Academic journal article Canadian Social Science

Philosophical Inclusion in the Measurement Problem in Quantum Theory

Academic journal article Canadian Social Science

Philosophical Inclusion in the Measurement Problem in Quantum Theory

Article excerpt


Measurement problem in quantum theory is informed by the difficulties which howbeit, fall under philosophical investigation involving the behavior of sub-atomic particles, especially as it has to do with interaction between the mental and the physical. This problem dates back to antiquity with the belief in the duality of mind and body (mental and material) as distinct essences of nature. This paper is an attempt to highlight the issues involved in the measurement problem in quantum theory, while at the same time showing that the resultant paradoxes encountered in the process have always been present; they are just a resuscitation of ancient problems that philosophers have reflected upon as regards the description of physical reality.

Key Words: Measurement; Perception; Macro-world; Micro-world; Inclusion; Materialism and Idealism


The measurement problem is at the heart of quantum theory. This fact is predicated on Physicists' quest for "certain" and "indubitable" knowledge of the physical world, thus enhancing accurate prediction which is held to be one of the goals of science. In quantum mechanics it is shown that, two physical quantities described by noncommuting operators cannot be simultaneously measured with perfect accuracy, and the relation between these two quantities can be derived from a wave function. The problem put forward by Einstein, Podolsky and Rosen (EPR) is that the description of physical reality as given by the wave function is not complete. EPR paper raises a fundamental criterion of reality and locality which later led to the development of hidden variable theory of quantum explanation.

In the collapse of wave packet, Schrodinger shows a constellation of puzzles known as the measurement problem using the Schrodinger's cat. This was a thought experiment to show how quantum theory treats radioactive decay. Measurement arises when a matter wave interacts with a macroscopic measuring device. This collapse is sometimes attributed to an intelligent human agent who actually does the observing.

The measurement problem is not just an interpretational difficulty peculiar to quantum mechanics. It also has philosophical perspectives, especially as it has to do with the Lockean realist account according to which perception involves the creation of an "inner reflection" of an independently existing reality, and the Kantian "anti-realist" concept of the "veil of perception". The collapse into one or the other of these two components, which is (a dead or a living cat) only arises when we take measurement.

The quantum world symbolizes the external world and what goes on out there is different from the world delivered by our raw senses. How then can we tell with exactitude what lies outside the realm of the senses? This question has great implication for our language and the striving for accuracy which science is known for via its purely empirical method.

Going by the paradox of Max Bora's probabilistic interpretation, Physicists are still faced with the problem of understanding how to use the apparently inconsistent ways of talking about atomic particles and light in the language of wave and particles. Gregory (1990) writes thus:

Heisenberg's relationship, sometimes called the "uncertainty principle", says that physicists can determine an electron's position to any precision they like, but the more precisely they determine this position, the less precisely can they determine how the electron is moving at the same time (p.91-92).

Paradoxes are in the sphere of logic and not common place in the sciences. In the history of human intellect, two different schools of thought confront one another and they are known under the broad heading of materialism and idealism. Heisenberg in Burke (1987) once quipped that: Strangely enough, this old question of materialism or idealism has brought up again in a very specific form by modern atomic physics and by the quantum theory of Max Planck in particular (p. …

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