Along with Zurek’s related theory of envariance, quantum Darwinism explains how the classical world emerges from the quantum world and proposes to answer the quantum measurement problem, the main interpretational challenge for quantum theory. The measurement problem arises because the quantum state vector, the source of all knowledge concerning quantum systems, evolves according to the Schrödinger equation into a linear superposition of different states, predicting paradoxical situations such as “Schrödinger's cat”; situations never experienced in our classical world. Quantum theory has traditionally treated this problem as being resolved by a non-unitary transformation of the state vector at the time of measurement into a definite state. It provides an extremely accurate means of predicting the value of the definite state that will be measured in the form of a probability for each possible measurement value. The physical nature of the transition from the quantum superposition of states to the definite classical state measured is not explained by the traditional theory but is usually assumed as an axiom and was at the basis of the debate between Bohr and Einstein concerning the completeness of quantum theory.
Quantum Darwinism explains the transition of quantum systems from the vast potentiality of superposed states to the greatly reduced set of pointer states as a selection process, einselection, imposed on the quantum system through its continuous interactions with the environment. All quantum interactions, including measurements, but much more typically interactions with the environment such as with the sea of photons in which all quantum systems are immersed, lead to decoherence or the manifestation of the quantum system in a particular basis dictated by the nature of the interaction in which the quantum system is involved. In the case of interactions with its environment Zurek and his collaborators have shown that a preferred basis into which a quantum system will decohere is the pointer basis underlying predictable classical states. It is in this sense that the pointer states of classical reality are selected from quantum reality and exist in the macroscopic realm in a state able to undergo further evolution.
As a quantum system’s interactions with its environment results in the recording of many redundant copies of information regarding its pointer states, this information is available to numerous observers able to achieve consensual agreement concerning their information of the quantum state. This aspect of einselection, called by Zurek ‘Environment as a Witness’, results in the potential for objective knowledge.
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