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Can a quantum state over time resemble a quantum state at a single time?

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JournalProceedings of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences
DateAccepted/In press - 18 Aug 2017
DatePublished (current) - 20 Sep 2017
Number of pages16
Original languageEnglish


The standard formalism of quantum theory treats space and time in fundamentally different ways. In particular, a composite system at a given time is represented by a joint state, but the formalism does not prescribe a joint state for a composite of systems at different times. If there were a way of defining such a joint state, this would potentially permit a more even-handed treatment of space and time, and would strengthen the existing analogy between quantum states and classical probability distributions. Under the assumption that the joint state over time is an operator on the tensor product of single-time Hilbert spaces, we analyse various proposals for such a joint state, including one due to Leifer and Spekkens, one due to Fitzsimons, Jones and Vedral, and another based on discrete Wigner functions. Finding various problems with each, we identify five criteria for a quantum joint state over time to satisfy if it is to play a role similar to the standard joint state for a composite system: that it is a Hermitian operator on the tensor product of the single-time Hilbert spaces; that it represents probabilistic mixing appropriately; that it has the appropriate classical limit; that it has the appropriate single-time marginals; that composing over multiple time steps is associative. We show that no construction satisfies all these requirements. If Hermiticity is dropped, then there is an essentially unique construction that satisfies the remaining four criteria.

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©2017 The Authors.

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