Measurement results depend on the observer

In today’s arXiv appeared a nice paper by Časlav Brukner, my former PhD supervisor. Its central claim is that one cannot have observer-independent measurement results in quantum mechanics, which I bet you disagree with. But if you think a bit more about it, you shouldn’t: which interpretation, after all, allows one to have observer-independent measurement results? Old-style Copenhagen definitely allows that1, but it’s hard to find a living defender of old-style Copenhagen. Bohmian mechanics also allows that, and actually has living defenders, but it is a minority interpretation, and always appealed more to philosophers than to physicists. Collapse models also allow that, but they are on the verge on being experimentally falsified, and were never popular to start with.

What about the mainstream interpretations, then? In Časlav’s neo-Copenhagen interpretation the measurement results are observer-dependent (otherwise this would be a rather schizophrenic paper). In QBism they are explicitly subjective2, as almost everything else. In Many-Worlds there isn’t a single observer after a measurement, but several of them, each with their own measurement result.

How can this be? Časlav’s argument is as simple as it gets in quantum foundations: Bell’s theorem. In its simple version, Bell’s theorem dashes the old hope that quantum mechanics could be made deterministic: if the result of a spin measurement were pre-determined, then you wouldn’t be able to win the CHSH game with probability higher than $3/4$, unless some hidden action-at-a-distance was going on. But let’s suppose you did the measurement. Surely now the weirdness is over, right? You left the quantum realm, where everything is fuzzy and complicated, and entered the classical realm, where everything is solid and clear. So solid and clear that if somebody else does a measurement on you, their measurement result will be pre-determined, right?

Well, if it were pre-determined, than people doing measurements on people doing measurements wouldn’t be able to win the CHSH game with probability higher than $3/4$, unless some hidden action-at-a-distance was going on. But if quantum mechanics holds at every scale, then again one can win it with probability $\frac{2+\sqrt{2}}{4}$.

This highlights the fundamental confusion in Frauchiger and Renner’s argument, where they consider which outcome some observer thinks that another observer will experience, but are not careful to distinguish the different copies of an observer that will experience different outcomes. I’ve reformulated their argument to make this point explicit here, and it works fine, but undermines their conclusion that in single-world but not many-world theories observers will make contradictory assertions about which outcomes other observers will experience. Well, yes, but the point is that this contradiction is resolved in many-world theories by allowing different copies of an observer to experience different outcomes, and this recourse is not available in single-world theories.

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1 Response to Measurement results depend on the observer

  1. Ruth Kastner says:

    Just a note that not all collapse models are ad hoc versions that depart from standard QM, like GRW. The Transactional Interpretation is a collapse model that is empirically equivalent to ‘standard’ QM (except that, unlike unitary-only QM, it predicts that measurements have results). It can do this because it’s based on the direct-action theory of fields. For quantitative details, see for example: and for an explicit derivation of the Born Rule in TI, see

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