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Mandelstam's interpretation of quantum mechanics in comparative perspective

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In his 1939 Lectures, the prominent Soviet physicist L. I. Mandelstam proposed an interpretation of quantum mechanics that was understood in different ways. To assess Mandelstam's interpretation, we classify contemporary interpretations of quantum mechanics and compare his interpretation with others developed in the 1930s (the Copenhagen interpretation and the statistical interpretations proposed by K. R. Popper, H. Margenau, and E. C. Kemble). We conclude that Mandelstam's interpretation belongs to the family of minimal statistical interpretations and has much in common with interpretations developed by American physicists. Mandelstam's characteristic message was his theory of indirect measurement, which influenced his discussion of the "reduction of the wave packet" and the Einstein, Podolsky, and Rosen argument. This article also reconstructs what lay behind Mandelstam's interpretation of quantum mechanics. This was his operationalism, by virtue of which his interpretation resembled Kemble's, in which the statistical and Copenhagen views had been combined. Like Popper and Margenau, Mandelstam followed R. von Mises's empirical conception of probability. Mandelstam, like the other proponents of the statistical approach to quantum mechanics, was affected by the culture of macroscopic experimentation with its emphasis on statistical (collective) measurement.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Institute of the History of Science and Technology of RAS, Moscow, Russia

Publication date: 2002-10-01

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