Quantum information theory and the foundations of quantum mechanics
This thesis is a contribution to the debate on the implications of quantum information theory for the foundational problems of quantum mechanics. In Part I an attempt is made to shed some light on the nature of information and quantum information theory. It is emphasized that the everyday notion of information is to be firmly distinguished from the technical notions arising in information theory; however it is maintained that in both settings ‘information’ functions as an abstract noun, hence does not refer to a particular or substance. The popular claim ‘Information is Physical’ is assessed and it is argued that this proposition faces a destructive dilemma. Accordingly, the slogan may not be understood as an ontological claim, but at best, as a methodological one. A novel argument is provided against Dretske’s (1981) attempt to base a semantic notion of information on ideas from information theory. The function of various measures of information content for quantum systems is explored and the applicability of the Shannon information in the quantum context maintained against the challenge of Brukner and Zeilinger (2001). The phenomenon of quantum teleportation is then explored as a case study serving to emphasize the value of recognising the logical status of ‘information’ as an abstract noun: it is argued that the conceptual puzzles often associated with this phenomenon result from the familiar error of hypostatizing an abstract noun. The approach of Deutsch and Hayden (2000) to the questions of locality and information flow in entangled quantum systems is assessed. It is suggested that the approach suffers from an equivocation between a conservative and an ontological reading; and the differing implications of each is examined. Some results are presented on the characterization of entanglement in the Deutsch-Hayden formalism. Part I closes with a discussion of some philosophical aspects of quantum computation. In particular, it is argued against Deutsch that the Church-Turing hypothesis is not underwritten by a physical principle, the Turing Principle. Some general morals are drawn concerning the nature of quantum information theory. In Part II, attention turns to the question of the implications of quantum information theory for our understanding of the meaning of the quantum formalism. Following some preliminary remarks, two particular information-theoretic approaches to the foundations of quantum mechanics are assessed in detail. It is argued that Zeilinger’s (1999) Foundational Principle is unsuccessful as a foundational principle for quantum mechanics. The information-theoretic characterization theorem of Clifton, Bub and Halvorson (2003) is assessed more favourably, but the generality of the approach is questioned and it is argued that the implications of the theorem for the traditional foundational problems in quantum mechanics remains obscure.