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A review article I wrote for my quantum mechanics course on the original paper published by EPR in 1935 and Neils Bohrs response.

A review article I wrote for my quantum mechanics course on the original paper published by EPR in 1935 and Neils Bohrs response.

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A Review:

"Can Quantum-Mechanical Description of Physical Reality be Considered Complete?"

A. Einstein, B. Podolsky, and N. Rosen vs. N. Bohr

J. Hilts

Department of Physics and Computer Science, Wilfrid Laurier University, Waterloo, ON, Canada N2L 3C5

(July 26, 2007; published date)

The EPR paradox is a thought experiment which was first introduced by A. Einstein, B.

Podolsky, and N. Rosen through a paper with the above title.[1] Einstein, Podolsky, and Rosen,

collectively known as EPR, used philosophical arguments based on locality, realism, and

counterfactual definiteness to prove by contradiction that the above question is in the negative.

One of the father’s of quantum mechanics, Neils Bohr, advocated the Copenhagen

interpretation of quantum mechanics. It is well known that N. Bohr and A. Einstein did not share

the same views regarding the interpretation of quantum mechanics and had many discussions

regarding the “nature of nature”.[3] It is then no surprise that Bohr refuted the results of EPR,

claiming an ambiguity in the assumptions made by EPR regarding the “criterion of physical

reality”.

AS the theory of quantum mechanics was following example I shall explain the concept of

being developed, the philosophy surrounding it entanglement [Figure 2]: Suppose Alice, Bob,

was the focus of many debates and discussions. and Charlie would like to conduct an

The implications of a statistical universe did not experiment using two spin-1/2 particles

sit well with many physicists, made famous by prepared in the singlet state: 2

Albert Einstein’s quote, “God does not play

dice.” [Figure 1] He believed for every 00 = 1

2

( 01 − 10 ) (1)

measured value of an observable, the observable

had that value before the measurement took

These particles can be in either the spin up state,

place. 1 How do you know if the particle really

did have that value before the measurement? 0 , or the spin down state, 1 , represented by

The Copenhagen, or orthodox, interpretation of the observables v z+ and v z− , respectively. In this

quantum mechanics regards this question as case spin can only be measured along the z-axis.

meaningless.[4] Physicists who hold this view Now suppose Alice and Bob are spatially

claim that the particle did not have any value separated and Charlie prepares these two

before the measurement; it was the act of particles in some manner (it doesn’t matter how

measurement which made the particle “choose” just as long as he can reproduce the

a value. That is, the wave function describing experimental procedure [5]) and sends one

the particle collapsed into a particular state. towards Alice, call it u1, and one towards Bob,

Even stranger than how and why the particle call it u2. Alice and Bob then make one

did not have a value (which is still in debate [4]) measurement on their particles at the exact same

is the concept of an entangled state. Using the time; it turns out that no matter what value Alice

gets when she measures u1, Bob will always get

1

An observable is a property of a system that can be

determined by a sequence of operations performed on the

2

system. Every observable in Quantum Mechanics has an Refers to two or more particles prepared in a correlated

associated operator. See footnote 4. state, such that their total angular momentum is zero.[7]

JOURNAL OF PHY334

J. Phy334 1, Art#11 (2007). Publication date

the opposite value for his measurement. Thus, EPR used a similar thought experiment to the

Alice can predict with certainty what value Bob one above by noting that (classically), at any

will get, and vice versa. How did Bob’s particle given time, we know both the relative position

know what value Alice’s particle had at the time of the particles to one another, x1-x2, and the

of measurement? This result was dubbed total angular momentum of the system, p1+p2.

“spooky action at a distance” by Einstein, but is Note that x1-x2 and p1+p2 are commutable. 4 [8]

formally known as non-locality. 3 This result Suppose now that Alice and Bob can measure

demonstrates the quantum mechanical either the position of their particle, x1 and x2, or

phenomenon known as Quantum Entanglement; the momentum, p1 and p2, respectively, along

the quantum states of two or more objects have the z-axis. Since x and p are non-commuting

to be described with reference to each other.[8] operators, a state describing both of these

Entanglement is proving to be very useful for observables cannot possess a definite value for

Quantum Computation and Quantum each operator. 5 If Alice decides to measure x,

Information as it realizes information processing then from the above example we know with

tasks which are impossible or much more certainty the value of x for Bob’s particle, and

difficult with classical resources.[5] hence it is an element of physical reality.

Similarly, if Alice decides to measure p, then we

know with certainty what the value of p will be

for Bob’s particle. Since we cannot know both

the x and p with certainty, Alice’s decision to

measure the position or momentum has an

instantaneous effect on the elements of physical

reality at Bob’s location.[6]

EPR stated that if two systems were prepared

to be identical and in one of which Alice

measured x1 and in the other p1, one could

simultaneously know both the position and the

momentum of both particles. This obviously

violates the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle 6 ,

FIG. 1. A cartoon depicting the conflicting

views of Einstein and Bohr.

thus EPR “[were] forced to conclude that the

quantum mechanical description of physical

The fundamental arguments of EPR are based reality given by wave functions is not

on (1) the elements of physical reality and (2) complete.”[1]

the completeness of quantum mechanical theory. Neils Bohr did not agree with these results,

Even though EPRs argument is philosophical in stating that one cannot use the results from two

nature they fail to address what the elements of

physical reality are in this context. They instead 4

Suppose we have two operators A and B. If the

make the assumption that if without in anyway commutator of A and B is non-zero, namely [A,B]=AB-

disturbing the system the value of a particle can BA≠0, then A and B cannot have simultaneous reality.

be known before measurement then that element The more precise we measure the value of A, the less

corresponds to an element of physical reality. precise we can know the value of B.

5

The operator x represents position and the operator

p = (h i )(∂ ∂x ) represents momentum. Note, [x, p] = ih ,

3

Refers to the possibility of instant interaction between which is known as the canonical commutator.

two distant particles. The Principal of Locality states that 6

ΔxΔp ≥ h 2 where Δx is the uncertainty in the

this is not possible and only a particle’s immediate

surroundings can influence it. position and Δp is the uncertainty in the momentum.

JOURNAL OF PHY334

J. Phy334 1, Art#11 (2007). Publication date

made on one system; the wave function momentum to pass from the first particle into

collapses into a specific state which describes the mentioned support, … we have by this

the system at the time of, say, measuring the procedure cut ourselves off from any future

position of particle, and hence changes the value possibility of applying the law of conservation

of the momentum of particle 1. He believed of momentum to the system consisting of the

that there was a possibility of non-local diaphragm and the two particles and therefore

interaction occurring between two particles, have lost our only basis for an unambiguous

something Einstein could never accept. application of the idea of momentum in

Bohr saw an ambiguity in the assumptions of predictions regarding the behavior of the second

the criterion describing the elements of reality particle. Conversely, if we choose to measure

given by EPR; how can a particle interact with a the momentum of one of the particles, we lose

system but not disturb it in anyway? 7 In through the uncontrollable displacement

response to this Bohr devised his own thought inevitable in such a measurement any possibility

experiment involving an apparatus comprised of of deducing from the behavior of this particle

two free particles and a rigid diaphragm with the position of the diaphragm relative to the rest

two parallel slits; through each of these slits one of the apparatus, and have thus no basis

particle with given initial momentum passes whatever for predictions regarding the location

independently of the other. We then have a free of the other particle.”[2]

choice to measure either the position or the With these results Bohr claimed that the

momentum after the particles have passed description of physical reality given by EPR

through the slit. was wrong. Their conclusion regarding the

If the momentum of the diaphragm is quantum mechanical incompleteness of the

measured before and after the passing of the description of reality is thus also false.

particles through the slits then one can

determine the total momentum of the two

particles perpendicular to the slits, as well as the

positions of the particles relative to one

another.[2] Thus, the measurement of the

momentum or position of one particle will

determine the momentum or position of the

other particle, respectively. We could define the

position of a particle to be nothing more then a

correlation between its behavior and some

apparatus which defines the space frame of

FIG. 2. A visual representation of the Alice,

reference. Bob, and Charlie experiment.

The conclusions Bohr drew from his

experiment he said best himself and so I quote: The conclusions of the EPR paper try to

resolve this paradox by stating that quantum

7

It is from this that Bohr describes a system as mechanics is merely a statistical approximation

complementary, which arises in a system when one of a more complete description of nature which

consider the circumstances under which one measures has yet to be discovered. In this more complete

properties of that system; Bohr noted that this implies

impossibility of any sharp separation between the

description there exist variables pertaining to

behavior of atomic objects and the interaction with the every element of physical reality. There must

measuring instruments which serve to define the be, however, some unknown mechanism acting

conditions under which the phenomena appear.[6]

JOURNAL OF PHY334

J. Phy334 1, Art#11 (2007). Publication date

effects of "non-commuting quantum

observables." Such a theory is called hidden

variable theory. [6]

John S. Bell derived a set of inequalities,

known as Bell Inequalities, which showed that

the predications of quantum mechanics through

the EPR thought experiment actually differed

from the predictions of various hidden variable

theories.[9] These predictions have much

stronger statistical correlations between

measurement results performed on different

axes than the hidden variable theories.[6] These

theories are generally non-local; recall the EPR

paper used locality as one of their arguments.

Today most physicists believe that the EPR

“paradox” is only a paradox because our

classical intuitions do not correspond to physical

reality in the realm of quantum mechanics.

Sinclair and Dr. Shohini Ghose for the insightful

discussions which helped me better understand this

topic and Quantum Mechanics in general.

777 (1935).

[2] N. Bohr, Phys. Rev. 48, 696 (1935)

[3] Malone, Michael, Michigan State University

www.msu.edu/user/malonemi/lbs333/quantum03.html,

1998.

[4] Griffiths, David J., Introduction to Quantum

Mechanics, Second Edition. New Jersey, 2005.

[5] Neilsen, Michael A. and Chuang, Isaac L., Quantum

Computation and Quantum Information. Cambridge

University Press, 2003.

[6] Wikipedia.org – EPR Paradox

[7] Wikipedia.org – Singlet State

[8] Peres, A., Quantum Theory – Concepts and Methods.

Kluwer Academic Publishers, New York, 2002.

[9] Bell, J. S. "On the Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen Paradox."

Physics 1, 195-200, 1964

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