# Interpreting Quantum Theories

## Laura Ruetsche

### Abstract

QM∞ includes quantum field theory and the thermodynamic limit of quantum statistical mechanics — theories which, unlike the ‘ordinary’ quantum theories typically discussed by philosophers, concern infinite systems. The mathematical framework appropriate for the presentation of a theory of ordinary quantum mechanics is essentially unique. For theories of QM∞, this is not so. This prompts interpretive questions—for instance, about what makes a quantum theory the quantum theory it is — this work aims to chronicle. Having introduced a formal apparatus (operator algebra theory) suited to pursue the ... More

QM∞ includes quantum field theory and the thermodynamic limit of quantum statistical mechanics — theories which, unlike the ‘ordinary’ quantum theories typically discussed by philosophers, concern infinite systems. The mathematical framework appropriate for the presentation of a theory of ordinary quantum mechanics is essentially unique. For theories of QM∞, this is not so. This prompts interpretive questions—for instance, about what makes a quantum theory the quantum theory it is — this work aims to chronicle. Having introduced a formal apparatus (operator algebra theory) suited to pursue these questions, the book articulates a variety of accounts of the content of quantum theories, accounts responsive to QM∞'s characteristic non-uniqueness. To evaluate these accounts, the book examines QM∞ settings (e.g. spontaneous symmetry breaking, cosmological particle creation, superconductivity) in which that characteristic non-uniqueness seems to matter, with a view toward determining which accounts sustain the uses to which the non-uniqueness is put. This approach not only brings work on the foundations of quantum theories in contact with the foundational investigation of other sorts of physical theories (e.g., thermodynamics, statistical mechanics, solid state physics, general relativity, and cosmology), it also brings the philosophy of physics in contact with other sorts of philosophy of science (e.g., accounts of explanation, reduction, and explanationist defenses of scientific realism). The book concludes that received notions of physical content and physical modality must be revised if they are to apply usefully to particular physical theories.

*Keywords: *
Scientific realism,
philosophy of physics,
the interpretation of physical theories,
physical possibility,
quantum mechanics,
quantum field theory,
quantum statistical mechanics,
foundations of physics,
operator algebras,
broken symmetry

### Bibliographic Information

Print publication date: 2011 |
Print ISBN-13: 9780199535408 |

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2011 |
DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199535408.001.0001 |