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Discerning “Indistinguishable” Quantum Systems

Adam Caulton
Philosophy of Science
Vol. 80, No. 1 (January 2013), pp. 49-72
DOI: 10.1086/668874
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/668874
Page Count: 24
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Discerning “Indistinguishable” Quantum Systems
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Abstract

In a series of recent papers, Simon Saunders, Fred Muller, and Michael Seevinck have collectively argued, against the folklore, that some nontrivial version of Leibniz’s principle of the identity of indiscernibles is upheld in quantum mechanics. They argue that all particles—fermions, paraparticles, anyons, even bosons—may be weakly discerned by some physical relation. Here I show that their arguments make illegitimate appeal to nonsymmetric, that is, permutation-noninvariant, quantities and that therefore their conclusions do not go through. However, I show that alternative, symmetric quantities may be found to do the required work. I conclude that the Saunders-Muller-Seevinck heterodoxy can be saved.

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