Cosmos and History: The Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy, Vol 14, No 2 (2018)

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Hidden Variables: Ontology/Epistemology & Contextuality/Non-Classicality

Fred Alan Wolf


What does quantum physics tell us about the nature of reality, specifically the parts of reality we do not directly perceive called hidden variables? One may think it could tell us a lot because of our enhanced technological sensing abilities that delve into the realms that quantum physics covers so well. Surprisingly, it seems to surround us in a deeper mystery rather than reveal more of nature's secrets. It seems that we cannot escape from philosophical consideration when dealing with what is hidden in quantum physics. In Part I we will look at how Epistemology and Ontology bear upon Hidden Variables. In Part II we will consider Hidden Variables in the light of Contextuality, and Non-Classicality. Inevitably questions of subjectivity and objectivity arise in dealing with states of observation. How should we think about these states? Perhaps it is a question of the meaning associated with our knowledge of a state-that is, a question of ontology or epistemology. The issue of ontic and epistemic states is particularly important when considering hidden variables in quantum physics because, as one may argue, the interpretation of quantum states as either ontic or epistemic will naturally lead to different assumptions about how reality is constructed; if it is constructed or not. It also raises the question of what attributes we are able to observe simultaneously and that brings contextuality into the discussion. If it turns out that reality is constructed contextually what does that imply about ontological realism? If on the other hand reality is constructed non-contextually what does that imply about ontological realism? Many implications can arise when considering these questions from a quantum physical point of view. In this paper I shall discuss how quantum physics provides some answers to these questions by considering quantum physical states and their measurements.

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