The manner in which states of some quantum systems become effectively classical is of great significance for the foundations of quantum physics, as well as for problems of practical interest such as quantum engineering. In the past two decades it has become increasingly clear that many (perhaps all) of the symptoms of classicality can be induced in quantum systems by their environments. Thus decoherence is caused by the interaction in which the environment in effect monitors certain observables of the system, destroying coherence between the pointer states corresponding to their eigenvalues. This leads to environment-induced superselection or einselection, a quantum process associated with selective loss of information. Einselected pointer states are stable. They can retain correlations with the rest of the universe in spite of the environment. Einselection enforces classicality by imposing an effective ban on the vast majority of the Hilbert space, eliminating especially the flagrantly nonlocal “Schrödinger-cat states.” The classical structure of phase space emerges from the quantum Hilbert space in the appropriate macroscopic limit. Combination of einselection with dynamics leads to the idealizations of a point and of a classical trajectory. In measurements, einselection replaces quantum entanglement between the apparatus and the measured system with the classical correlation. Only the preferred pointer observable of the apparatus can store information that has predictive power. When the measured quantum system is microscopic and isolated, this restriction on the predictive utility of its correlations with the macroscopic apparatus results in the effective “collapse of the wave packet.” The existential interpretation implied by einselection regards observers as open quantum systems, distinguished only by their ability to acquire, store, and process information. Spreading of the correlations with the effectively classical pointer states throughout the environment allows one to understand “classical reality” as a property based on the relatively objective existence of the einselected states. Effectively classical pointer states can be “found out” without being re-prepared, e.g, by intercepting the information already present in the environment. The redundancy of the records of pointer states in the environment (which can be thought of as their “fitness” in the Darwinian sense) is a measure of their classicality. A new symmetry appears in this setting. Environment-assisted invariance or envariance sheds new light on the nature of ignorance of the state of the system due to quantum correlations with the environment and leads to Born’s rules and to reduced density matrices, ultimately justifying basic principles of the program of decoherence and einselection.
- Published 22 May 2003
© 2003 The American Physical Society