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On the Consistency of the Consistent Histories Approach to Quantum Mechanics


The Consistent Histories (CH) formalism aims at a quantum mechanical framework which could be applied even to the universe as a whole. CH stresses the importance of histories for quantum mechanics, as opposed to measurements, and maintains that a satisfactory formulation of quantum mechanics allows one to assign probabilities to alternative histories of a quantum system. It further proposes that each realm, that is, each set of histories to which probabilities can be assigned, provides a valid quantum-mechanical account, but that different realms can be mutually incompatible. Finally, some of its proponents offer an “evolutionary” explanation of our existence in the universe and of our preference for quasiclassical descriptions of nature. The present work questions the validity of claims offered by CH proponents asserting that it solves many interpretational problems in quantum mechanics. In particular, we point out that the interpretation of the framework leaves vague two crucial points, namely, whether realms are fixed or chosen and the link between measurements and histories. Our claim is that by doing so, CH overlooks the main interpretational problems of quantum mechanics. Furthermore, we challenge the evolutionary explanation offered and we critically examine the proposed notion of a realm-dependent reality.

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  1. 1.

    It is important to note that DHI has not suffered significant changes along these 23 years, as can be appreciated from comparing its description in, e.g., [4] and [26].

  2. 2.

    It is not clear if there exits just one quasiclassical realm. If more than one exists we should ask whether different IGUS of classes of IGUSes could possibly perceive different ones.

  3. 3.

    Remember that information gathering and utilizing systems (IGUSes) play a fundamental role in DHI (see Sect. 3.2 and references therein).

  4. 4.

    Recall that we already indicated that one cannot argue that the experimental set up is what determines the choice because then the issue would again be to specify under what conditions does the theory indicate that a set up counts as an experiment (see [29]).

  5. 5.

    An instrumentalist with respect to quantum mechanics could object that this distinction does not make sense but proponents of CH must recognize it because it is central to the whole motivation for the approach.

  6. 6.

    We thank an anonymous referee for raising this particular objection and for urging us to develop further our argument.

  7. 7.

    Unlike DHI proponents, Griffiths unambiguously states that the adopts the first option above, [9].


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We wish to thank Robert Griffiths and James Hartle for very helpful e-mail discussions. We would also like to acknowledge partial financial support from DGAPA-UNAM projects IN107412 (DS), IA400312 (EO), and CONACyT project 101712 (DS).

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Correspondence to Elias Okon.

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Okon, E., Sudarsky, D. On the Consistency of the Consistent Histories Approach to Quantum Mechanics. Found Phys 44, 19–33 (2014).

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  • Consistent histories
  • Decoherent histories
  • Consistent quantum theory
  • Quantum cosmology