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“Wave-Packet Reduction” and the Quantum Character of the Actualization of Potentia

Jaeger, Gregg (2017) “Wave-Packet Reduction” and the Quantum Character of the Actualization of Potentia. Entropy, 19. pp. 1-11.

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Werner Heisenberg introduced the notion of quantum potentia in order to accommodate the indeterminism associated with quantum measurement. Potentia captures the capacity of the system to be found to possess a property upon a corresponding sharp measurement in which it is actualized. The specific potentiae of the individual system are represented formally by the complex amplitudes in the measurement bases of the eigenstate in which it is prepared. All predictions for future values of system properties can be made by an experimenter using the probabilities which are the squared moduli of these amplitudes that are the diagonal elements of the density matrix description of the pure ensemble to which the system, so prepared, belongs. Heisenberg considered the change of the ensemble attribution following quantum measurement to be analogous to the classical change in Gibbs’ thermodynamics when measurement of the canonical ensemble enables a microcanonical ensemble description. This analogy, presented by Heisenberg as operating at the epistemic level, is analyzed here. It has led some to claim not only that the change of the state in measurement is classical mechanical, bringing its quantum character into question, but also that Heisenberg held this to be the case. Here, these claims are shown to be incorrect, because the analogy concerns the change of ensemble attribution by the experimenter upon learning the result of the measurement, not the actualization of the potentia responsible for the change of the individual system state which—in Heisenberg’s interpretation of quantum mechanics—is objective in nature and independent of the experimenter’s knowledge.

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Item Type: Published Article or Volume
Jaeger, Greggjaeger@bu.edu0000-0002-5725-6491
Keywords: quantum potentiality; quantum measurement; probability
Depositing User: Dr. Gregg Jaeger
Date Deposited: 29 Mar 2019 12:32
Last Modified: 29 Mar 2019 12:32
Item ID: 15859
Journal or Publication Title: Entropy
Publisher: MDPI
Official URL:
DOI or Unique Handle:
Date: 24 September 2017
Page Range: pp. 1-11
Volume: 19

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