Part 1

Quantum Theory is Wrong

I reject the basic idea of quantum theory. I do not believe that it will be useful for physics.

Born, Pauli, Heitler, Bohr, and Margenau are all firmly convinced that the riddle of the double nature of all corpuscles (corpuscular and undulatory character) has its final solution in the statistical quantum theory.

They believe that=

  • Heisenberg’s indeterminacy-relation is essentially prejudicial in favour of the character of all thinkable reasonable physical theories in the mentioned sense.

I believe that quantum theory has an incomplete description of physical systems.

Quantum theory is the only one which unites the corpuscular and undulatory dual character of matter in a logically satisfactory fashion.

But I dont like the way that it completely describes any (individual) real situation as it supposedly exists irrespective of any act of observation.

Whenever the positivistically inclined modern physicist hears such a formulation his reaction is that of a pitying smile.

He says to himself: “there we have the naked formulation of a metaphysical prejudice, empty of content, a prejudice, moreover, the conquest of which constitutes the major epistemological achievement of physicists within the last 25 years. Has any man ever perceived a ‘real physical situation’?

How can a reasonable person still believe that he can refute our essential knowledge by drawing up such a bloodless ghost?” Patience!

The above laconic characterisation was not meant to convince anyone; it was merely to indicate the point of view around which the following elementary considerations freely group themselves. In doing this I shall proceed as follows= I shall first of all show in simple special cases what seems essential to me, and then I shall make a few remarks about some more general ideas which are involved.

Let us assume a radioactive atom of definite average decay time at a specific location. It emits a lighter particle. By following Gamow, we replace the rest of the atom by a space of atomic order of magnitude, surrounded by a closed potential energy barrier which, at a time t = 0, encloses the particle to be emitted.

In elementary quantum mechanics this is designated by a Psi-function in 3 dimensions, which at the time t= 0 is different from 0 only inside of the barrier, but which, for positive times, expands into the outer space.

This Psi-function yields the probability that the particle, at some chosen instant, is actually in a chosen part of space (i.e., is actually found there by a measurement of position).

On the other hand, the Psi-function does not imply any assertion concerning the time instant of the disintegration of the radioactive atom.

Is this theoretical description the complete description of the disintegration of an atom? No.

An atom decays at a definite time. However, such a definite time-value is not implied in the description by the Psi-function.

If the individual atom has a definite disintegration time, then as regards the individual atom its description by means of the Psi-function must be interpreted as an incomplete description.

In this case, the Psi-function is to be taken as the description, not of a singular system, but of an ideal ensemble of systems.

In this case one is driven to the conviction that a complete description of a single system should, after all, be possible, but for such complete description there is no room in the conceptual world of statistical quantum theory.

The quantum theorist will reply:

“This consideration stands and falls with the assertion that there actually is such a thing as a definite time of disintegration of the individual atom (an instant of time existing independently of any observation). But this assertion is, from my point of view, not merely arbitrary but actually meaningless. The assertion of the existence of a definite time-instant for the disintegration makes sense only if I can in principle determine this time-instant empirically.”

Such an assertion, however, (which, finally, leads to the attempt to prove the existence of the particle outside of the force barrier), involves a definite disturbance of the system in which we are interested, so that the result of the determination does not permit a conclusion concerning the status of the undisturbed system.

The supposition, therefore, that a radioactive atom has a definite disintegration-time is not justified by anything whatsoever; it is, therefore, not demonstrated either that the Psi-function can not be conceived as a complete description of the individual system. The entire alleged difficulty proceeds from the fact that one postulates something not observable as “real.” (This the answer of the quantum theorist.)

I dislike this basic positivistic attitude because I think it is untenable. It is the same thing as Berkeley’s principle, esse est percipi. “Being” is always something which is mentally constructed by us, that is, something which we freely posit.

The justification of such constructs does not lie in their derivation from what is given by the senses. Such a type of derivation (in the sense of logical deducibility) is nowhere to be had, not even in the domain of pre-scientific thinking.

The justification of the constructs, which represent “reality” for us, lies alone in their quality of making intelligible what is sensorily given (the vague character of this expression is here forced upon me by my striving for brevity). Applied to the specifically chosen example this consideration tells us the following=

One may not merely ask= “Does a definite time instant for the transformation of a single atom exist?” but rather= “Is it, within the framework of our theoretical total construction, reasonable to posit the existence of a definite point of time for the transformation of a single atom?” One may not even ask what this assertion means. One can only ask whether such a proposition, within the framework of the chosen conceptual system — with a view to its ability to grasp theoretically what is empirically given — is reasonable or not.

A theoretical quantum physicist believes that the description by means of a Psi-function refers only to an ideal systematic totality and not to the individual system.

  • He may calmly assume a definite point of time for the transformation.

But if he represents this Psi-function as the complete description of the individual system, then he must reject the postulation of a specific decay-time.

  • To him, a determination of the instant of disintegration is impossible on an isolated system.
  • But it would require disturbances of such a character that they must not be neglected in the critical examination of the situation.

For example, it would be impossible to conclude from the empirical statement:

  • that the transformation has already taken place, and
  • that this would have been the case if the disturbances of the system had not taken place.

E. Schrödinger first called attention to a modification of this consideration. It shows an interpretation of this type to be impracticable.

Rather than considering a system which comprises only a radioactive atom (and its process of transformation), one considers a system which includes also the means for ascertaining the radioactive transformation — for example, a Geiger-counter with automatic registration-mechanism.

Let this latter include a registration-strip, moved by a clockwork, upon which a mark is made by tripping the counter.

From the point of view of quantum mechanics:

  • this total system is very complex
  • its configuration space is of very high dimension.

But there is in principle no objection to treating this entire system from the standpoint of quantum mechanics.

Here too the theory determines the probability of each configuration of all its co-ordinates for every time instant. If one considers all configurations of the coordinates, for a time large compared with the average decay time of the radioactive atom, there will be (at most) one such registration-mark on the paper strip.

To each coordinate configuration corresponds a definite position of the mark on the paper strip. But, inasmuch as the theory yields only the relative probability of the thinkable co-ordinate-configurations, it also offers only relative probabilities for the positions of the mark on the paper strip, but no definite location for this mark.

In this consideration the location of the mark on the strip plays the role played in the original consideration by the time of the disintegration. The reason for the introduction of the system supplemented by the registration-mechanism lies in the following.

The location of the mark on the registration-strip is a fact which belongs entirely within the sphere of macroscopic concepts, in contradistinction to the instant of disintegration of a single atom. If we attempt [to work with] the interpretation that the quantum-theoretical description is to be understood as a complete description of the individual system, we are forced to the interpretation that the location of the mark on the strip is nothing which belongs to the system per se, but that the existence of that location is essentially dependent upon the carrying out of an observation made on the registration-strip.

Such an interpretation is certainly by no means absurd from a purely logical standpoint, yet there is hardly likely to be anyone who would be inclined to consider it seriously. For, in the macroscopic sphere it simply is considered certain that one must adhere to the program of a realistic description in space and time; whereas in the sphere of microscopic situations one is more readily inclined to give up, or at least to modify, this program.

  • If one maintains that quantum theory can completely describe a physical system, then it leads to very implausible theoretical conceptions.
  • But if one maintains that the quantum-mechanical description is the description of ensembles of systems, then those difficulties of theoretical interpretation disappear


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