Hidden variable theory

Hidden variable theory

Historically, in physics, hidden variable theories were espoused by a minority of physicists who argued that the statistical nature of quantum mechanics indicated that quantum mechanics is "incomplete". Albert Einstein, the most famous proponent of hidden variables, insisted that, "I am convinced God does not play dice" [private letter to Max Born, 4 December, 1926, [http://www.alberteinstein.info/db/ViewDetails.do?DocumentID=38009 Albert Einstein Archives] reel 8, item 180] — meaning that he believed that physical theories must be deterministic to be complete. [Einstein, A., Podolsky, B. and Rosen, N. (1935) [http://prola.aps.org/abstract/PR/v47/i10/p777_1 Can Quantum-Mechanical Description of Physical Reality Be Considered Complete?] , "Phys. Rev." 47, 777-780] Later, Bell's theorem would prove (in the opinion of most physicists and contrary to Einstein's assertion) that local hidden variables are impossible. It was thought that if hidden variables exist, new physical phenomena beyond quantum mechanics are needed to explain the universe as we know it.

The most famous such theory (because it gives the same answers as quantum mechanics, thus invalidating the famous theorem by von Neumann that no hidden variable theory reproducing the statistical predictions of QM is possible) is that of David Bohm, also known as the Causal Interpretation of quantum mechanics. Bohm's (nonlocal) hidden variable is called the quantum potential. Nowadays Bohm's theory is considered to be one of many interpretations of quantum mechanics which give a philosophical or realist interpretation, and not merely a positivistic one, to quantum-mechanical calculations. It is in fact just a reformulation of conventional quantum mechanics obtained by rearranging the equations and renaming the variables. Nevertheless it "is" a hidden variable theory.

The major reference for Bohm's theory today is his posthumous book with Basil Hiley [D.Bohm and B.J.Hiley, The Undivided Universe, Routledge, 1993, ISBN 0-415-06588-7.] .


Quantum mechanics is nondeterministic, meaning that it generally does not predict the outcome of any measurement with certainty. Instead, it tells us what the probabilities of the outcomes are. This leads to the situation where measurements of a certain property done on two "identical" systems can give different answers. The question arises whether there might be some deeper reality hidden beneath quantum mechanics, to be described by a more fundamental theory that can always predict the outcome of each measurement with certainty.

In other words, quantum mechanics as it stands "might be" an incomplete description of reality. Some physicists maintain that underlying the probabilistic nature of the universe is an objective foundation/property — the hidden variable. Others, however, believe that there is no deeper reality in quantum mechanics — experiments have shown a vast class of hidden variable theories to be incompatible with observations.

Although determinism was initially a major motivation for physicists looking for hidden variable theories, nondeterministic theories trying to explain what the supposed reality underlying the quantum mechanics formalism looks like are also considered hidden variable theories; for example Edward Nelson's stochastic mechanics.

EPR Paradox & Bell's Theorem

In 1935, Einstein, Podolsky and Rosen wrote a four-page paper titled "Can quantum-mechanical description of physical reality be considered complete?" that argued that such a theory was in fact necessary, proposing the EPR Paradox as proof. In 1964, John Bell showed through his famous theorem that if local hidden variables exist, certain experiments could be performed where the result would satisfy a Bell inequality. If, on the other hand, Quantum entanglement is correct the Bell inequality would be violated. Another no-go theorem concerning hidden variable theories is the Kochen-Specker theorem.

Physicists such as Alain Aspect and Paul Kwiat have performed experiments that have found violations of these inequalities up to 242 standard deviations [Kwiat, P. G., "et al." (1999) Ultrabright source of polarization-entangled photons, "Physical Review A" 60, R773-R776] (excellent scientific certainty). This rules out local hidden variable theories, but does not rule out non-local ones (which would refute quantum entanglement). Theoretically, there could be experimental problems that affect the validity of the experimental findings.

Some hidden-variable theories

A hidden-variable theory which is consistent with quantum mechanics would have to be non-local, maintaining the existence of instantaneous or faster than light "non"causal relations (correlations) between physically separated entities. The first hidden-variable theory was the pilot wave theory of Louis de Broglie, dating from the late 1920s. The currently best-known hidden-variable theory, the Causal Interpretation, of the physicist and philosopher David Bohm, created in 1952, is a non-local hidden variable theory. Those who believe the Bohm interpretation to be actually true (rather than a mere model or interpretation), and the quantum potential to be real, refer to "Bohmian mechanics".

What Bohm did, on the basis of an idea of Louis de Broglie, was to posit "both" the quantum particle, e.g. an electron, and a hidden 'guiding wave' that governs its motion. Thus, in this theory electrons are quite clearly particles. When you perform a double-slit experiment (see wave-particle duality), they go through one slit rather than the other. However, their choice of slit is not random but is governed by the guiding wave, resulting in the wave pattern that is observed.

Such a view does not contradict the idea of local events that is used in both classical atomism and relativity theory as Bohm's theory (and indeed quantum mechanics, with which it is exactly equivalent) are still locally causal but allow nonlocal correlations (that is information travel is still restricted to the speed of light). It points to a view of a more holistic, mutually interpenetrating and interacting world. Indeed Bohm himself stressed the holistic aspect of quantum theory in his later years, when he became interested in the ideas of Jiddu Krishnamurti. The Bohm interpretation (as well as others) has also been the basis of some books which attempt to connect physics with Eastern mysticism and consciousness. Nevertheless this nonlocality is seen as a weakness of Bohm's theory by some physicists.

Another possible weakness of Bohm's theory is that some feel that it looks contrived. It was deliberately designed to give predictions which are in all details identical to conventional quantum mechanics. Bohm's aim was not to make a serious counterproposal but simply to demonstrate that hidden-variable theories are indeed possible. His hope was that this could lead to new insights and experiments that would lead beyond the current quantum theories.

Another type of deterministic theory ['t Hooft, G. (1999) [http://xxx.lanl.gov/abs/gr-qc/9903084 Quantum Gravity as a Dissipative Deterministic System] , "Class. Quant. Grav." 16, 3263-3279] was recently introduced by Gerard 't Hooft. This theory is motivated by the problems that are encountered when one tries to formulate a unified theory of quantum gravity.


ee also

* Local hidden variable theory
* Bell's theorem
* Bell test experiments
* Quantum mechanics
* Bohm interpretation

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