RECENT ARTICLES

A devilish new framework of thermodynamics that focuses on how we observe information could help illuminate our understanding of probability and rewrite quantum theory.

An unusual approach to unifying the laws of physics could solve Hawking's black-hole information paradox—and its predicted gravitational "memory effect" could be picked up by LIGO.

Objective reality, and the laws of physics themselves, emerge from our observations, according to a new framework that turns what we think of as fundamental on its head.

The impossibility of building a perfect clock could help explain away microscale weirdness.

An all-encompassing framework of physics could help to explain the evolution of consciousness, intelligence, and free will.

FQXI ARTICLE

March 19, 2019

Why Did Nature Choose Quantum Theory?

Schrödinger’s cat may help reveal why some physical theories are better at describing reality than others.

FQXi Awardees: Jonathan Barrett, Stefano Pironio

November 21, 2011

JONATHAN BARRETT

Royal Holloway, University of London

Today, Barrett is particularly fascinated by quantum theory, which describes the physics of the atomic realm. He and his colleague Stefano Pironio, at the Free University of Brussels, Belgium, are pondering what makes quantum theory, rather than an alternative physical model, the best bet for navigating

Barrett’s first encounters with the quantum theory weren’t too memorable, however. "It seemed like a perfectly good bit of technical physics," he recalls, "but not the beautiful and poorly understood thing I know it is now." Quantum mechanics has a reputation for being bizarre; its conventional interpretation tells us, for instance, that reality is indeterministic at its core. Physicists cannot calculate the precise outcomes of quantum experiments before they have been performed; they can only work out the probabilities of getting a certain result. But being a probabilistic theory is not enough to define what is special about quantum mechanics. In fact, in recent years, physicists have come to realize that there is a whole zoo of alternative probabilistic theories sharing many of quantum theory’s other mysterious-sounding features—such as entanglement, interference, teleportation, and nonlocality. Yet these alternatives have been rejected by nature. Studying these alternatives has already told physicists much about what isn’t unique to quantum theory. But what

With the help of an FQXi grant of over $110,000, Barrett and Pironio are proposing a new tack on this subtle problem: "What we want to know is whether facts about time can explain why quantum theory has the structure it does," says Barrett.

Schrödinger’s Clock?

The duo’s collaboration started when Pironio was a Ph.D. student in Brussels and shared an office with Barrett, then a postdoc, who was examining the family of probabilistic theories to which quantum physics belongs. Pironio thought that the key feature distinguishing quantum theory from its siblings might be

Reality Check

Nature allows certain exotic effects predicted by quantum theory to be

demonstrated in the lab. But what makes nature prefer one theory to another?

Credit: ©Institute for Quantum Optics and Quantum Information, University of Vienna

Talk about time’s arrow also raises questions about cause and effect. In everyday life, we know intuitively that effects cannot occur before the events that caused them. But quantum theory is notoriously fuzzy about which events cause others. Take entanglement for instance, the quantum phenomenon in which two or more particles become inextricably intertwined in such a way that measuring the properties of one seemingly influences the properties of its partners, no matter how far apart they are separated. Physicists shy away from saying that the measurement on the first particle

Stefano Pironio

Free University of Brussels.

"This is a fruitful topic," says Guido Bacciagaluppi, a philosopher of physics at the University of Aberdeen, UK. "Causality in quantum mechanics and causality in Bayesian networks are now two highly developed areas."

John Cramer, a physicist at the University of Washington in Seattle, adds that examining why alternatives to quantum theory are not realized in nature could have a long-term payoff for those currently struggling to unite the theory with Einstein’s description of gravity. "Such an approach could conceivably provide insights into the structure that a theory of quantum gravity might have to have," he says.

Barrett’s ambitions are more modest, however. When asked what he hopes to have achieved in ten years from now, he chuckles. "If this were a job interview, I would go on about being an international leader in the field, establishing a broad base of research income." He pauses. "I think the honest answer is that I hope to have had an idea. A good one. Something totally different from anything I’m imagining right now."

Comment on this Article

Please read the important Introduction that governs your participation in this community. Inappropriate language will not be tolerated and posts containing such language will be deleted. Otherwise, this is a free speech Forum and all are welcome!

function ValidatePostText_main () {
form = document.addPostForm_main;
var recaptcha = $("#g-recaptcha-response").val();
if (recaptcha === "") {
event.preventDefault();
alert("The reCaptcha Box below must be checked before you submit the form");
}
else if (form.postText_main.value == '') {
alert ("The post contains no text");
return false;
}
else {
return true;
}
}

**Your name:**
(optional)

Recent Comments

read all article comments

Please read the important Introduction that governs your participation in this community. Inappropriate language will not be tolerated and posts containing such language will be deleted. Otherwise, this is a free speech Forum and all are welcome!

Please enter the text of your post, then click the "Submit New Post" button below. You may also optionally add file attachments below before submitting your edits.

HTML tags are not permitted in posts, and will automatically be stripped out. Links to other web sites are permitted. For instructions on how to add links, please read the link help page.

You may use superscript (10

^{100}) and subscript (A_{2}) using [sup]...[/sup] and [sub]...[/sub] tags.You may use bold (

**important**) and italics (*emphasize*) using [b]...[/b] and [i]...[/i] tags.You may also include LateX equations into your post.

Insert LaTeX Equation
[hide]

LaTeX equations may be displayed in FQXi Forum posts by including them within [equation]...[/equation] tags. You may type your equation directly into your post, or use the LaTeX Equation Preview feature below to see how your equation will render (this is recommended).

For more help on LaTeX, please see the LaTeX Project Home Page.

LaTeX Equation Preview

preview equation

clear equation

insert equation into post at cursor

LaTeX equations may be displayed in FQXi Forum posts by including them within [equation]...[/equation] tags. You may type your equation directly into your post, or use the LaTeX Equation Preview feature below to see how your equation will render (this is recommended).

For more help on LaTeX, please see the LaTeX Project Home Page.

LaTeX Equation Preview

preview equation

clear equation

insert equation into post at cursor

Attachments
[hide]

You may optionally attach up to two documents to your post. To add an attachment, use the following feature to browse your computer and select the file to attach. The maximum file size for attachments is 1MB.

Once you're done adding file attachments, click the "Submit New Post" button to add your post.

You may optionally attach up to two documents to your post. To add an attachment, use the following feature to browse your computer and select the file to attach. The maximum file size for attachments is 1MB.

Once you're done adding file attachments, click the "Submit New Post" button to add your post.

ANONYMOUS wrote on November 8, 2013

Baggott[Farewell to Reality: How Fairy-Tale Physics Has Betrayed The Search For Scientific Truth] and even more spot-on Unzicker-Jones[Bankrupting Physics: How Top Scientists Are Gambling Away Their Credibility] critiques shame physics’ shameless rock-star media-hype P.R. spin-doctoring veracity-abandoning touting sci-fi “show-biz” trending viral exacerbated by online social networks veritable diarrhea via proliferation of uncritical “pop-sci” science-writers where all is spectacle...

Baggott[Farewell to Reality: How Fairy-Tale Physics Has Betrayed The Search For Scientific Truth] and even more spot-on Unzicker-Jones[Bankrupting Physics: How Top Scientists Are Gambling Away Their Credibility] critiques shame physics’ shameless rock-star media-hype P.R. spin-doctoring veracity-abandoning touting sci-fi “show-biz” trending viral exacerbated by online social networks veritable diarrhea via proliferation of uncritical “pop-sci” science-writers where all is spectacle...

NUNO OLIVEIRA wrote on April 4, 2012

As regards my Computer Program, I could say that, in an Open environment, where Determinism is the only acting force, that alternative probabilistic theory - which might violate the 2nd law of thermodynamics (increase of entropy as defined by a regular sense of time compass - which is mentioned in the article is probably the exception that confirms the fact: that of the entire pertinence of quantum mechanics to explain reality. How? Determinism seems (scientifically speaking) to be far away from...

As regards my Computer Program, I could say that, in an Open environment, where Determinism is the only acting force, that alternative probabilistic theory - which might violate the 2nd law of thermodynamics (increase of entropy as defined by a regular sense of time compass - which is mentioned in the article is probably the exception that confirms the fact: that of the entire pertinence of quantum mechanics to explain reality. How? Determinism seems (scientifically speaking) to be far away from...

MICHAEL J. BURNS wrote on March 15, 2012

What I have found from mathematical and analytical study (thanks to Spinoza and Leibniz) is that the mathematical system which constitutes a physical theory must have a single premise as well as a lock in theorem for its subject matter to be prominently and reliably true.

Pure spacetime, Einstein-Davis and Kaluza-Klein theory, has a single premise - the reliability of the metric.It also has a lock in theorem, the Bianchi identities. So denizens of spacetime cannot directly experience a...

What I have found from mathematical and analytical study (thanks to Spinoza and Leibniz) is that the mathematical system which constitutes a physical theory must have a single premise as well as a lock in theorem for its subject matter to be prominently and reliably true.

Pure spacetime, Einstein-Davis and Kaluza-Klein theory, has a single premise - the reliability of the metric.It also has a lock in theorem, the Bianchi identities. So denizens of spacetime cannot directly experience a...

read all article comments