Cause and effect in a quantum world

2017 Annual Lecture in Memory of Prof. Itamar Pitowsky

19.4.2017, 20:00, At the Edelstein Center

Robert Spekkens, Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics

Cause and effect in a quantum world

Scientific explanation often involves making inferences about what is unobservable from what is observable.  An important example is the problem of making inferences about causal mechanisms from observed correlations. In the context of quantum theory, the problem of inferring causal mechanisms is particularly vexing. One of the central results in the foundations of quantum theory, Bell’s theorem, can be understood as demonstrating that it is impossible to provide a causal explanation of the correlations that arise for entangled quantum systems without resorting to fine-tuning. Impossible, that is, using the standard framework of causal models.  An intrinsically quantum notion of a causal model, however, holds promise for achieving such an explanation. Critically, this notion makes sense only if the correct theory of Bayesian inference is assumed to be determined empirically, and classical probability theory is understood to be merely a special case of a more general theory.  The notion also has practical applications, allowing one to infer causal relationships from observed correlations in scenarios where classically one could not.  Contrary to the statistician’s slogan, in a quantum world, certain kinds of correlations do imply causation.