Albert Einstein - Autobiography (Excerpts)
Comments on Quantum MechanicsBefore I enter upon the question of the completion of the general theory of relativity, I must take a stand with reference to the most successful physical theory of our period, viz., the statistical quantum theory which, about twenty-five years ago, took on a consistent logical form (Schrödinger, Heisenberg, Dirac, Born). This is the only theory at present which permits a unitary grasp of experiences concerning the quantum character of micro-mechanical events. This theory, on the one hand, and the theory of relativity on the other, are both considered correct in a certain sense, although their combination has resisted all efforts up to now. This is probably the reason why among contemporary theoretical physicists there exist entirely differing opinions concerning the question as to how the theoretical foundation of the physics of the future will appear. Will it be a field theory; will it be in essence a statistical theory? I shall briefly indicate my own thoughts on this point. Physics is an attempt conceptually to grasp reality as it is thought independently of its being observed. In this sense one speaks of "physical reality." In pre-quantum physics there was no doubt as to how this was to be understood. In Newton's theory reality was determined by a material point in space and time; in Maxwell's theory, by the field in space and time. In quantum mechanics it is not so easily seen. If one asks: does a ψ-function of the quantum theory represent a real factual situation in the same sense in which this is the case of a material system of points or of an electromagnetic field, one hesitates to reply with a simple "yes" or "no"} why? What the ψ-function (at a definite time) asserts, is this: What is the probability for finding a definite physical magnitude q (or p) in a definitely given interval, if I measure it at time t? The probability is here to be viewed as an empirically determinable, and therefore certainly as a "real" quantity which I may determine if I create the same ψ-function very often and perform a q measurement each time. But what about the single measured value of q? Did the respective individual system have this q-value even before the measurement? To this question there is no definite answer within the framework of the [existing] theory, since the measurement is a process which implies a finite disturbance of the system from the outside; it would therefore be thinkable that the system obtains a definite numerical value for q (or p), i.e., the measured numerical value, only through the measurement itself. For the further discussion I shall assume two physicists, A and B, who represent a different conception with reference to the real situation as described by the ψ-function. A. The individual system (before the measurement) has a definite value of q (i.e., p) for all variables of the system, and more specifically, that value which is determined by a measurement of this variable. Proceeding from this conception, he will state: The ψ-function is no exhaustive description of the real situation of the system but an incomplete description} it expresses only what we know on the basis of former measurements concerning the system. B. The individual system (before the measurement) has no definite value of q (i.e., p). The value of the measurement only arises in cooperation with the unique probability which is given to it in view of the ψ-function only through the act of measurement itself. Proceeding from this conception, he will (or, at least, he may) state: the ψ-function is an exhaustive description of the real situation of the system. We now present to these two physicists the following instance: There is to be a system which at the time t of our observation consists of two partial systems S1 and S2, which at this time are spatially separated and (in the sense of the classical physics) are without significant reciprocity. The total system is to be completely described through a known ψ-function ψ12 in the sense of quantum mechanics. All quantum theoreticians now agree upon the following: If I make a complete measurement of S1, I get from the results of the measurement and from ψ12 an entirely definite ψ-function ψ2 of the system ψ2. The character of ψ2 then depends upon what kind of measurement I undertake on ψ1. Now it appears to me that one may speak of the real factual situation of the partial system S2. Of this real factual situation, we know to begin with, before the measurement of S1, even less than we know of a system described by the ψ-function. But on one supposition we should, in my opinion, absolutely hold fast: the real factual situation of the system S2 is independent of what is done with the system S1, which is spatially separated from the former. According to the type of measurement which I make of S1, I get, however, a very different ψ2 for the second partial system ( Ψ2, Ψ21,... ). Now, however, the real situation of S2 must be independent of what happens to S1. For the same real situation of S2 it is possible therefore to find, according to one's choice, different types of ψ-function. (One can escape from this conclusion only by either assuming that the measurement of S1 ((telepathically)) changes the real situation of S2 or by denying independent real situations as such to things which are spatially separated from each other. Both alternatives appear to me entirely unacceptable.) If now the physicists, A and B, accept this consideration as valid, then B will have to give up his position that the ψ-function constitutes a complete description of a real factual situation. For in this case it would be impossible that two different types of ψ-functions could be co-ordinated with the identical factual situation of S2. The statistical character of the present theory would then have to be a necessary consequence of the incompleteness of the description of the systems in quantum mechanics, and there would no longer exist any ground for the supposition that a future basis of physics must be based upon statistics. - - - It is my opinion that the contemporary quantum theory by means of certain definitely laid down basic concepts, which on the whole have been taken over from classical mechanics, constitutes an optimum formulation of the connections. I believe, however, that this theory offers no useful point of departure for future development. This is the point at which my expectation departs most widely from that of contemporary physicists. They are convinced that it is impossible to account for the essential aspects of quantum phenomena (apparently discontinuous and temporally not determined changes of the situation of a system, and at the same time corpuscular and undulatory qualities of the elementary bodies of energy) by means of a theory which describes the real state of things [objects] by continuous functions of space for which differential equations are valid. They are also of the opinion that in this way one can not understand the atomic structure of matter and of radiation. They rather expect that systems of differential equations, which could come under consideration for such a theory, in any case would have no solutions which would be regular (free from singularity) everywhere in four-dimensional space. Above everything else, however, they believe that the apparently discontinuous character of elementary events can be described only by means of an essentially statistical theory, in which the discontinuous changes of the systems are taken into account by way of the continuous changes of the probabilities of the possible states. All of these remarks seem to me to be quite impressive. However, the question which is really determinative appears to me to be as follows: What can be attempted with some hope of success in view of the present situation of physical theory? At this point it is the experiences with the theory of gravitation which determine my expectations. These equations give, from my point of view, more warrant for the expectation to assert something precise than all other equations of physics. One may, for example, call on Maxwell's equations of empty space by way of comparison. These are formulations which coincide with the experiences of infinitely weak electro-magnetic fields. This empirical origin already determines their linear form; it has, however, already been emphasized above that the true laws can not be linear. Such linear laws fulfill the super-position-principle for their solutions, but contain no assertions concerning the interaction of elementary bodies. The true laws can not be linear nor can they be derived from such. I have learned something else from the theory of gravitation: No ever so inclusive collection of empirical facts can ever lead to the setting up of such complicated equations. A theory can be tested by experience, but there is no way from experience to the setting up of a theory. Equations of such complexity as are the equations of the gravitational field can be found only through the discovery of a logically simple mathematical condition which determines the equations completely or [at least] almost completely. Once one has those sufficiently strong formal conditions, one requires only little knowledge of facts for the setting up of a theory; in the case of the equations of gravitation it is the four-dimensionality and the symmetric tensor as expression for the structure of space which, together with the invariance concerning the continuous transformation-group, determine the equations almost completely. Our problem is that of finding the field equations for the total field. The desired structure must be a generalization of the symmetric tensor. The group must not be any narrower than that of the continuous transformations of co-ordinates...
A Brief Note on CompletenessNow it would of course be possible to object: If singularities are permitted at the positions of the material points, what justification is there for forbidding the occurrence of singularities in the rest of space? This objection would be justified if the equations of gravitation were to be considered as equations of the total field. [Since this is not the case], however, one will have to say that the field of a material particle may the less be viewed as a pure gravitational field the closer one comes to the position of the particle. If one had the field-equation of the total field, one would be compelled to demand that the particles themselves would everywhere be describable as singularity-free solutions of the completed field-equations. Only then would the general theory of relativity be a complete theory. [So for Einstein, even his four-dimensional field theory is not yet complete. Completeness would eliminate possibilities in favor of a single determinate actuality; if only one possibility, there are no probabilities. All is certain. No new information is possible in the universe.
And there is no irreversibility. All times are present in a deterministic block universe.
See Einstein's remarks on Kurt Gödel's ideas on an arrow of time. Note that Einstein's views about quantum mechanics in 1949 were essentially unchanged from his views in 1930. See his explanation of how field theories came to be a part of our description of reality - alongside material particles - as a result of Maxwell's equations in his 1931 article "Maxwell's Influence on the Evolution of the Idea of Physical Reality." And Einstein arguably grew pessimistic about the possibilities for deterministic continuous field theories (by comparison with indeterministic and statistical discontinuous particle theories) in his later years:
To his dear friend Besso he wrote in 1954, "I consider it quite possible that physics cannot be based on the field concept, i.e:, on continuous structures. In that case, nothing remains of my entire castle in the air, gravitation theory included, [and of] the rest of modern physics." And to Leopold Infeld he wrote in 1941, "I tend more and more to the opinion that one cannot come further with a continuum theory."]