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

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

PACS numbers: 01.70.+w and 03.65.Ud

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
( 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
An observable is a property of a system that can be
determined by a sequence of operations performed on the
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]
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.
The operator x represents position and the operator
p = (h i )(∂ ∂x ) represents momentum. Note, [x, p] = ih ,
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.
J. Phy334 1, Art#11 (2007). Publication date

different systems as if the measurements were “By allowing an essentially uncontrollable

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

on these variables to give rise to the observed

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.

Acknowledgements – I would like to thank Neil

Sinclair and Dr. Shohini Ghose for the insightful
discussions which helped me better understand this
topic and Quantum Mechanics in general.

[1] A. Einstein, B. Podolsky, and N. Rosen, Phys. Rev. 47,

777 (1935).
[2] N. Bohr, Phys. Rev. 48, 696 (1935)
[3] Malone, Michael, Michigan State University,
[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] – EPR Paradox
[7] – 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