The problem of properties in quantum mechanics

Topoi 10 (1):27-34 (1991)
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The properties of classical and quantum systems are characterized by different algebraic structures. We know that the properties of a quantum mechanical system form a partial Boolean algebra not embeddable into a Boolean algebra, and so cannot all be co-determinate. We also know that maximal Boolean subalgebras of properties can be (separately) co-determinate. Are there larger subsets of properties that can be co-determinate without contradiction? Following an analysis of Bohrs response to the Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen objection to the complementarity interpretation of quantum mechanics, a principled argument is developed justifying the selection of particular subsets of properties as co-determinate for a quantum system in particular physical contexts. These subsets are generated by sets of maximal Boolean subalgebras, defined in each case by the relation between the quantum state and a measurement (possibly, but not necessarily, the measurement in terms of which we seek to establish whether or not a particular property of the system in question obtains). If we are required to interpret quantum mechanics in this way, then predication for quantum systems is quite unlike the corresponding notion for classical systems.



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Jeffrey Bub
University of Maryland, College Park