How is spontaneous symmetry breaking possible?

Publication Year:
2011
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Repository URL:
http://philsci-archive.pitt.edu/id/eprint/9860
Author(s):
Baker, David John; Halvorson, Hans
preprint description
We pose and resolve a puzzle about spontaneous symmetry breaking in the quantum theory of infinite systems. For a symmetry to be spontaneously broken, it must not be implementable by a unitary operator in a ground state's GNS representation. But Wigner's theorem guarantees that any symmetry's action on states is given by a unitary operator. How can this unitary operator fail to implement the symmetry in the GNS representation? We show how it is possible for a unitary operator of this sort to connect the folia of unitarily inequivalent representations. This result undermines interpretations of quantum theory that hold unitary equivalence to be necessary for physical equivalence.