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Understanding Quantum Phenomena

Le Bihan, Soazig (2008) Understanding Quantum Phenomena. UNSPECIFIED.


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It so happens that classical physical theories can be interpreted as a representation of local interactions between systems with determinate properties. Orthodox quantum mechanics, which is one of our most experimentally well-confirmed theories, is notoriously resistant to being interpreted in terms of the above framework. Bell-type theorems and Bell-type experiments have made such an interpretation impossible. In the early sixties, John Bell demonstrated that any theory that represents its domain in terms of the above framework satisfies a set of inequalities, the so-called Bell inequalities. Experiments on quantum phenomena violate Bell-type inequalities. By a simple modus tollens, the upshot is that no theory that includes all the elements of the above framework can recover all statistical predictions of quantum mechanics. Philosophers have been trying to interpret this result, that is, to understand what the world might be like if it is true that physical interactions between systems are non-local, or that physical systems do not possess determinate properties. This line of thought found its climax in program of Òexperimental metaphysicsÓ that developed after the violation of Bell-type inequalities was observed. Experimental metaphysics consists in deriving metaphysical conclusions from the Bell-type experimental results. The mainstream interpretation within experimental metaphysics is that Bell-type experiments force us to accept the existence of a form of non-locality at the ontological level, but a form that we can consider benign because it is of a non-causal type. In my dissertation, I assess to what extent philosophical investigation can help us decide what the world is like on the basis of our best physical theories, from the point of view of the quantum domain and with an emphasis on Bell-type phenomena. My conclusions point to a more modest view on the possible achievements of philosophy of physics than the experimental metaphysics program would have us believe. In the first part of my dissertation, I investigate what role philosophy of physics can legitimately hope to play in the development and evaluation of various accounts of quantum phenomena. I claim that it is not the role of philosophy of physics to impose criteria of acceptability on physical theories, in addition to coherence and empirical adequacy. By contrast, I take in my dissertation that the legitimate role of philosophy of physics is to clearly determine what is imposed by the phenomena and our best theories from what is a matter of preference on the basis of the structural analysis of the phenomena and theories. In the second part of my dissertation, I turn to the more specific case of the interpretation of Bell-type theorems and Bell-type phenomena. I undertake a systematic examination of the mainstream interpretation. I show that the mainstream interpretation includes three claims, one about locality, another one about causation and a last one about holism. I utilize theories of locality and causation in order to assess these three claims. On the one hand, the upshot of my analysis is that the claim about locality can be supported by a rigorous theory of locality. On the other hand, no theory of probabilistic causation can support the claims of the mainstream interpretation about causation when it is construed as a strong program of experimental metaphysics yielding conclusions about the ontology of the world. That said, weakened versions of the mainstream interpretation, those that do without conclusions about the ontology of the world, can be made compatible with some theories of probabilistic causation. In particular, the mainstream interpretation can be rigorously supported if its claims are restricted to the empirical level.

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Item Type: Other
Le Bihan, Soazig
Additional Information: Dissertation defended on Feb. 13th, 2008
Keywords: Locality, Bell, Bell's theorem, Semantic View, Models, Understanding, Causality, EPR, Factorizability, quantum mechanics
Subjects: General Issues > Structure of Theories
General Issues > Models and Idealization
General Issues > Causation
General Issues > Determinism/Indeterminism
General Issues > Realism/Anti-realism
Specific Sciences > Physics > Quantum Mechanics
Depositing User: Dr. Soazig Le Bihan
Date Deposited: 30 Jan 2009
Last Modified: 07 Oct 2010 15:17
Item ID: 4439
Subjects: General Issues > Structure of Theories
General Issues > Models and Idealization
General Issues > Causation
General Issues > Determinism/Indeterminism
General Issues > Realism/Anti-realism
Specific Sciences > Physics > Quantum Mechanics
Date: February 2008

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