Time symmetry in the quantum process of measurement

Yakir Aharonov*, Peter G. Bergmann, Joel L. Lebowitz

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

671 Scopus citations


We examine the assertion that the "reduction of the wave packet," implicit in the quantum theory of measurement introduces into the foundations of quantum physics a time-asymmetric element, which in turn leads to irreversibility. We argue that this time assymmetry is actually related to the manner in which statistical ensembles are constructed. If we construct an ensemble time symmetrically by using both initial and final states of the system to delimit the sample, then the resulting probability distribution turns out to be time symmetric as well. The conventional expressions for prediction as well as those for "retrodiction" may be recovered from the time-symmetric expressions formally by separating the final (or the initial) selection procedure from the measurements under consideration by sequences of "coherence destroying" manipulations. We can proceed from this situation, which resembles prediction, to true prediction (which does not involve any postselection) by adding to the time-symmetric theory a postulate which asserts that ensembles with unambiguous probability distributions may be constructed on the basis of preselection only. If, as we believe, the validity of this postulate and the falsity of its time reverse result from the macroscopic irreversibility of our universe as a whole, then the basic laws of quantum physics, including those referring to measurements, are as completely time symmetric as the laws of classical physics. As a by-product of our analysis, we also find that during the time interval between two noncommuting observations, we may assign to a system the quantum state corresponding to the observation that follows with as much justification as we assign, ordinarily, the state corresponding to the preceding measurement.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)B1410-B1416
JournalPhysical Review
Issue number6 B
StatePublished - 1964
Externally publishedYes


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