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Commitment to “Forbidden Questions” in Quantum Phenomena Requires a Philosophical Stand

Ellias, James (2013) Commitment to “Forbidden Questions” in Quantum Phenomena Requires a Philosophical Stand. Master's Thesis, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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The theory of quantum mechanics, as formulated by the Copenhagen school, has been controversial since its inception. Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle asserts that certain aspects of reality are not simultaneously defined, forbidding certain questions.
Recognition has recently been given to experimentalists who have asked these “forbidden questions”. Aephraim Steinberg at the University of Toronto conducted the double slit experiment using weak measurements to construct average trajectories of particles traveling through both slits. To an adherent of the Copenhagen view of reality, however, these average trajectories will constitute nothing more than a mathematical contrivance. Experiments like these will only prove fruitful if we are willing to reject quantum mechanics’ restrictive philosophical approach.
This paper will isolate the controversial physical postulate of quantum mechanics (the postulate of wave collapse) and the philosophical approach that gave rise to it. This approach reflects an instrumentalist philosophy which claims that science must only account for the results of measurements, and has nothing to say about their underlying causes. Such an approach has put an epistemic moratorium on discovering the causes underlying quantum phenomena.
Notable progress has been made by those who reject this moratorium. Steinberg et al. found the average particle trajectories by rejecting the idea that there is no underlying reality to our measurements. Bell, more notably, was able to discover details of quantum entanglement by using his concept of “beables” to question the built-in epistemology of quantum mechanics.
Because quantum mechanics does not explicitly define wave collapse and prescribe what causes it and when it is supposed to happen, the theory cannot give explicit solutions to a certain class of experiments. This so called measurement problem is assuaged by Zurek’s theory of decoherence, which has had great success in predicting the results of recent experiments. Despite this, decoherence contains the same philosophical oversights as the original theory; it does not propose, or even address, the issue of the underlying causes for quantum phenomena. While most scientists try to steer clear of such philosophical controversies, underlying causes cannot be discovered without the conviction that it is the job of science to discover them.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
ContributionContributors NameEmailPitt UsernameORCID
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairKosowsky, Arthurkosowsky@pitt.eduKOSOWSKY
Committee MemberDaley, Andrewadaley@pitt.eduADALEY
Committee MemberSavinov, Vladimirvps3@pitt.eduVPS3
Date: July 2013
Date Type: Submission
Defense Date: 18 March 2013
Approval Date: 1 October 2013
Submission Date: 16 August 2013
Access Restriction: No restriction; Release the ETD for access worldwide immediately.
Number of Pages: 39
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > Physics
Degree: MS - Master of Science
Thesis Type: Master's Thesis
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: none
Date Deposited: 01 Oct 2013 11:46
Last Modified: 15 Nov 2016 14:14

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