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19 May 2016 Irreversibility in physics stemming from unpredictable symbol-handling agents
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The basic equations of physics involve a time variable t and are invariant under the transformation t → −t. This invariance at first sight appears to impose time reversibility as a principle of physics, in conflict with thermodynamics. But equations written on the blackboard are not the whole story in physics. In prior work we sharpened a distinction obscured in today’s theoretical physics, the distinction between obtaining evidence from experiments on the laboratory bench and explaining that evidence in mathematical symbols on the blackboard. The sharp distinction rests on a proof within the mathematics of quantum theory that no amount of evidence, represented in quantum theory in terms of probabilities, can uniquely determine its explanation in terms of wave functions and linear operators. Building on the proof we show here a role in physics for unpredictable symbol-handling agents acting both at the blackboard and at the workbench, communicating back and forth by means of transmitted symbols. Because of their unpredictability, symbol-handling agents introduce a heretofore overlooked source of irreversibility into physics, even when the equations they write on the blackboard are invariant under t → −t. Widening the scope of descriptions admissible to physics to include the agents and the symbols that link theory to experiments opens up a new source of time-irreversibility in physics.
© (2016) COPYRIGHT Society of Photo-Optical Instrumentation Engineers (SPIE). Downloading of the abstract is permitted for personal use only.
John M. Myers and F. Hadi Madjid "Irreversibility in physics stemming from unpredictable symbol-handling agents", Proc. SPIE 9873, Quantum Information and Computation IX, 98730K (19 May 2016);


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