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Quantum Mechanics Needs No Ontological Interpretation – Argument And Counterargument

Updated on May 16, 2011

 Some people insist that quantum mechanics needs no interpretation, while other people insist that an interpretation of quantum mechanics is critical.

Seeing Is Believing

Quantum mechanics is a formal mathematical procedure that allows physicists to predict the occurrence and reoccurrence of “observables”. “Observables” are the detector clicks of specific scientific measuring devices that observing scientists set up in a very strict manner. “Observables” are events that scientists perceive with their senses. “Observables” evidently are the only realities that quantum physicists seem to acknowledge. In other words, there is no scientifically meaningful reality beyond these observables, according to the most rigorous application of quantum mechanics.

Believing Is An Act Of Faith No Matter What

In my judgment, this quantum-math measurement argument seems to have a contradiction at its very foundation. Even more, this pure measurement argument has no foundation, because scientists who accept the objective validity of their measuring devices and “observables” find no objective validity in the premise of a deeper objective reality upon which their devices, their observables and their own physical selves rest. These scientists comfortably base their measurable objectivity on the premise that a deeper objectivity has no meaning, because it has no quantum-math measure.

Measuring instruments are objective entities. Detector clicks are objective events. Human observers are objective beings. Even so, quantum mechanics, according to the most rigorous interpretation, allows no extrapolation of this macroscopic objectivity into a deeper, sub-atomic realm. How, therefore, can anyone claim logical consistency in the idea of an objective MACRO-world founded on a micro-world that we are forbidden to model, because we cannot perceive it directly?

The system of quantum math itself apparently has beautiful internal consistency, but the strictest practitioners of this math invalidate any efforts to make the math consistent with other means of measuring the world. The orthodox way of thinking, thus, proposes quantum math as the only valid approach to measuring and modeling the micro-world. And since quantum math has not evolved from a sensorial picture of the micro-world, it requires the negation of any rational idea of a micro-world beyond its own internal consistency to model.

Arguing that researchers do not have time to develop a practical theory’s consistency with the rest of human culture is, perhaps, acceptable.  Arguing, however, that a practical theory has no business trying to offer a rational sense of reality (because its math cannot measure such a reality) is NOT acceptable. The latter argument simply smacks of empirical arrogance.

Image by Alfred Lang -- Might we someday model the micro-world as a quantum super-fluid of interconnected, beautifully complex, fractal vortices?
Image by Alfred Lang -- Might we someday model the micro-world as a quantum super-fluid of interconnected, beautifully complex, fractal vortices? | Source

Point Counterpoint

Christopher A. Fuchs (Los Alamos National Laboratory researcher in quantum information theory) and Asher Peres (Distinguished Professor of Physics at Technion Israel Institute of Technology) wrote a paper in the year, 2000, entitled, QUANTUM THEORY NEEDS NO INTERPRETATION.

In the following paragraphs, I present statements by these distinguished authors [F & P] followed by my responses [RK reply] :


  • [F & P] - “An experiment is an active intervention into the course of Nature: We set up this or that experiment to see how Nature reacts.”
  • [RK reply] – To write about “the course of Nature” seems to indicate faith or, at least, a desire to believe in something objective, called “Nature”. Yet, in the same paragraph, this faith in Nature’s objectivity can be followed by the authors’ statements of firm resolve that no such Nature is measureable. A MACRO-reality somehow stands on a non-existent micro-reality, and to even speak of such a micro-reality as indeterminate seems forbidden. It is as though we are not allowed to mention reality at all outside the mathematical formalism of quantum mechanics. While mathematically consistent, this attitude seems effectively inconsistent inside the greater culture where the math must inevitably function in a wider sense.


  • [F & P] - “However, there is no logical necessity for a realistic worldview to always be obtainable. If the world is such that we can never identify a reality independent of our experimental activity, then we must be prepared for that too.”
  • [RK reply] – A tool has no logical need for a realistic worldview, but sensual human beings do seem to have a higher logical need for such a realistic worldview. If the world is such that we can never identify a reality independent of our experimental activity, then allow us to call it “indeterminate”, rather than forbid us from contemplating any conceptual model whatsoever of such a potential reality. If the tool can work within this extended conceptual model, then the tool is a much better tool.


  • [F & P]“… quantum theory does not describe physical reality. What it does is provide an algorithm for computing probabilities for the macroscopic events (“detector clicks”) that are the consequences of our experimental interventions. This strict definition of the scope of quantum theory is the only interpretation ever needed, whether by experimenters or theorists.”
  • [RK reply] – Are algorithms, probabilities, macroscopic events (“detector clicks), and human observers something other than physical realities? Human minds conceive of algorithms, human actions assist in determining probabilities, and human visceral senses perceive detector clicks. How can we truly dispense with the idea of a greater reality of which these are all various aspects?


  • [F & P] - “Can there also be a “microscopic reality” where every detail is completely described? No description of that kind can be given by quantum theory, nor by any other reasonable theory. … It [a reasonable theory] would eventually have to encompass everything in the universe, including ourselves, and lead to bizarre self-referential logical paradoxes. The latter are not in the realm of physics; experimental physicists never need bother with them.”
  • [RK reply] – Every detail of any proposed reality most certainly will never exist. Why, therefore, can quantum mechanics not allow us to say that physical reality is ultimately indeterminate, infinite and eternal, but not without definition? A “reasonable theory” does, indeed, encompass everything in the universe [notice the authors’ use of the word, “universe”, which indicates that they already have feelings about something real greater than a mathematical model]. “Bizarre self-referential logical paradoxes”, thus, seem to be in good company with a mathematical model that allows no conception of reality beyond itself. Physics cannot escape human senses as the means of measuring beyond such a model. There are other ways of “knowing” besides mathematical measures, at least in the greater practical world beyond experimental physics.


  • [F & P] - “Todd Brun and Robert Griths point out that physical theories have always had as much to do with providing a coherent picture of reality as they have with predicting the results of experiment.” Indeed, have always had. This statement was true in the past, but it is untenable in the present (and likely to be untenable in the future). Some people may deplore this situation, but we were not led to reject a free-standing reality in the quantum world out of a predilection for positivism. We were led there because this is the overwhelming message quantum theory is trying to tell us.”
  • [RK reply] – The phrase, “always had”, does not indicate an outmoded practice or an intellectual deficiency, but rather a timeless human requirement for consistency in a worldview. I think that quite a few people (not just “some”) deplore the situation with orthodox quantum mechanics, and this indicates something more fundamental than a mere inability to evolve with the times. The overwhelming message that quantum theory is trying to tell us, perhaps, is that we have yet to realize how to conceive of ourselves as only relatively distinct aspects of the same one reality. An interpretation of quantum mechanics along these lines does no harm to its functional application.


In general, Fuchs’ and Peres’ paper came across as ambivalent towards the question of an ontological interpretation for quantum theory. The authors seemed to use common sense about objective reality to deny that a truly complete, successful theory requires a consistent common sense of objective reality. In their own review of counterarguments to the orthodox stance, they revealed the recurring necessity for a different approach that transcends and includes the callously practical interpretation of quantum theory that the ortodox stance endorses.


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    • Robert Kernodle profile imageAUTHOR

      Robert Kernodle 

      4 years ago

      J J Marshall,

      By saying that I give "too much weight" to F & P' use of the word, "universe", you unintentionally hit the nail on the head, because "weight" is a sense of measure that the human mind must have to make any sense of its existence.

      Quantum reasoning seems to give zero philosophical weight to its own existence.

    • profile image

      J J Marshall 

      4 years ago

      I lean more towards the writer's view than that of the scientists he quotes, but I think some of his arguments are unconvincing because he takes too literal an approach to his antagonists' statements.

      Some of Fuchs' and Peres's assertions probably show the limitations of language at least as much as they reflect any of F's & P's underlying assumptions.

      For example, the writer of this article says, 'notice the authors’ use of the word, “universe”, which indicates that they already have feelings about something real greater than a mathematical model'. I think the writer is attributing too much weight to F's & P's use of the word "universe". All language assumes a context held more or less in common between the speaker/author and the hearer/reader. And all language is a compromise between brevity and precision. How could F & P give a readable outline of their viewpoint without using everyday words like "universe"? They would have to hedge every statement with innumerable qualifications if they wanted to avoid the charge that their words implicitly contradict the views they espouse.

      One of the reasons F & P give for holding the opinion they do is because of the problem of bizarre self-referential logical paradoxes. The more precisely one attempts to formulate an interpretation of quantum mechanics, the more likely one is to encounter such a paradox —

      or, indeed, to disappear down a linguistic cul-de-sac.

      In spite of such problems, I think the writer of this article is correct to emphasize that 'If the world is such that we can never identify a reality independent of our experimental activity', we can still allow for an “indeterminate” world of ontological significance (even if the features of that world can never be delineated precisely).

      I don't agree with F & P, because all they offer is a dead end. Of course, F & P may be right: there may simply be no meaning behind quantum mechanics; all we may ever know is that it works. But I think there will always be people who will seek a broad explanatory framework for quantum phenomena. The jury will remain out until the last seeker gives up his or her search.

      This article treats some extremely interesting points. I found it well worth reading.

    • Robert Kernodle profile imageAUTHOR

      Robert Kernodle 

      7 years ago

      Ah, it's insult master, Pierre again.

      You still miscast my writing efforts. You still feel a need to fuel a war between artists and scientists. There is NO WAR here-- there is the potential for greater cross-fertilization of ideas. You lack any notion of what this cross-fertilization might be.

      Maybe read some of the books by David Bohm, master mathematical physicist who commented on the artistic nature of scientific theory in at least one of his books (He wrote a highly praised textbook on quantum mechanics, by the way).

      You said:

      ["From the point of view of scientists, you already dropped out of the subject before high-school was over!"]

      I say:

      From the point of view of truly enlightend scientists, YOU never even went to high school. When specialization causes such blind arrogance as yours, both science and art are in danger.

    • Pierre Savoie profile image

      Pierre Savoie 

      7 years ago from Canada

      Ah, it's Mister Artiste again, who thinks he can just skip that difficult old math and approach difficult SCIENTIFIC subjects with artistic analogies. Why? On what proven basis can that be true?

      There will be no "transcendent" new way of thinking from YOUR lot. From the point of view of scientists, you already dropped out of the subject before high-school was over!


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