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Quantum Decoherence and Interlevel Relations

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posted on 2011-04-15, 00:00 authored by Elise M. Crull
Quantum decoherence is a dynamical process whereby a system's phase relations become delocalized due to interaction and subsequent entanglement with its environment. This delocalization, or decoherence, forces the quantum system into a state that is apparently classical (or apparently an eigenstate) by prodigiously suppressing features that typically give rise to so-called quantum behavior. Thus it has been frequently proposed by physicists and philosophers alike that decoherence explains the dynamical transition from quantum behavior to classical behavior. Statements like this assume the existence of distinct realms, however, and the present thesis is an exploration of the metaphysical consequences of quantum decoherence motivated by the question of the quantum-to-classical transition and interlevel relations: if there are in-principle ``classical' and ``quantum' levels, what are the relations between them? And if there are no such levels, what follows? Importantly, the following philosophical investigations are carried out by intentionally leaving aside the measurement problem and concerns about particular interpretations of quantum mechanics. Good philosophical work, it is argued, can be done without adopting a specific interpretational framework and without recourse to the measurement problem. After introducing the physics of decoherence and exploring the four canonical models applied to system-environment interactions, it is argued that, ontologically speaking, there exist no levels. This claim--called the ``nontological thesis'--exposes as ill-posed questions regarding the transition from the quantum regime to the classical regime and reveals the inappropriateness of interlevel relations (like reduction, supervenience and emergence) operating within metaphysical frameworks. The nontological thesis has further important consequences regarding intralevel relations: not only are there no meaningful ways to carve the world into levels, but there are no meaningful ways to carve the world into parts and wholes either. These conclusions, supported by quantum decoherence and the empirical success of its models, drastically alter the philosophical terrain--not just in physics or in the philosophy of physics, but in traditional metaphysics as well.


Date Modified


Defense Date


Research Director(s)

Don Howard

Committee Members

John LoSecco Katherine Brading Michael Rea


  • Doctor of Philosophy

Degree Level

  • Doctoral Dissertation


  • English

Alternate Identifier



University of Notre Dame

Program Name

  • History and Philosophy of Science