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Everyone knows that quantum mechanics is an odd theory, but they don’t necessarily know why. The usual story is that it’s the quantum world itself that’s odd, with its superpositions, uncertainty and entanglement (the mysterious interdependence of observed particle states). All the theory does is reflect that innate peculiarity, right?

Not really. Quantum mechanics became a strange kind of theory not with Werner Heisenberg’s famous uncertainty principle in 1927, nor when Albert Einstein and two colleagues identified (and Erwin Schrödinger named) entanglement in 1935. It happened in 1926, thanks to a proposal from the German physicist Max Born. Born suggested that the right way to interpret the wavy nature of quantum particles was as waves of probability. The wave equation presented by Schrödinger the previous year, Born said, was basically a piece of mathematical machinery for calculating the chances of observing a particular outcome in an experiment.

In other words, Born’s rule connects quantum theory to experiment. It is what makes quantum mechanics a scientific theory at all, able to make predictions that can be tested. “The Born rule is the crucial link between the abstract mathematical objects of quantum theory and the world of experience,” said Lluís Masanes of University College London.

The problem is that Born’s rule was not really more than a smart guess — there was no fundamental reason that led Born to propose it. “It was an intuition without a precise justification,” said Adán Cabello, a quantum theorist at the University of Seville in Spain. “But it worked.” And yet for the past 90 years and more, no one has been able to explain why.

Without that knowledge, it remains hard to figure out what quantum mechanics is telling us about the nature of reality. “Understanding the Born rule is important as a way to understand the picture of the world implicit in quantum theory,” said Giulio Chiribella of the University of Hong Kong, an expert on quantum foundations.

Several researchers have attempted to derive the Born rule from more fundamental principles, but none of those derivations have been widely accepted. Now Masanes and his collaborators Thomas Galley of the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, Canada, and Markus Müller of the Institute for Quantum Optics and Quantum Information in Vienna have proposed a new way to pull it out of deeper axioms about quantum theory, an approach that might explain how, more generally, quantum mechanics connects to experiment through the process of measurement.

“We derive all the properties of measurements in quantum theory: what the questions are, what the answers are, and what the probability of answers occurring are,” Masanes said.

To read more, click here.

Category: Science