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Author(s): Paul Teller

Source: The Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 76, No. 7 (Jul., 1979), pp. 345-361

Published by: Journal of Philosophy, Inc.

Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2025451 .

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THE JOURNAL OF PHILOSOPHY

VOLUME LXXVI, NO. 7, JULY I979

4_. - , .:,

CONTINUOUS PHYSICAL QUANTITIES *

I. THE PROBLEM

Q ^ UANTUM mechanics does not provide predictions for si-

multaneous exact values of quantities corresponding to

noncommuting operators. Traditionally, the Copenhagen

interpretation deals with this apparent incompleteness by main-

taining that such complementary quantities do not have values

simultaneously. Under what conditions, then, does a quantity have

a value?

The orthodox answer: For the special case of discrete observables,

all students of quantum mechanics learn from the outset that a sys-

tem has a value a for observable A if the system is in an a-eigenstate

of A. Put informally, such a system has a value if it is in some

special state about which the theory says that the value is sure to

be observed if a measurement is made. A system is also said to have

a value for A if A has been (or, sometimes, will in fact be) mea-

sured. And, traditionally, a system is said to have a value for A only

under these conditions. These answers are brought together with

great beauty by the projection postulate: after measurement for

observable A the system is to be represented by an eigenstate or a

mixture of eigenstates for observable A which, if we restrict atten-

tion to eigenstates for A after an A-measurement, can be under-

* My thanks to the many people who helped me with this paper, and for

the grant support from the National Science Foundation (grant #SOC 76-

82113). I would particularly like to call the reader's attention to Arthur Fine's

"Probability in Quantum Mechanics and in Other Statistical Theories" in

M. Bunge, ed., Problems in the Foundations of Physics (Berlin: Springer, 1971),

pp. 79-92, which advances the idea that quantum-mechanical quantities should

be taken to be "spread out" and treats the connection between this idea and

the probabilistic interpretation of quantum mechanics in more detail than I

have done in this paper.

345

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346 THE JOURNAL OF PHILOSOPHY

generality of this answer is encouraged by John von Neumann's

coarse-graining technique for treating the observation of continuous

quantities. Corresponding to a continuous quantity we construct a

discrete one by dividing the continuum of values into intervals,

where each discrete eigenvalue of the constructed observable is

taken to correspond to location of the quantity in the corresponding

interval.

This perceived generality is deceptive. We must look at what

quantum mechanics has directly to say about actual values of a

quantity whose operator has a continuous spectrum. For such a

quantity there are no eigenstates and, hence, no states for which

the system has a probability of 1 for having some specific value of

the quantity. The closest the theory can come is description in terms

of what I will call localized state functions, more specifically strictly

localized state functions, which are 0 outside of some interval (a -,

a + c), and highly localized state functions, which have negligible

amplitude outside of some interval (a - E, a+ E). Moreover, a state

function can be simultaneously highly localized for noncommuting

quantities such as the observables for position and momentum. The

dogma about no simultaneous values for conjugate quantities ap-

plies only to point values or values with precision in excess of what

the uncertainty relations allow.' The interpretation of experimental

data makes this obvious: for example, in cloud-chamber tracks the

position of the passing particle is located to the finite width of the

track, and the momentum is localized by the imprecisely deter-

mined curvature of the track together with the experimental con-

ditions. The fact that such experimental situations localize both

position and momentum, but neither with complete precision,

eases the way toward what I will call the orthodox answer to the

question of when a continuous quantity has a value: A system in

state q has a value of the quantity A which is definite or well de-

fined up to the degree of localization of ql as expressed in the A-

representation; and when an A-measurement is made on a system,

the system takes on a value of A as well defined as, or with the

precision corresponding to, the measurement in question. The re-

sult of measurement is expressed in terms of a localized state func-

tion (or a mixture of these) where the degree of localization cor-

responds to the precision of the measurement.

1 This is already clear in von Neumann's treatment of "macroscopic ob-

servables." See John von Neumann, Mathematical Foundations of Quantum

Mechanics (Princeton, N.J.: University Press, 1955), pp. 402-407.

All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

QUANTUM MECHANICS 347

orthodox answer that the values of continuous quantities are im-

precise, or not perfectly well defined. But what does this mean?

This is a pressing problem because the answers commonly given

don't work. Focusing on position as an example, often it is said that

when one makes a position measurement the particle is certain to

be somewhere in the interval of localization of the resulting strictly

localized state function, or almost certain to be in the interval of

localization of the resulting highly localized state function. The

orthodox view itself seems to enjoin us from saying this, but it

would be a waste of time to try to reformulate the orthodox view

so as to remove the suspected conflict. This tack leads immediately

to the devastating conclusion that there are states of systems which

cannot even be described within quantum mechanics. I will say

that a theory is descriptively (as opposed to predictively) incomplete

if entities within the domain of the theory can occupy states that

cannot be described within the theory. In quantum mechanics, the

only states that can be described are those representable as normed

vectors (strictly unit rays) in an appropriate Hilbert space, and the

values assigned to systems by the theory are always the eigenvalues

of the representing vector. Continuous quantities have no eigenvec-

tors with eigenvalues in the continuous part of their spectra. Thus,

if imprecise or imperfectly defined values of a continuous quantity

are to be explained in terms of assumed underlying states with exact

point values, these assumed underlying states cannot be described

within the theory, and the theory is descriptively incomplete. Surely

this is paying too high a price.

Another response to the interpretive problem is to say that the

probability is 1 (in the case of strict localization) or nearly 1 (in

the case of high localization) for the particle being in the interval.

This interpretation is almost forced upon us when we describe the

absolute value squared of the state function as the probability

density for position. But unless what is meant is probability for

point-valued positions, the interpretation remains unclear, and if

probability for point-valued positions is intended, this transparently

involves the same problem as before. If we give probability the

relative-frequency interpretation, we require frequencies of actual

point values, hence actual point values, and so the theory again

comes out descriptively incomplete. If we give probability a sub-

jective interpretation, we require belief on the part of the theorist

that the particle has a point value somewhere in the interval, and,

consequently, belief in the theory's descriptive incompleteness.

All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

348 THE JOURNAL OF PHILOSOPHY

mitted to the particle having a propensity to realize one or another

exact position, a state which cannot be described within the theory

once again yielding descriptive incompleteness.

A last move often made by way of explaining the orthodox posi-

tion is to say that if a second, more refined measurement imme-

diately follows a first measurement, the second is sure (or almost

certain) to yield a result within the interval obtained with the first

measurement. But this answer gets us only as far as our under-

standing of the interpretation of the second measurement, and to

this point we have only the orthodox position to which to appeal.

This approach appeals to precisely the interpretation that needs

to be clarified. So far all attempts to understand the orthodox

position lead to an interpretive dead end.

ing. Why has it received no attention? I suggest that physicists con-

done what they take to be inexact descriptions as simplifying ap-

proximations. It is part of the art of doing physics to find an ade-

quate approximate or idealized idescription when some practical

or technical difficulty gets in the way of giving an exact description

of an actual situation-indeed this is almost always what physicists

find themselves having to do. In particular, quantum theory pro-

vides no exact descriptions of measurement results which are pre-

supposed to be, at least in principle, of something precise. So physi-

cists use the approximate descriptions of localized state functions,

reassuring themselves that these can be made to approximate exact

values as closely as one likes. Since such use of approximations is

the physicists' normal way of conducting business, they proceed

without giving further thought to the matter. Although there is no

question that this business procedure is profitable, we must ask

whether such an appeal to approximations can help with the in-

terpretive question. To do so requires some reflection on the nature

of approximations and idealizations, and the contrast between them.

Suppose one is trying to describe a system characterized by cer-

tain quantities which in turn are exactly described by an explicitly

given theory. Suppose further that exact calculations are not needed

or are out of reach. In such a situation the physicist makes simplify-

ing assumptions and obtains values or relations which are, strictly

speaking, incorrect but which are close enough for the practical or

theoretical purposes at hand. I have in mind examples like the

derivation of the pendulum law for which one approximates the

All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

QUANTUM MECHANICS 349

such cases one can, at least in principle, calculate the bounds of

introduced error by appealing to the underlying theory; or, again at

least in principle, one can go back and calculate the exact values.

In such cases (and I think in close accord with physicists' actual

usage) I will speak of the simplifying assumptions as approxima-

tions. Approximations introduce a numerical distortion but not an

"ontological" distortion; that is, approximations do not introduce

distortions that seriously misrepresent the kind of thing the system

is. In contrast, I will speak of idealizations to cover convenient mis-

descriptions that go beyond mere numerical misrepresentation.

Here I have in mind cases such as talk of point masses, point

charges, and perfectly rigid measuring bars. In such cases ease of

calculation or theoretical limitations call for description of a sys-

tem which does seriously misrepresent the kind of thing it is. Some-

times we know a theory in terms of which the simplifying idealiza-

tion can be eliminated (point masses in Newtonian mechanics) and

sometimes not (point charges and perfectly rigid measuring bars);

but in all cases of idealization there is a more nearly correct theory

or point of view relative to which one could judge the idealization

to be a distortion, relative to which one could judge that there

really are no such things. This contrast between approximations

and idealizations is a matter of degree, not an all-or-nothing affair;

for sufficiently large numerical distortions always begin to seriously

misrepresent the nature of a system. The fiction of ideal gases (per-

fectly elastic spheres with intermolecular forces neglected) provides

a good case in which numerical simplifications are carried to an

extreme, resulting in serious ontological misrepresentation. But the

distinction, though not sharp, is important inasmuch as we want a

theory to reveal to us the true nature of its subject matter. We

miss this mark when theoretical limitations force us to idealize.

Now let us look at continuous quantum-mechanical quantities

against the background assumption the ("point-value theory") that

these quantities take on exact point values, at least when the quan-

tities are measured. Quantum mechanics provides only descriptions

with spread, not point-valued descriptions. One cannot even ap-

proximate point values arbitrarily closely in real experimental

situations. For example, to get an arbitrarily precise position

measurement one needs arbitrarily large uncertainty in momentum,

and such an experiment would require an arbitrarily large energy

source. And to get an arbitrarily precise momentum measurement

one would require an arbitrarily large uncertainty in position, but

All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

350 THE JOURNAL OF PHILOSOPHY

particle, for example, that it is at least within the laboratory. Con-

sequently, against the background of the point-value theory, such

quantum-mechanical descriptions must be judged to be, not ap-

proximations, but idealizations. If quantum-mechanical systems

have exact point values, the dispersed quantum-mechanical descrip-

tions seriously misrepresent the nature of these systems. Point-value

theorists cannot whitewash the problem by appeal to approxima-

tions, since it is idealizations, not approximations, which are in

question.

mechanics: Physicists sometimes deal with this situation by tacitly

giving up the point-value theory and acquiescing in the orthodox

theorist's talk of imprecise or "imperfectly defined" positions and

momenta. But interpreters have shied away from this approach be-

cause it seems so unclear. Furthermore, interpreters and physicists

working within the Copenhagen tradition feel barred from this

alternative by Bohr's dictum that the results of measurement must

be described with the concepts of classical physics, since a classical

interpretation of quantities such as position and momentum means

point values. There is some delicacy here, since at least often when

Bohr insists on description of measurement results with the con-

cepts of classical physics he seems to mean that the macroscopic

laboratory equipment and record of results (e.g., observable spots

on photographic plates) are what must be described classically. This

leaves open the question of how observed microscopic objects are to

be described, and interpreters differ as to how (if at all) Bohr

wanted to fill in here. I don't want to get sidetracked on Bohr

exegesis. What matters for us is that, whatever Bohr thought, a great

many working physicists, thinking realistically about microscopic

objects, apply Bohr's dictum to quantities like position and mo-

mentum of objects like electrons. If observed positions and mo-

menta of electrons are to be described with the concepts of classical

physics, they are to be described as having point values. But quan-

tum mechanics provides only descriptions with spread. Thus, Bohr's

dictum, applied in this (what I will call "popular") manner, leads

in the quickest possible way to the descriptive incompleteness of

quantum mechanics.

It is important to appreciate that this incompleteness comes in

addition to the predictive incompleteness suggested by the un-

certainty relations and to appreciate that Bohr's doctrine of com-

All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

QUANTUM MECHANICS 35I

ness. The argument for predictive incompleteness starts from the

belief, perhaps buttressed by Einstein, Podolsky, and Rosen's con-

siderations, that there are simultaneous values for conjugate quan-

tities. But, by the uncertainty relations, quantum mechanics can-

not predict such simultaneous values, above a certain limit of ac-

curacy. Predictive incompleteness follows. Bohr responds by con-

tradicting the premise of this argument. He calls conjugate quan-

tities such as position and momentum complementary, by which he

means that a system can have a value for one or the other, but

never both. Measurement determines which value a system has:

when, but only when, one of these quantities is measured, we can

correctly attribute a value of the quantity to the system. Since it is

physically impossible simultaneously to measure conjugate quanti-

ties with precision in excess of what is permitted by the uncertainty

relations, Bohr concludes that quantum mechanics has not, after

all, been shown to be predictively incomplete. Note that, as I have

summarized the arguments, I have slurred over the issue of whether

continuous quantities take on point values or, in some yet to be

explained sense, inexact values. In so doing I think I am being

faithful to the presentation of these arguments as they have been

given in the literature. (The exchange between Bohr and Einstein,

Podolsky, and Rosen is phrased in terms of point values and delta

functions, but it seems clear that these notions were used as con-

venient expository idealizations, as is made evident by later pres-

entation of the arguments in terms of discrete spin magnitudes.)

To contrast these arguments with the argument for descriptive

incompleteness, let us grant Bohr's views about complementarity.

Suppose the position of a particle has been measured. Then, ac-

cording to Bohr, the particle must have a position, whether it be

precise or, in some sense, imprecise. Now we apply, in the popular

manner, Bohr's dictum that the outcome of measurements must be

described with the concepts of classical physics. It follows that the

position must take on some precise point value. But quantum

mechanics provides no description of the system which attributes to

it any precise point value. We are forced to conclude that quantum

mechanics is descriptively incomplete, and since this argument

make no assumptions about the particle's momentum, comple-

mentarity cannot be used to block the conclusion.

Two alleged oversights: The reader might object that two oversights

compromise my presentation. First, one might argue that classical

All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

352 THE JOURNAL OF PHILOSOPHY

quantum mechanics, so the problem, if any, is in no way special to

quantum mechanics. I agree that the classical physicist was also

restricted to inexact measurements. But the theory of classical

mechanics includes descriptions of states with exact values, and this

makes all the difference. In the context of classical physics the out-

come of an inexact measurement may be described as a probability

distribution over exact values, and we know how to state what this

means: There is a probability (interpreted as a relative frequency,

subjective degree of belief, or propensity) for the value of the mea-

sured quantity to have one or another of the exact values in the

support of the distribution. We may not know exactly what this

exact value is, but whatever it may be, there is a statement expres-

sible within the language of classical physics which attributes that

value of the quantity to the system. But quantum mechanics pro-

vides no description that attributes any given exact value to the

system. Thus if we believe that systems possess exact values for

continuous quantities, classical theory contains the descriptive

resources for attributing such values to the system, whether or not

measurements are taken to be imprecise in some sense. Quantum

mechanics has no such descriptive resource.

One might claim, however, that, contrary to what I have alleged,

quantum mechanics does have the descriptive resources for describ-

ing exact values for continuous quantities, for example, Dirac delta

functions for position and plain waves for momentum. For many

years interpreters castigated Dirac delta functions for their lack of

a sound mathematical development. This objection no longer holds,

since delta functions have found a rigorous interpretation within

the mathematical theory of distributions. Distribution theory itself

does not provide the required formal relations; so it has been sup-

plemented in turn by more complex mathematical objects called

rigged Hilbert spaces, which include as one component the usual

Hilbert spaces used by quantum mechanics.2 The components of a

rigged Hilbert space which extend standard Hilbert spaces now

include additional mathematical objects which might be thought

of as representing exact values of continuous quantities. The diffi-

culty with this approach is that the physical theory still represents

all actual physical states by unit rays in Hilbert space. The addi-

Mechanics, I: General Dirac Formalism," Journal of Mathematical Physics, x,

1 (January 1969): 53-69; and J. E. Roberts. "The Dirac Bra and Ket Formal-

ism," ibid., VII, 6 (June 1966): 1097-1104.

All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

QUANTUM MECHANICS 353

nipulation and clarification, represent only idealized states which,

strictly speaking, do not exist according to the theory.3 One who is

convinced that continuous quantities do take on exact values might

argue at this point that our considerations have revealed an in-

adequacy in the physical theory, which should be remedied by

allowing the new mathematical objects to describe actually existing

states. But there are strong physical reasons for not extending the

interpretation of the formalism in this way. Such an extended

physical theory would describe systems as having precise point-

valued positions, but as also having totally indeterminate momen-

tum, not even highly localized to any finite interval. Such systems

would have an infinite expectation value for their kinetic energy.

We never observe such systems, and we have strong theoretical

reasons for thinking that such systems cannot exist. The additional

mathematical objects of rigged Hilbert spaces are idealizations only,

and quantum mechanics, properly construed, provides descriptions

only of systems that do not actually have precise values for con-

tinuous quantities. One who believes that continuous quantities

take on precise values must judge quantum mechanics to be de-

scriptively incomplete.

II. SOLUTION

with a dilemma. If one believes that continuous quantum-mechan-

ical quantities take on point values-perhaps only upon measure-

ment and thus not in conflict with the doctrine of complementarity

-then one must conclude that quantum mechanics is descriptively

incomplete. On the other hand, if one rejects point values and

believes that localized state functions with nonzero spread represent

all there is to be said about continuous quantities, one has an in-

terpretive problem. What does it mean to say that a particle has, for

example, a position that is spread out as described by a localized

state function? I propose to investigate how well we can reconcile

ourselves to the second horn of this dilemma by coming to grips

with the interpretive problem. I hope to do this by focusing on the

fact that many theoretical concepts arise through refinement of

inexact prescientific precursors. When we look at the way in which

we make inexact concepts more precise, non-point-valued descrip-

tions of quantities such as position may come to seem quite natural.

3 See Antoine, op. cit., p. 67.

All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

354 THE JOURNAL OF PHILOSOPHY

least to outline an account of the refinement of inexact concepts. A

concept comes equipped with (or perhaps is constituted by) a set of

rules for its application, which in turn generates the concept's truth

conditions. (This is only a first approximation, which, however,

should be close enough for present purposes.) For most, perhaps all,

rules, there are situations in which they break down-we want to

apply the rules but are unable to do so. This fact is a commonplace

for legal rules, keeping lawyers and judges in business. Or again,

the rules of chess do not tell us what to do if one of the pieces

jumps up and refuses to move to KB4, arguing that it would result

in checkmate in three moves. (Chess is occasionally played with

human chess pieces.) When the rules governing a concept fail to

apply in a situation, they fail to give us truth conditions, and a

borderline case results. Note, incidentally, that there will also be

situations in which it is not clear whether or not a rule applies;

this might be found to correspond to the indefiniteness of boundary

between borderline and clear-cut cases.

When a concept's rules break down, we may try to improve the

situation in one of two ways. We may change the concept by con-

sistently extending its rules, or we may drop the concept in favor

of a somewhat different one that will do the work of the old con-

cept and apply successfully in some situations in which the prior

concept failed. As we will see, either of these kinds of refinement

may be arbitrary, but sometimes there will be objective considera-

tions that guide our choice.

Here are some examples. When the concept tall (expressed with

a one-place predicate) breaks down, we may fill our unmet con-

ceptual needs by introducing the relational taller than. At first this

replacing concept provides only a qualitative comparison, but if

necessary, we can further refine it by appeal to the theory of linear

measure, good enough for all normal comparisons. Or consider the

problem we experience when the concept flat is brought up against

the fact that no physical object is perfectly flat. Again we can go

over to a relational concept or, equivalently, a concept that takes

flatness to be a matter of degree. This is still imprecise because there

are different ways of measuring degrees of flatness or closeness to a

geometrical plane. The concepts of physical geometry give us the

conceptual tools needed for further refinement, but these can be

applied in various ways. We might measure degrees of flatness in

terms of maximal deviation from some average plane or in terms

of the maximum or average curvature of the surface. Which re-

All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

QUANTUM MECHANICS 355

tical applications.

concentrate on applying the foregoing picture to refining our con-

cept of position, and, to emphasize that it is our prescientific con-

cept we are looking at, I will use the word 'location'. I want to

argue the thesis that our prescientific concepts include a concept of

location which is imprecise and for which the descriptions sug-

gested by quantum mechanics provide a refinement consistent in

practice with all prescientific usage.

No doubt my thesis sounds implausible at first, and it is essential

to diagnose and neutralize the source of this implausibility. Sup-

pose, for a moment, that there is a prescientific concept of location

which is imprecise. Classical physics provides one refinement, a re-

finement which educated people have drummed into them through

their training in traditional geometry and basic physical concepts.

In fact, our educated usage is so shot through with the conceptual

framework of classical physics that it becomes an intellectual feat

to consider any alternative open-mindedly. But to give my thesis

a fair hearing one must put aside the ingrained prejudice that the

concept of location has to be made precise along classical lines.

So let us try to reconstruct the prescientific concept of location

which we could expect a child to attain without the usual classical

prejudices of an educating environment. Most of our early learning

connected with location comes in application to extended objects,

which can hardly be expected to generate a very precise conception.

Relative precision surely comes, however, in a child's experience with

the location of object boundaries. These often seem sharp, but not

always. Boundaries may be markedly vague or indefinite. Think of

the aspect of a smudge shading off from clear portions into lighter

and less distinct areas into an indefinite mingling with the back-

ground. Similarly a puddle may end in an indefinite compromise

with its relatively dry surroundings and a red area may shade

through a vague boundary into a blue area. A tree seen from a

moderate distance may present a visual aspect without any sharp

line separating it from its backdrop. Altogether we should expect

at least one of a child's boundary concepts to correspond to the lack

of sharpness in these examples. I say at least one because we must

acknowledge the evidence for an innate disposition to sharpen per-

ceived boundaries. Gestalt psychology suggests such a sharpening

in its phenomenon of visual cliffs, and experiments on animal

All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

356 THE JOURNAL OF PHILOSOPHY

aries in an all-or-nothing way. But, even conceding a predisposi-

tion to exaggerate perceived boundaries in many situations, there

can be no question that we also have extensive experience with

boundaries that we perceive to be indefinite, and such cases also

must be covered by some prescientific concept of boundary location.

Since boundary location plausibly provides our most precise pre-

scientific concept of location, we may confidently suppose our gen-

eral prescientific concepts of location at least to include an intrinsi-

cally inexact variant, that is, a concept of location for which suffi-

ciently refined questions of the form "Here or there?" receive no

clear answer, just as in certain cases the question "Is he bald?" re-

ceives no clear answer. This imprecise location concept shows itself

clearly in everyday discourse, as when we say things such as "The

chair's place is near the window" or (with Wittgenstein) "Stand

roughly there."

How will the refining tools of theory mold such an imprecise

concept of location? Just as tall may be refined or supplemented

by the more precise and quantized height or taller than, our pre-

scientific concept of location may be refined or supplemented by a

more precise and quantized concept suggested by science. The exact,

point-valued position of classical physics is one way of doing this,

perhaps encouraged by our innate predispositions. But, a priori,

classical position does not constitute the only possible refinement.

Quantum mechanics provides an alternative. It suggests that all

locations are dispersed in a way that admits of exact quantitative

description. Quantum mechanics describes this dispersion of posi-

tion in terms of an underlying continuous variable, but nothing is

held to have a (classical) position corresponding to some exact value

of the underlying variable. Rather, quantum mechanics describes

position quantitatively and exactly in terms of a distribution over

the variable; specifically by the amplitude squared of the state func-

tion representing the object, as expressed in the position represen-

tation.

What, after all, provides our best guide to the true nature of a

quantity such as position? We have here an example in which re-

finement is not arbitrary. We start with an inexact prescientific

concept of location or position and then look to our best theory of

the world to inform us as to its real nature. But, insofar as the

theory is wrong, it may misinform us. Thus, we should be prepared

to find that the characterization of classical physics gives us not

the truth about position, but only an idealization, however prac-

All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

QUANTUM MECHANICS 357

ticaL The present discussion has aimed to free us from the grip of

classical thinking so that we may consider open-mindedly the al-

ternative suggested by quantum mechanics.

What quantum mechanics tells us about position might easily

be misunderstood in a way that one must be careful to avoid. If

an actual particle's position is correctly described as being spread

out over some interval, then one might think that if we look any-

where within the interval we should always find some evidence of

the particle. But such an experiment has only a probability of

yielding a positive result. One might conclude that particles do

not, after all, have positions that are spread out in any sense. Such

an argument turns on a misunderstanding of what quantum me-

chanics tells us about position, since it takes a state function to

describe some material substance or space-occupying field spread

out over the state function's interval of localization. Schroedinger

tried in vain to force such a classical reinterpretation on the state

function of the electron, appealing to electric charge as the sub-

stance that was thought to be distributed throughout the interval.

No such classical reconstruals of the state function seem to work.

Quantum mechanics suggests a different refinement of our pre-

scientific concepts. The position a particle has, the manifest property

of position, is a unified whole which no more has parts than did

the point positions of classical physics. This partless whole has

spread in a way which can be formally represented as the state

function's absolute value squared. At the same time, this extended

partless position includes (or perhaps is) a collection of dispositions

or potentialities to manifest a more refined position of the same

nature whenever a more refined measurement interaction takes

place. There is nothing exceptional in thus viewing position as a

manifest property and at the same time an array of dispositions.

Being white is a manifest property, but it also includes an array

of dispositions, such as to appear in various ways in various circum-

stances. Many, perhaps all properties are like this. The dispositions

involved in quantum-mechanical properties are special only in that

they are generally governed by probabilities for manifesting a dis-

played property.4

I want to mention one last surprising feature of continuous

quantities as described by quantum mechanics. What goes for posi-

tion goes for momentum (as the quantity found more technically

4 For a more detailed examination of the relation between quantum-mechan-

ical properties as localized quantities and probabilities understood along the

lines of the propensity interpretation, see Fine, op. cit., pp. 90/1.

All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

358 THE JOURNAL OF PHILOSOPHY

remarked, the position and momentum of an object may be simulta-

neously highly localized. But quantum theory allows at most one

to be strictly localized. That is to say, at least one of the two

quantities must have nonzero amplitude for arbitrarily large values

of the underlying variable; and so quantum mechanics tells us that

in every case at least one of the two quantities has, in a certain

sense, indefinitely wide spread. Thus, quantum theory tells us that

if the speed (and hence the momentum) of a baseball is completely

bounded by some value, say 10,000 miles per hour, then the spread-

out position of the baseball must extend indefinitely far beyond

the confines of the ball park. Of course this conclusion loses most

of its shock value when we pay attention to the way in which the

baseball's position is spread beyond the ball park. Though not

strictly localized, the ball's position is so highly loCalized that,

beyond even microscopic distances from where we take ourselves

to see the ball, the amplitude of its state function takes on com-

pletely negligible values which can have no practical effect on the

environment. The chances of our noticing the ball in any way at

any significant distance from its "average position" are like the

chances of the air in a room beating the odds against entropy and all

rushing out the window. It is just because such remote possibilities

have no effect on our lives that the classical idealizations for posi-

tion and momentum work so superbly in our everyday macroscopic

experience. Still, when we look beyond everyday experience, the

unavailability of strict localization means that the refinement of

quantum mechanics conflicts not only with classical idealizations

but also with our prescientific conceptions, which surely place some

limits on even indefinite boundary location-that is why, at the

beginning of this section on refining the concept of location, I

claimed only that quantum mechanics' refinement of this concept

would be consistent in practice with all prescientific usage. The

conflict in principle, however, should not surprise us too much. As

we already know from cases such as the relativity of simultaneity,

a prescientific characterization of a quantity can seem ever so right

in its application to everyday experience and still turn out to be

wrong in ways that reveal themselves only when science probes

much further.5

5 The referee, who urged me to discuss the foregoing issue and suggested the

ball-park example, also worried that the indeterminateness of positions and

momenta that are not strictly localized would run afoul of arguments like the

argument I gave at the end of section I (p. 353) for thinking that there are no

All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

QUANTUM MECHANICS 359

that an interpretive problem arises when we let quantum mechan-

ics speak for itself about the nature of position is an illusion bred

by the prejudice that position has to be understood in terms of

the antecedently given classical conception of point positions. But

we obtain the conception of point positions no less by letting

theories speak to us-the theories of classical geometry and physics

-and we have no reason to suppose that the point positions of

classical geometry and physics provide a more accurate refinement

of our prescientific concepts than the spread-out positions of quan-

tum mechanics. Indeed, since we know classical physics to be less

nearly correct than quantum mechanics, we should take quantum

mechanics to be the greater authority.

PAUL TELLER

APPENDIX

There is a technical literature on "fuzzy"quantum observablesbased on

a notion of "fuzzy"events which might seem relevant to the program

developed in this paper. I am including a short summaryto introduce this

formal approachto readersinterested in exploring it and to indicate the

ways in which it does and does not seem to fit with the views I have

suggested.8

This approach replaces a point value a of quantity A with a fuzzy

sample point (a, fa)pwhere fa is the confidence function characteristic of

the measuringinstrument used to measure A. That is, when the instru-

ment yields the value a, fa is taken to be the probabilitydensity character-

the problem I mentioned there, infinite expected kinetic energy, arises only for

states in which the momentum is "totally indeterminate" in the very strong

sense of not even being highly localized on any finite interval. This and similar

problemsdo not arise when quantities like position and momentum are simulta-

neously highly localized on finite intervals, which conventional quantum

mechanics allows up to the limits of the uncertainty principle.

B The material summarized here is drawn from the following articles: S.

Twareque Ali and H. D. Dobner, "On the Equivalenceof Non-relativisticQuan-

tum MechanicsBased upon Sharp and Fuzzy Measurements,"Journal of Math-

ematical Physics, xvii, 7 (July 1976): 1105-1111;Ali and Gerard G. Emch, "Fuzzy

Observablesin Quantum Mechanics,"ibid., xv, 2 (February1974): 176-182; Ali

and E. Prugovecki,"Systemsof Imprimitivity and Representationsof Quantum

Mechanicson Fuzzy Phase Spaces,"ibid., xviii, 2 (February1977): 219-228; E. B.

Davies, "On the Repeated Measurementof Continuous Observablesin Quantum

Mechanics,"Journal of Functional Analysis, vi (1970):318-346; Davies and J. T.

Lewis, "An Operational Approach to Quantum Probability," Communications

in Mathematical Physics, xvii (1970): 239-260; and Prugovecki, "Probability

Measures on Fuzzy Events in Phase Space," Journal of Mathematical Physics,

xvii, 4 (April 1976): 517-523.

All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

360 THE JOURNAL OF PHILOSOPHY

istic of the instrument for the actual value of A, and the instrument is

taken to give us not the point value a but the fuzzy value (a, fa). Given

this notion of fuzzy sample points, we also introduce the idea of fuzzy

events E = {(a, fa):aeE, E a borel set of reals} and confidence measures

va(E) = fEfa(x)dx. The approach then proceeds by replacing projection-

valued measures in the analysis of observables with the more general no-

tion of positive operator-valued measures. To give an example: where a

projection-valued measure takes on projectors as values,

(a(E): ((a(E)41)x= V,(E)4t(x)

where the va are the confidence measures associated with a measuring

instrument Finally, positive operator-valuated measures give rise to fuzzy

observables, A-=fRXa(i(dX). One very nice result is that there are fuzzy

position and momentum observables, Q, P, which are (under the assump-

tion of invariance under Galilean transformations) unitarily equivalent to

the position and momentum observables Q and P, under the same uni-

tary transformation. Furthermore, Q and P are informationally equivalent

to Q and P, respectively, in the sense that knowledge of the probability

distributions for observed values gives the same information about the

state function. In addition, Q and Pl are together informationally maximal

in the sense that the distributions for outcomes of both completely deter-

mine the state function. Finally, Q and P are simultaneously observable in

the sense that the state function representing the outcome of such a

measurement operation has probabilistic spread of position and momen-

tum in the conventional sense corresponding to the spread in the ob-

served combined fuzzy position and momentum sample point.

In one area, the theory of fuzzy events and observables provides an at-

tractive formal complement to the interpretive considerations discussed

in this paper. The standard treatment of measurement of continuous

quantities appeals to coarse-graining and projection operators. But de-

scription of measurement outcomes in terms of projection operators means

that the spread in the measured quantities is characterized as being strictly

localized, and conjugate quantities cannot both be strictly localized. Thus

it would be good to have an alternative, and an alternative is available in

the treatment of measurement transformations which appeals to positive

operators instead of projection operators. This approach provides a uni-

fied treatment of changes of state associated with measurement results for

both discrete and continuous quantities. As in the traditional treatment,

the statistical operator p is described as changing to a new statistical op-

erator p' with a probability of obtaining a result for the fuzzy quantity

A being in E given by tr (G,(E)p). Abandoning appeal to projection op-

erators involves abandoning von Neumann's assumption on the repeat-

ability of measurements, but a formal sense can be given to the require-

All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

TRUTH AND CONFIRMATION 36I

ment that measurement be very nearly repeatable, and in practice one can

continue to use projection-operator-based descriptions of measurements,

knowing that they are not idealizations but approximations.

In other respects, however, it is not at all dear that the work on fuzzy

events and observables can help us with the present interpretive program.

Our program is to interpret outcomes of measurements as partlessly spread-

out values, not as distributions over actual precise values. Once we see

this, it is not clear what is gained by distinguishing between fuzzy sample

points, as we would have to reinterpret them, and the amplitude squared

of state functions as the proper description of observed or prepared posi-

tions or other quantities. There also may be technical difficulties in re-

describing fuzzy sample points as partlessly extended values; for the inter-

pretations of the fuzziness of sample points and of state functions'

amplitude squared are very explicitly taken in this literature to be

probability distributions over exact values.

PT

DEALLY, there is a close connection between confirmation and

truth. Theories that are well confirmedtend to be true, or at

least approximately true. Theories that are disconfirmed tend

to be false. It would seem that some such nice connection between

confirmation and truth must exist if scientific method is to be justi-

fied as a rational activity. For one of the important ends of scientific

method is the construction of theories that are true, or at least ap-

proximately true. Obviously, then, scientific method will be an

effective means to this end only if it does indeed tend to produce

true, or at least approximately true, theories. Of course, this is not

sufficient to justify scientific method as a rational activity, if only

because scientific method has other important ends besides the

construction of true theories: for example, to produce theories that

have a lot of explanatory power. However, assuming (as I will here)

that the construction of true theories is one important end of

scientific method, such a connection between confirmation and truth

is clearly necessary.

Now I don't know whether there really is this kind of relationship

between confirmation and truth, whether scientific method really

* An earlierversion of this paperwas presentedat a Tufts University philosophy

of science colloquium in April 1976. I am indebted to Hartry Field and Hilary

Putnam for helpful conversations and general inspiration. I am also grateful to

the editors of the Journal of Philosophy for forcing me to clarify and (I hope)

improve my argument.

0022-362X/79/7607/0361$02.20 ? 1979 The Journal of Philosophy, Inc.

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