Robert Spekkens: The riddle of the quantum sphinx: quantum states and category mistakes

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Science is like puzzle-solving. Making sense of quantum theory is a particularly thorny kind of brain-twister, with more than its fair share of mysteries. If you are stuck on a puzzle, it may be because you have made a false assumption about the nature of some entity that is absolutely central to the whole business. If so, you have made a category mistake: you are not just wrong about what this entity is, but about what sort of thing it is.

In his Public Lecture at Perimeter Institute, Robert Spekkens will explain why he believes that many quantum mysteries are a result of a category mistake concerning the nature of quantum states. Along the way, he will address some idiosyncratic questions, such as: What did Plato have to say about Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle? What do poorly implemented clinical drug trials have to do with "spooky action at a distance"? And, most importantly, what did the successful deciphering of Egyptian hieroglyphs teach us about the interpretation of quantum theory?

Spekkens is a faculty member at Perimeter Institute whose research examines the foundations of quantum theory. He co-edited the book Quantum Theory: Informational Foundations and Foils, and he is a Project Leader of the international research collaboration "Quantum Causal Structures.” In 2012, he won first prize in the Foundational Questions Institute (FQXi) essay contest "Questioning the Foundations: Which of Our Assumptions Are Wrong?" He lives in Waterloo with his wife and three-year-old son.