The time asymmetry of quantum mechanics and concepts of physical directionality of time Part 1


This is Part 1 of a four part paper, intended to redress some of the most fundamental confusions in the subject of physical time directionality, and represent the concepts accurately. There are widespread fallacies in the subject that need to be corrected in introductory courses for physics students and philosophers. We start in Part 1 by analysing the time reversal symmetry of quantum probability laws. Time reversal symmetry is defined as the property of invariance under the time reversal transformation, T: t --> -t. It is shown that quantum mechanics (classical or relativistic) is strongly time asymmetric in its probability laws. This contradicts the orthodox analysis, found throughout the conventional literature on physical time, which claims that quantum mechanics is time symmetric or reversible. This is widely claimed as settled scientific fact, and large philosophical and scientific conclusions are drawn from it. But it is an error. The fact is that while quantum mechanics is widely claimed to be reversible on the basis of two formal mathematical properties (that it does have), these properties do not represent invariance under the time reversal transformation. A recent experiment (Batalhão at alia, 2015) showing irreversibility of quantum thermodynamics is discussed as an illustration of this result. Most physicists remain unaware of the errors, decades after they were first demonstrated. Orthodox specialists in the philosophy of time who are aware of the error continue to refer to the ‘time symmetry’ or ‘reversibility’ of quantum mechanics anyway – and exploit the ambiguity to claim false implications about physical time reversal symmetry in nature. The excuse for perpetrating the confusion is that, since it is has now become customary to refer to the formal properties of quantum mechanics as ‘reversibility’ or ‘time reversal symmetry’, we should just keep referring to them by this name, even though they are not time reversal symmetry. This causes endless confusion, in attempts to explain the physical irreversibility of our universe, and in philosophical discussions of implications of physics for the nature of time. The failure of genuine time reversal symmetry in quantum mechanics changes the interpretation of modern physics in a deep way. It changes the problem of explaining the real irreversibility found throughout nature.

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