The Quantum Measurement Problem and the Everett Interpretation

Jacek_yerka_15Jeffrey A. Barrett in Berfrois:

In the Spring of 2007, the journalist Peter Byrne interviewed Mark Everett (E of the band Eels) about Mark’s father Hugh Everett III. Mark did not know much about what his father had done for a living, and he knew even less about what he had done as a graduate student in physics at Princeton University. But when Mark’s father died in 1982, the family cleared his desk and files and put the documents they found, which included notes, papers, sketches and photographs, in a small handful of cardboard boxes. As the last surviving member of the family, Mark had the boxes in the basement of his Los Feliz home. After a quick examination of the contents, Byrne knew that he had stumbled across something of remarkable value.

As a graduate student, Hugh Everett III had formulated one of the most important and contentious physical theories of the last century. His theory was important because it might ultimately lead to a solution of the infamous quantum measurement problem. It was contentious both because of what it predicts in order to get a solution to the measurement problem, and because scholars have never been able to agree on the details of how Everett intended for his theory to be interpreted. After getting his PhD and a government job, Everett himself had remained silent in public as scholars debated the merits and best interpretation of his theory. But the documents in the cardboard boxes stacked among the empty guitar cases and personal belongings in Mark Everett’s basement showed that his father had continued to think about quantum mechanics until his death in 1982.

After graduating from Princeton, Everett went to work as an operations researcher at the Pentagon. He kept track of what people were saying about his theory and he collected letters, papers and his own notes on quantum mechanics. These documents and the work directly related to his original thesis ended up in boxes in Mark Everett’s basement.