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Persistence and nonpersistence as complementary models of identical quantum particles

Goyal, Philip (2019) Persistence and nonpersistence as complementary models of identical quantum particles.

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Complementarity of Persistence and Non-Persistence (19 June 2019).pdf - Accepted Version

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Classical mechanics is based on the notion that matter consists of persistent particles that can be reidentified (or tracked) across time. However, the mathematical symmetrization procedures (due to Dirac and Heisenberg, and to Feynman) used to describe identical particles within the quantum formalism are widely interpreted as implying that identical quantum particles are not persistent (so that the concept of `the same particle' is not meaningful) or are persistent but not reidentifiable. However, it has not proved possible to rigorously reconcile these interpretations with the fact that identical particles are routinely assumed to be reidentifiable in particular circumstances---for example, a track in a bubble chamber is interpreted as a sequence of bubbles generated by one and the same particle. Moreover, these interpretations do not account for the mathematical form of the symmetrization procedures, leaving open theoretical possibilities other than bosonic and fermionic behavior, such as paraparticles, which however do not appear to be realized in nature. Here we propose that the quantum mechanical behaviour of identical particles is a manifestation of a novel kind of complementarity, a complementarity of persistence and nonpersistence. Accordingly, identical `particles' are neither persistent nor nonpersistent; rather, these terms are to be understood as descriptors of different models of the same experimental data. We prove the viability of this viewpoint by showing how Feynman's and Dirac's symmetrization procedures arise through a synthesis of a quantum treatment of persistence and nonpersistence models of identical particle-like events, and by showing how reidentifiability emerges in a context-dependent manner. Finally, by drawing on a reconstruction of Feynman's formulation of quantum theory, we construct a precise parallel between the proposed persistence-nonpersistence complementary and Bohr's wave-particle complementarity for individual particles, and detail their conceptual similarities and dissimilarities.

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Item Type: Published Article or Volume
Additional Information: Four-minute video abstract available on publisher's website at:
Keywords: Quantum Identical Particles. Symmetrization Postulate. Paraparticles. Persistence. Nonpersistence. Individuality. Non-individuality. Complementarity.
Subjects: Specific Sciences > Physics > Quantum Mechanics
General Issues > Reductionism/Holism
Depositing User: Dr Philip Goyal
Date Deposited: 09 Sep 2019 14:30
Last Modified: 09 Sep 2019 14:34
Item ID: 16407
Official URL:
DOI or Unique Handle:
Subjects: Specific Sciences > Physics > Quantum Mechanics
General Issues > Reductionism/Holism
Date: 21 June 2019

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