Tuesday, January 8, 2013

New poll on quantum mechanics

Maximilian Schlosshauer, Johannes Kofler, Anton Zeilinger have posted A Snapshot of Foundational Attitudes Toward Quantum Mechanics:
Foundational investigations in quantum mechanics, both experimental and theoretical, gave birth to the field of quantum information science. Nevertheless, the foundations of quantum mechanics themselves remain hotly debated in the scientific community, and no consensus on essential questions has been reached. Here, we present the results of a poll carried out among 33 participants of a conference on the foundations of quantum mechanics. The participants completed a questionnaire containing 16 multiple-choice questions probing opinions on quantum-foundational issues. Participants included physicists, philosophers, and mathematicians. We describe our findings, identify commonly held views, and determine strong, medium, and weak correlations between the answers. Our study provides a unique snapshot of current views in the field of quantum foundations, as well as an analysis of the relationships between these views. ...

The statements that found the support of a majority -- i.e., answers checked by more than half of the participants -- were, in order of the number of votes received:
1. Quantum information is a breath of fresh air for quantum foundations (76%).
2. Superpositions of macroscopically distinct states are in principle possible (67%).
3. Randomness is a fundamental concept in nature (64%).
4. Einstein's view of quantum theory is wrong (64%).
5. The message of the observed violations of Bell's inequalities is that local realism is untenable (64%).
6. Personal philosophical prejudice plays a large role in the choice of interpretation (58%).
7. The observer plays a fundamental role in the application of the formalism but plays no distin-guished physical role (55%).
8. Physical objects have their properties well defined prior to and independent of measurement in some cases (52%).
9. The message of the observed violations of Bell's inequalities is that unperformed measurements have no results (52%). ...

Yet, nearly 90 years after the theory's development, there is still no consensus in the scientific community regarding the interpretation of the theory's foundational building blocks. Our poll is an urgent reminder of this peculiar situation
Don't take the percentages too seriously -- apparently some people have two different ideas for the message of the Bell experiments.

Update: See Lumo and John Preskill for additional opinions. My take-away is that there is still no consensus on matters that I thought were settled 80 years ago.

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