The Minimal Modal Interpretation of Quantum Theory


We introduce a realist, unextravagant interpretation of quantum theory that builds on the existing physical structure of the theory and allows experiments to have definite outcomes but leaves the theory’s basic dynamical content essentially intact. Much as classical systems have specific states that evolve along definite trajectories through configuration spaces, the traditional formulation of quantum theory permits assuming that closed quantum systems have specific states that evolve unitarily along definite trajectories through Hilbert spaces, and our interpretation extends this intuitive picture of states and Hilbert-space trajectories to the more realistic case of open quantum systems despite the generic development of entanglement. We provide independent justification for the partial-trace operation for density matrices, reformulate wave-function collapse in terms of an underlying interpolating dynamics, derive the Born rule from deeper principles, resolve several open questions regarding ontological stability and dynamics, address a number of familiar no-go theorems, and argue that our interpretation is ultimately compatible with Lorentz invariance. Along the way, we also investigate a number of unexplored features of quantum theory, including an interesting geometrical structure—which we call subsystem space—that we believe merits further study. We conclude with a summary, a list of criteria for future work on quantum foundations, and further research directions. We include an appendix that briefly reviews the traditional Copenhagen interpretation and the measurement problem of quantum theory, as well as the instrumentalist approach and a collection of foundational theorems not otherwise discussed in the main text.

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Jacob Barandes
Harvard University


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