Consistent histories and the interpretation of quantum mechanics


The usual formula for transition probabilities in nonrelativistic quantum mechanics is generalized to yield conditional probabilities for selected sequences of events at several different times, called “consistent histories,” through a criterion which ensures that, within limits which are explicitly defined within the formalism, classical rules for probabilities are satisfied. The interpretive scheme which results is applicable to closed (isolated) quantum systems, is explicitly independent of the sense of time (i.e., past and future can be interchanged), has no need for wave function “collapse,” makes no reference to processes of measurement (though it can be used to analyze such processes), and can be applied to sequences of microscopic or macroscopic events, or both, as long as the mathematical condition of consistency is satisfied. When applied to appropriate macroscopic events it appears to yield the same answers as other interpretative schemes for standard quantum mechanics, though from a different point of view which avoids the conceptual difficulties which are sometimes thought to require reference to conscious observers or classical apparatus.

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Griffiths, R.B. Consistent histories and the interpretation of quantum mechanics. J Stat Phys 36, 219–272 (1984).

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Key words

  • Joint probabilities
  • measurements
  • quantum mechanics
  • time reversal
  • wave function collapse