Realism and causality I: Pilot wave and retrocausal models as possible facilitators

Of all basic principles of classical physics, realism should arguably be the last to be given up when seeking a better interpretation of quantum mechanics. We examine the de Broglie-Bohm pilot wave theory as a well developed example of a realistic theory. We present three challenges to a naive reading of pilot-wave theory, each based on systems of several entangled particles. With the help of a coarse graining of pilot wave theory into a discrete system, we show how these challenges are answered. However this comes with a cost. In the description of individual systems, particles appear to scatter off empty branches of the wave function, and conversely travel through particles as if they were waves. More generally, the “particles” of pilot wave theory are led by the guidance equation to move in ways no classical particle would, involving apparent violations of the principles of inertia and momentum conservation. Once this cost is paid, the de Broglie-Bohm pilot wave theory does consistently describe the thought experiments that appeared originally to challenge it. We then suggest that a retrocausal version of the pilot wave theory, in which the particle is guided by a combination of advanced and retarded waves, might account for quantum physics with less damage to intuition. This is the first of two papers. In the second we show that, in the context of an explicit model, retrocausality, with respect to an effective, emergent spacetime metric, can co-exist with a strict irreversibility of causal processes.

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