Measurement problem

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The measurement problem in quantum mechanics is the problem of how (or whether) wave function collapse occurs. The inability to observe this process directly has given rise to different interpretations of quantum mechanics, and poses a key set of questions that each interpretation must answer. The wave function in quantum mechanics evolves deterministically according to the Schrödinger equation as a linear superposition of different states, but actual measurements always find the physical system in a definite state. Any future evolution is based on the state the system was discovered to be in when the measurement was made, meaning that the measurement "did something" to the system that is not obviously a consequence of Schrödinger evolution.


  • The problem of measurement and the observer is the problem of where the measurement begins and ends, and where the observer begins and ends. Consider my spectacles, for example: if I take them off now, how far away must I put them before they are part of the object rather than part of the observer? There are problems like this all the way from the retina through the optic nerve to the brain and so on. I think, that—when you analyze this language that the physicists have fallen into, that physics is about the results of observations—you find that on analysis it evaporates, and nothing very clear is being said.
    • John S. Bell, in P.C.W. Davies, J.R. Brown (eds.), The Ghost in the Atom: A Discussion of the Mysteries of Quantum Physics (1993)

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