Foundations of Physics

, Volume 43, Issue 9, pp 1124–1135 | Cite as

Delayed-Choice Experiments and the Metaphysics of Entanglement

  • Matthias EggEmail author


Delayed-choice experiments in quantum mechanics are often taken to undermine a realistic interpretation of the quantum state. More specifically, Healey has recently argued that the phenomenon of delayed-choice entanglement swapping is incompatible with the view that entanglement is a physical relation between quantum systems. This paper argues against these claims. It first reviews two paradigmatic delayed-choice experiments and analyzes their metaphysical implications. It then applies the results of this analysis to the case of entanglement swapping, showing that such experiments pose no threat to realism about entanglement.


Delayed-choice experiments Double-slit experiment Entanglement swapping Quantum eraser Realism 



I am grateful to the audiences at the BSPS annual conference (Stirling, July 2012) and the PSA biennial conference (San Diego, November 2012) for inspiring discussions. I also wish to thank Michael Esfeld, Vincent Lam, Jakob Sprickerhof, Stevie Turkington, Charles Sebens and two anonymous referees for many helpful comments.


  1. 1.
    Allori, V., Goldstein, S., Tumulka, R., Zanghì, N.: On the common structure of Bohmian mechanics and the Ghirardi-Rimini-Weber theory. Br. J. Philos. Sci. 59, 353–389 (2008) CrossRefzbMATHGoogle Scholar
  2. 2.
    Bell, J.S.: Against ‘measurement’. In: Miller, A.I. (ed.) Sixty-Two Years of Uncertainty: Historical, Philosophical, and Physical Inquiries into the Foundations of Quantum Mechanics, 2nd edn., pp. 213–231. Plenum Press, New York (1990). Reprinted in J.S. Bell: Speakable and Unspeakable in Quantum Mechanics. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge (2004) Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Clifton, R.: The subtleties of entanglement and its role in quantum information theory. Philos. Sci. 69, S150–S167 (2002) MathSciNetCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. 4.
    Dürr, D., Goldstein, S., Zanghì, N.: Bohmian mechanics and the meaning of the wave function. In: Cohen, R., Horne, M., Stachel, J. (eds.) Experimental Metaphysics: Quantum Mechanical Studies for Abner Shimony. Boston Studies in the Philosophy of Science, vol. 193, pp. 25–38. Kluwer Academic, Dordrecht (1997) Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Englert, B.G., Scully, M.O., Walther, H.: Quantum erasure in double-slit interferometers with which-way detectors. Am. J. Phys. 67, 325–329 (1999) ADSCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. 6.
    Esfeld, M.: Quantum entanglement and a metaphysics of relations. Stud. Hist. Philos. Mod. Phys. 35, 601–617 (2004) MathSciNetCrossRefzbMATHGoogle Scholar
  7. 7.
    Feynman, R.P., Leighton, R.B., Sands, M.: The Feynman Lectures on Physics, vol. 3. Addison-Wesley, Reading (1965) zbMATHGoogle Scholar
  8. 8.
    French, S.: Individuality, supervenience and Bell’s theorem. Philos. Stud. 55, 1–22 (1989) MathSciNetCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. 9.
    Healey, R.: Quantum theory: a pragmatist approach. Br. J. Philos. Sci. 63, 729–771 (2012) MathSciNetCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. 10.
    Hiley, B.J., Callaghan, R.E.: Delayed-choice experiments and the Bohm approach. Phys. Scr. 74, 336–348 (2006) MathSciNetADSCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. 11.
    Hiley, B.J., Callaghan, R.E.: What is erased in the quantum erasure? Found. Phys. 36, 1869–1883 (2006) MathSciNetADSCrossRefzbMATHGoogle Scholar
  12. 12.
    Horodecki, R., Horodecki, P., Horodecki, M., Horodecki, K.: Quantum entanglement. Rev. Mod. Phys. 81, 865–942 (2009) MathSciNetADSCrossRefzbMATHGoogle Scholar
  13. 13.
    Jennewein, T., Weihs, G., Pan, J.W., Zeilinger, A.: Experimental nonlocality proof of quantum teleportation and entanglement swapping. Phys. Rev. Lett. 88, 017,903 (2002) CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. 14.
    Ma, X.s., Zotter, S., Kofler, J., Ursin, R., Jennewein, T., Brukner, Č., Zeilinger, A.: Experimental delayed-choice entanglement swapping. Nat. Phys. 8, 480–485 (2012) CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. 15.
    Maudlin, T.: Part and whole in quantum mechanics. In: Castellani, E. (ed.) Interpreting Bodies: Classical and Quantum Objects in Modern Physics, pp. 46–60. Princeton University Press, Princeton (1998) Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    Maudlin, T.: Quantum Non-Locality and Relativity, 3rd edn. Wiley-Blackwell, Chichester (2011) CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. 17.
    Megidish, E., Halevy, A., Shacham, T., Dvir, T., Dovrat, L., Eisenberg, H.S.: Entanglement swapping between photons that have never coexisted. Phys. Rev. Lett. 110, 210,403 (2013) CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. 18.
    Mohrhoff, U.: Restoration of interference and the fallacy of delayed choice: concerning an experiment proposed by Englert, Scully, and Walter. Am. J. Phys. 64, 1468–1475 (1996) ADSCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. 19.
    Mohrhoff, U.: Objectivity, retrocausation, and the experiment of Englert, Scully, and Walther. Am. J. Phys. 67, 330–335 (1999) ADSCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. 20.
    Pan, J.W., Bouwmeester, D., Weinfurter, H., Zeilinger, A.: Experimental entanglement swapping: entangling photons that never interacted. Phys. Rev. Lett. 80, 3891–3894 (1998) MathSciNetADSCrossRefzbMATHGoogle Scholar
  21. 21.
    Peres, A.: Delayed choice for entanglement swapping. J. Mod. Opt. 47, 139–143 (2000) MathSciNetADSGoogle Scholar
  22. 22.
    Scully, M.O., Drühl, K.: Quantum eraser: a proposed photon correlation experiment concerning observation and “delayed choice” in quantum mechanics. Phys. Rev. A 25, 2208–2213 (1982) ADSCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. 23.
    Scully, M.O., Englert, B.G., Walther, H.: Quantum optical tests of complementarity. Nature 351, 111–116 (1991) ADSCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. 24.
    Seevinck, M.: The quantum world is not built up from correlations. Found. Phys. 36, 1573–1586 (2006) MathSciNetADSCrossRefzbMATHGoogle Scholar
  25. 25.
    Teller, P.: Relational holism and quantum mechanics. Br. J. Philos. Sci. 37, 71–81 (1986) MathSciNetGoogle Scholar
  26. 26.
    Timpson, C.G.: Information, immaterialism, instrumentalism: old and new in quantum information. In: Bokulich, A., Jaeger, G. (eds.) Philosophy of Quantum Information and Entanglement, pp. 208–227. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge (2010) CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. 27.
    Timpson, C.G., Brown, H.R.: Building with quantum correlations. Quantum Inf. Process. 9, 307–320 (2010) MathSciNetCrossRefzbMATHGoogle Scholar
  28. 28.
    Wheeler, J.A.: The ‘past’ and the ‘delayed-choice’ double-slit experiment. In: Marlow, A.R. (ed.) Mathematical Foundations of Quantum Theory, pp. 9–48. Academic Press, New York (1978) CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. 29.
    Yurke, B., Stoler, D.: Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen effects from independent particle sources. Phys. Rev. Lett. 68, 1251–1254 (1992) ADSCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. 30.
    Żukowski, M., Zeilinger, A., Horne, M.A., Ekert, A.K.: “Event-ready-detectors” Bell experiment via entanglement swapping. Phys. Rev. Lett. 71, 4287–4290 (1993) ADSCrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyUniversity of LausanneLausanneSwitzerland

Personalised recommendations