Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy




Wayne Myrvold


I argue for a realist interpretation of the quantum state. I begin by reviewing and critically evaluating two arguments for an antirealist interpretation of the quantum state, the first derived from the so-called ‘measurement problem’, and the second from the concept of local causality. I argue that existing antirealist interpretations do not solve the measurement problem. Furthermore, I argue that it is possible to construct a local, realist interpretation of quantum mechanics, using methods borrowed from quantum field theory and based on John S. Bell’s concept of ‘local beables’.

If the quantum state is interpreted subjectively, then the probabilities it associates with experimental outcomes are themselves subjective. I address the prospects for developing a subjective Bayesian interpretation of quantum mechanical probabilities based on the Quantum de Finetti Representation Theorem. Epistemic interpretations of the quantum state can be divided into those that are epistemic with respect to underlying ontic states, and those that are epistemic with respect to measurement outcomes. The Pusey Barrett and Rudolph (PBR) theorem places serious constraints on the former family of interpretations. I identify an important explanatory gap in the latter sort of interpretation. In particular, if the quantum state is a subjective representation of beliefs about future experimental outcomes, then it is not clear why those experimenters who use quantum mechanics should be better able to negotiate the world than those who do not.

I then turn to the task of articulating a positive argument for the thesis of quantum state realism. I begin by articulating a minimal set of conditions that any realist interpretation must meet. One assumption built into the PBR result is that systems prepared in a given quantum state have a well-defined set of physical properties, which may be completely or incompletely described by the quantum state. Antirealist interpretations that reject this assumption are therefore compatible with the PBR result. A compelling case for quantum state realism must therefore be made on more general grounds. I consider two concrete examples of phenomena described by quantum mechanics that strongly suggest that the quantum state is genuinely representational in character.

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