Reconstructing Reality: Environment-Induced Decoherence, the Measurement Problem, and the Emergence of Definiteness in Quantum Mechanics

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Janssen, Hanneke
preprint description
This work is a critique of the program of "environment-induced decoherence" as advocated by Zurek, Zeh and Joos, among others. In particular, the alleged relevance of decoherence for a solution of the "measurement problem" is subjected to a detailed philosophical analysis. In the first chapter, an attempt is made to unravel what exactly this "measurement problem" amounts to for the decoherence theorists. The second chapter reviews the standard decoherence literature. The third chapter starts with a brief discussion of the philosophical implications of the decoherence program, followed by a non-standard reconstruction of the decoherence argument that aims to uncover some (mostly hidden) assumptions underlying the approach. It is argued that different subsets of these assumptions result in different versions of the decoherence argument. Next, these assumptions are investigated in more detail, and a number of open problems for the decoherence approach is formulated, in addition to the well-known "problem of outcomes". These problems concern the interpretational relevance of the preferred basis, the role and status of the ignorance interpretation of mixed states, imperfect decoherence and the role of the environment and the definition of subsystems. The fourth chapter addresses the question to what extent the embedding of decoherence in an Everett-like interpretational framework, such as Zurek's "existentional interpretation" and Wallace's structural-realistic version of the many-worlds interpretation, helps to resolve these problems. The main conclusions are formulated in the fifth chapter. Namely: 1) decoherence cannot address the "preferred-basis problem" without adding new interpretational axioms to the standard formalism, 2) the the locality principle (that says that the environment is the "irrelevant" part and should therefore be ignored) is not only problematic but also interpretationally superfluous, 3) the decoherence approach, when formulated in terms of the standard interpretation of quantum mechanics, is predicated on a solution of the "problem of outcomes" and thus cannot claim to account (even partially) for the latter, and 4) that the results of the decoherence program do not increase the plausibility of a realist interpretation of the quantum state.