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Measurement and Fundamental Processes in Quantum Mechanics

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In the standard mathematical formulation of quantum mechanics, measurement is an additional, exceptional fundamental process rather than an often complex, but ordinary process which happens also to serve a particular epistemic function: during a measurement of one of its properties which is not already determined by a preceding measurement, a measured system, even if closed, is taken to change its state discontinuously rather than continuously as is usual. Many, including Bell, have been concerned about the fundamental role thus given to measurement in the foundation of the theory. Others, including the early Bohr and Schwinger, have suggested that quantum mechanics naturally incorporates the unavoidable uncontrollable disturbance of physical state that accompanies any local measurement without the need for an exceptional fundamental process or a special measurement theory. Disturbance is unanalyzable for Bohr, but for Schwinger it is due to physical interactions’ being borne by fundamental particles having discrete properties and behavior which is beyond physical control. Here, Schwinger’s approach is distinguished from more well known treatments of measurement, with the conclusion that, unlike most, it does not suffer under Bell’s critique of quantum measurement. Finally, Schwinger’s critique of measurement theory is explicated as a call for a deeper investigation of measurement processes that requires the use of a theory of quantum fields.

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  1. The role of a consciousness is sometimes also mentioned, but such a characterization is then not purely physical and is not considered here.


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Correspondence to Gregg Jaeger.

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Jaeger, G. Measurement and Fundamental Processes in Quantum Mechanics. Found Phys 45, 806–819 (2015).

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