Generalized probability rules from a timeless formulation of Wigner's friend scenarios

Veronika Baumann, Flavio Del Santo, Alexander R. H. Smith, Flaminia Giacomini, Esteban Castro-Ruiz, Caslav Brukner

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Abstract

The quantum measurement problem can be regarded as the tension between the two alternative dynamics prescribed by quantum mechanics: the unitary evolution of the wave function and the stateupdate rule (or "collapse") at the instant a measurement takes place. The notorious Wigner's friend gedankenexperiment constitutes the paradoxical scenario in which different observers (one of whom is observed by the other) describe one and the same interaction differently, one -the Friend- via state-update and the other -Wigner- unitarily. This can lead to Wigner and his friend assigning different probabilities to the outcome of the same subsequent measurement. In this paper, we apply the Page-Wootters mechanism (PWM) as a timeless description of Wigner's friend-like scenarios. We show that the standard rules to assign two-time conditional probabilities within the PWM need to be modified to deal with the Wigner's friend gedankenexperiment. We identify three main definitions of such modified rules to assign two-time conditional probabilities, all of which reduce to standard quantum theory for non-Wigner's friend scenarios. However, when applied to the Wigner's friend setup each rule assigns different conditional probabilities, potentially resolving the probability-assignment paradox in a different manner. Moreover, one rule imposes strict limits on when a joint probability distribution for the measurement outcomes of Wigner and his Friend is well-defined, which single out those cases where Wigner's measurement does not disturb the Friend's memory and such a probability has an operational meaning in terms of collectible statistics. Interestingly, the same limits guarantee that said measurement outcomes fulfill the consistency condition of the consistent histories framework.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)524
Number of pages17
JournalQuantum
Volume5
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 16 Aug 2021

Austrian Fields of Science 2012

  • 103025 Quantum mechanics

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