a more detailed description of the mathematical formalism.P. A. M. Dirac's Principles of Quantum Mechanics is the classic introductory text (and I use Dirac's notation throughout this book). My favourite advanced introduction isGordon Baym's Lectures on Quantum Mechanics.John Wheeler and W. H. Zurek's Quantum Theory and Measurement is the standard anthology on the measurement problem. I have tried to refer to page numbers in this anthology whenever possible.

Many conversations with friends and colleagues contributed to this book; in particular, I should like to thank Wayne Aitken, Frank Arntzenius, Guido Bacciagallupi, Jeffrey Bub, Rob Clifton, Michael Dickson, Richard Healey, Meir Hemmo, Peter Lewis, Barry Loewer, Pen Maddy, Brad Monton, Laura Reutsche, Simon Saunders, and Brian Skyrms. I am especially indebted to David Albert for many enlightening discussions over the past several years--anyone familiar with Albert's work will immediately recognize his influence on the way that I think about quantum mechanics. I should also like to thank the anonymous referees who read this book in manuscript form--their comments were invaluable in putting together the final version. Finally, I should like to thank Ryan Barrett, whose excellent work produced the final figures. It was a pleasure working with the Oxford University Press editors--they were careful, smart, and patient.

This book was supported by a University of California President's Research Fellowship, and most of it was written while I was a Visiting Fellow at the University of Pittsburgh Center for the History and Philosophy of Science in 1996-7. I should like to thank both universities for their kind support.

J. A. B.

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