Time and the Foundations of Quantum Mechanics

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Department of History and Philosophy of Science

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Pashby, Thomas
University of Pittsburgh
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Quantum mechanics has provided philosophers of science with many counterintuitive insights and interpretive puzzles, but little has been written about the role that time plays in the theory. One reason for this is the celebrated argument of Wolfgang Pauli against the inclusion of time as an observable of the theory, which has been seen as a demonstration that time may only enter the theory as a classical parameter. Against this orthodoxy I argue that there are good reasons to expect certain kinds of 'time observables' to find a representation within quantum theory, including clock operators (which provide the means to measure the passage of time) and event time operators, which provide predictions for the time at which a particular event occurs, such as the appearance of a dot on a luminescent screen. I contend that these time operators deserve full status as observables of the theory, and on reflection provide a uniquely compelling reason to expand the set of observables allowed by the standard formalism of quantum mechanics. In addition, I provide a novel association of event time operators with conditional probabilities, and propose a temporally extended form of quantum theory to better accommodate the time of an event as an observable quantity. This leads to a proposal to interpret quantum theory within an event ontology, inspired by Bertrand Russell's Analysis of Matter. On this basis I mount a defense of Russell's relational theory of time against a recent attack.