Testing Quantum Theory by Generalizing Noncontextuality

Markus P. Müller (Corresponding author), Andrew J.P. Garner

Publications: Contribution to journalArticlePeer Reviewed


It is a fundamental prediction of quantum theory that states of physical systems are described by complex vectors or density operators on a Hilbert space. However, many experiments admit effective descriptions in terms of other state spaces, such as classical probability distributions or quantum systems with superselection rules. Which kind of effective statistics would allow us to experimentally falsify quantum theory as a fundamental description of nature Here, we address this question by introducing a methodological principle that generalizes Spekkens's notion of noncontextuality: Processes that are statistically indistinguishable in an effective theory should not require explanation by multiple distinguishable processes in a more fundamental theory. We formulate this principle in terms of linear embeddings and simulations of one probabilistic theory by another, show how this concept subsumes standard notions of contextuality, and prove a multitude of fundamental results on the exact and approximate embedding of theories (in particular, into quantum theory). We prove that only Jordan-algebraic state spaces are exactly embeddable into quantum theory, and show how results on Bell inequalities can be used for the certification of nonapproximate embeddability. From this, we propose an experimental test of quantum theory by probing single physical systems without assuming access to a tomographically complete set of procedures or calibration of the devices, arguably avoiding a significant loophole of earlier approaches.

Original languageEnglish
Article number041001
Number of pages33
JournalPhysical Review X
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2023

Austrian Fields of Science 2012

  • 103025 Quantum mechanics


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