interpretation of quantum mechanics, quantum measurement theory

The Idealistic Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics

It may be 25 years old, but Amit Goswami’s (Department of Physics and the Institute of Theoretical Science, University of Oregon) interpretations stand true today as they did then…


A paradox free interpretation of quantum mechanics is given using the philosophy of monistic idealism. This idealistic interpretation is developed as an ontological extension of the Copenhagen interpretation, and it is shown to correct the dualistic errors made by Wigner and others who have tried to invoke consciousness in quantum measurement theory. I also compare the idealistic interpretation with such realistic alternatives as the hidden variables theory or the many-worlds hypothesis that are closest to the present idea in spirit. The new interpretation leads to a new way of thinking about the mind-brain and our self-reference problems.


Quantum mechanics gives us a revolutionary view of reality, a view radically different from the deterministic, causal, continuous, and objective view of the world with which classical mechanics mesmerizes us. Quantum mechanics depicts the world of appearance as a succession of discontinuous events, and what’s more disconcerting to the classical physicist, it seems to say that no event is an event unless it is an observed event.(1) This appears to invite subjects, observers, into the affair of objects, the observed; and if subjects and objects get mixed up, then the traditional doctrine of strong objectivity – the observer independence of objects – doesn’t hold. And more recently Bell’s theorem(2) and Aspect’s experimental demonstration(3) of EPR-Bohm nonlocality(4) have challenged the doctrine of strong objectivity even further.

The subject-object mixing and nonlocality form the core of the quantum mechanical measurement problem. In the standard Copenhagen interpretation, the assumption of collapse of the wave function upon observation (the reduction postulate) is introduced in order to connect theory and experiment, but the question of what constitutes a measurement has been left unanswered. And in view of the EPR-Bohm nonlocality, the collapse is clearly nonlocal. The ontological implication of nonlocal collapse has not been studied.

Any explicit role of the subject is avoided in the standard interpretation, but the price is the baffling quantum/classical dichotomy. This dichotomy finds a straightforward resolution if we assume as von Neumann(5) and Wigner(6) have done, that consciousness, the observing subject, collapses the state function of a quantum system, not the “classical” measuring apparatus. Unfortunately, at least two major objections can be raised against the von Neumann-Wigner hypothesis. The first is the question of mind over matter, and the second is solipsism (see below).

Recently d’Espagnat discussed the philosophical inadequacy of the current interpretations of quantum mechanics (including the standard Copenhagen interpretation) in dealing with the paradoxes of quantum measurement (such as Schroedinger’s cat and EPR-Bohm) without, however, suggesting any immediate remedy.(7) Interestingly, he has left out of the bulk of his discussion one philosophy, monistic idealism (according to which the primary fabric of reality is consciousness), perhaps for the obvious reason that this philosophy has never been tested seriously to interpret quantum mechanics (although Bohr and Heisenberg, the two founding fathers of the Copenhagen interpretation, clearly leaned toward it in some of their writings).

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