Quantum Superpositions and the Representation of Physical Reality Beyond Measurement Outcomes and Mathematical Structures

Foundations of Science 23 (4):621-648 (2016)
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Abstract

In this paper we intend to discuss the importance of providing a physical representation of quantum superpositions which goes beyond the mere reference to mathematical structures and measurement outcomes. This proposal goes in the opposite direction to the project present in orthodox contemporary philosophy of physics which attempts to “bridge the gap” between the quantum formalism and common sense “classical reality”—precluding, right from the start, the possibility of interpreting quantum superpositions through non-classical notions. We will argue that in order to restate the problem of interpretation of quantum mechanics in truly ontological terms we require a radical revision of the problems and definitions addressed within the orthodox literature. On the one hand, we will discuss the need of providing a formal redefinition of superpositions which captures explicitly their contextual character. On the other hand, we will attempt to replace the focus on the measurement problem, which concentrates on the justification of measurement outcomes from “weird” superposed states, and introduce the superposition problem which focuses instead on the conceptual representation of superpositions themselves. In this respect, after presenting three necessary conditions for objective physical representation, we will provide arguments which show why the classical representation of physics faces severe difficulties to solve the superposition problem. Finally, we will also argue that, if we are willing to abandon the presupposition according to which ‘Actuality = Reality’, then there is plenty of room to construct a conceptual representation for quantum superpositions.

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