Solstice of Foundations 2019

Welcome to Solstice of Foundations, a summer school on quantum foundations hosted by ETH Zurich and Squid.  It provides a solid introduction to current approaches and problems within foundations, and is tailored for junior researchers entering the field, like masters and PhD students.

The summer school is followed by a workshop on the interface between mathematical physics and quantum information theory, hosted by SwissMap.

Important dates

Summer school

  • Student support application deadline: 30th of April 2019, AoE  (notification: 7th of May).
  • Registration deadline: 30th of May 2019, AoE.
  • Summer school: 17th – 21st of June 2019.

SwissMap workshop Mathematical Physics meets Quantum Information

  • Registration deadline: 15th of May 2019, AoE  (notification: 21st of May).
  • Workshop: 24th – 28th June 2019.


Lectures and programme

The school starts on Monday at 8:30 and ends on Friday around 16:00.


Monday, 17th

Valerio Scarani, University of Singapore: Bell non-locality and applications

  1. * Definition, loopholes, interpretations
  2. * Formalisation: Fine theorem, local polytope
  3. * Application: device-independent certification.
  4. * Example: Self-testing.

Main reference: my lecture notes on Bell’s theorem.

Thomas Galley, Perimeter Institute, Canada: Deriving quantum postulates from principles

There are many ways of understanding quantum theory: as a non-classical logic, a non-classical probability theory and more generally as some form of operational theory. In this lecture I will show that different ways of viewing quantum theory allow us to have more efficient axiomatisations than in the standard approach.
I will cover operational quantum logic and use Gleason’s theorem to show how we can recover quantum theory from a minimal number of postulates about the structure of measurements. I will then proceed to describe quantum theory as a generalised probabilistic theory (GPT) and show that many quantum properties are in fact generically non-classical.
Following this I will show how to make modifications to the measurements postulates of quantum theory, and how to derive state spaces for systems in theories with the same pure states and dynamics as quantum theory, but different measurement postulates.
In a final part I will show how composition of systems imposes strict constraints on how we can modify the measurement postulates of quantum theory, and specifically how the property of associativity of systems rules out all modifications. This allows us to derive the measurement postulates of quantum theory from basic features of the operational framework.
  1. A. Wilce, “Quantum logic and probability theory,” in The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (E. N. Zalta, ed.), Metaphysics Research Lab, Stanford University, spring 2017 ed., 2017.
  2. P. Janotta and H. Hinrichsen, “Generalized probability theories: what determines the structure of quantum theory?,” Journal of Physics A Mathematical General, vol. 47, p. 323001, Aug 2014.
  3. L. Masanes, T. D. Galley, and M. P. Müller, “The measurement postulates of quantum mechanics are operationally redundant,”  arXiv:1811.11060, Nov 2018


Tuesday, 18th

Tony Short, University of Bristol, UK: Time in quantum mechanics

These lectures will explore our understanding of time in quantum theory. We will begin with a general overview, considering in particular the differences between space and time in quantum theory. Next we will consider quantum clocks, beginning with a model of an `ideal’ clock (with H=vp) and then considering finite dimensional and thermodynamic clocks. Key questions are how clocks should be defined, how to assess their accuracy, and the ultimate limitations on them. Finally, we will consider a possible way to understand the flow of time in terms of correlations between a system and a clock within a single static entangled state.


Interesting general perspectives on time:

  • “Time in quantum mechanics – vol 1”, editors J. Gonzalo Muga, Rafael Sala Mayato, Iñigo L. Egusquiza, Lecture Notes in Physics 734, Springer (2008)
  • “Time in Physics”, editors Renato Renner and Sandra Stupar, Tutorials, Schools, and Workshops in the Mathematical Sciences, Springer (2017)

Quantum clocks:

  • “Autonomous Quantum Machines and Finite-Sized Clocks”, Mischa P. Woods, Ralph Silva, and Jonathan Oppenheim. Annales Henri Poincaré, 20, 125-218 (2019)
  • “Autonomous Quantum Clocks: Does Thermodynamics Limit Our Ability to Measure Time?”, Paul Erker, Mark T. Mitchison, Ralph Silva, Mischa P. Woods, Nicolas Brunner, and Marcus Huber. Phys. Rev. X 7, 031022 (2017)
  • “Quantum clocks are more accurate than classical ones, Mischa P. Woods, Ralph Silva, Gilles Pütz, Sandra Stupar, and Renato Renner. quant-ph arXiv:1806.00491 (2018)
  • “Clock-driven quantum thermal engines”, Artur S.L. Malabarba, Anthony J. Short, and Philipp Kammerlander. New J. Phys. 17, 045027 (2015)

Time as correlations in a static entangled state:

  • “Evolution without evolution: Dynamics described by stationary observables”, Don N. Page and William K. Wootters. Phys. Rev. D 27, 2885 (1983)
  • “Quantum time”, Vittorio Giovannetti, Seth Lloyd, and Lorenzo Maccone. Phys. Rev. D 92, 045033 (2015)

Ralph Silva, ETH Zürich, Switzerland: Pre- and post-selection

Sandu Popescu, University of Bristol, UK: Paradoxes in quantum theory

Wednesday, 19th

Mirjam Weilenmann, University of Vienna, Austria: Causality I: classical, quantum and post-quantum causality

Understanding cause-effect relationships is crucial for our scientific reasoning. In this lecture we will speak about causality and introduce mathematical tools for analysing cause-effect relationships. We will first introduce classical causality and the notion of interventions. We will further discuss the causal inference problem, including recent techniques involving entropy measures and graph inflation. In the second part, we will discuss the inadequacy of these classical tools in the quantum realm and introduce avenues to extend them. With this we set the scene for the lecture Causality II, where some tools for analysing quantum causality and its applications are discussed in-depth.

References and related literature:

V.Vilasini, University of York, UK:  Causality II: different methods and applications

In these lectures, I will start by contrasting classical and quantum causality. To this effect, I will highlight some of the peculiar features of non-classical notions of causality and describe some theoretical possibilities beyond quantum theory that remain compatible with relativistic causality. While there are several theoretical frameworks for analysing these general notions of causality, I will focus on two of them, namely the Causal Box and the Process Matrix frameworks and describe how they handle superpositions of temporal/causal orders. The quantum switch is claimed to be an example of a physically implementable superposition of causal orders. By comparing the description of the quantum switch in these frameworks, I hope to fuel a discussion on whether it implements a superposition of causal orders or a superposition of temporal orders. Lastly, I will touch upon some of the applications that follow from asking these fundamental questions: such as that of superpositions of orders in communication/query complexity problems and the Causal Box framework in relativistic quantum cryptography.


These lectures will be heavily based on my master thesis. Most of the relevant references for this talk can be found in the thesis. Following is a list of some of the main references:

  1. For classical causality:
  2. Why classical causal models cannot satisfactorily explain quantum causality:
  3. The quantum switch, and a physical implementation of it
  4. Some frameworks for studying non-classical notions of causality (there are many others but we will focus on these):  Causal Boxes, Process Matrices
  5. Applications: computational advantage, complexity,, relativistic cryptography

Social activities and school dinner

Thursday, 20th

Matthew Leifer, Chapman University, US – Interpretations of quantum theory

Although quantum theory is about a century old, there is still little consensus about what it all means.  In these lectures, I will start by explaining what I think should be the goals of an interpretation of quantum theory and why textbook accounts of quantum theory are inadequate.  I will briefly review decoherence theory, which plays a role in accounting for the appearance of classical reality in most interpretations of quantum theory.  Dozens of interpretations of quantum theory have been developed over the years, but four of them currently attract the most interest.  These are modern variants of the Copenhagen interpretation (which I call Copenhagenish interpretations) as well as the “big three” realist interpretations: de Broglie-Bohm theory, Everett/many-worlds, and spontaneous collapse theories.  I will give an overview of the modern perspective on de Broglie-Bohm theory, Everett/many-worlds, and Copenhagenish interpretations.  Spontaneous collapse theories will not be covered in detail (mainly due to lack of time, but also because I view them as the least plausible of the “big three”).

These are more relevant for supplementary reading after the summer school for those who want to know more details.

  • Lectures 12-15 in my Perimeter Institute course on Quantum Foundations cover similar material to my summer school lectures.* Maximilian Schlosshauer, Decoherence and the Quantum to Classical Transition (Springer, 2007).  A detailed overview of the technical details of decoherence theory.
  • Travis Norsen, Foundations of Quantum Mechanics (Springer, 2017).  Chapters 7 and 9 are good on de Broglie Bohm and Spontaneous Collapse Theories.
  •  David Wallace, The Emergent Multiverse, (Oxford University Press, 2012) is a much more detailed account of modern Everett/Many-Worlds than I could ever hope to achieve.

Matthew Pusey, University of Oxford, UK – Contextuality

I will present the Kochen-Specker theorem, which rules out pre-existing results for quantum measurements unless those results are ‘contextual’. I will then discuss the challenges of turning contextuality from a mathematical result about quantum theory into an experimental result about nature itself. I will focus on the approach to this due to Spekkens but will also attempt to summarise and compare other approaches.

I would encourage students to prepare by reading Spekkens’ original paper. It may also be of interest to examine a simple proof of the Kochen-Specker theorem presented by Mermin.

Gilles Brassard, Université de Montréal, Canada – Could Einstein have been right? Quantum theory can be local and realist! [public lecture]

Friday, 21st

Markus Müller, University of Vienna, Austria – From observers to physics via information theory

In these lectures, I will describe several puzzles and paradoxes from physics and philosophy, and show that they hint towards a view on the physical world that differs substantially from the usual intuition. These hints and ideas can be made rigorous with the tools of algorithmic information theory, which I will briefly introduce in the second part.
In the third part, I will discuss the metaphysically counterintuitive but consistent view that arises from such an approach. In particular, such views have the potential to resolve the paradoxes mentioned in the first part, they are consistent with everything that we observe, and they lead to surprising predictions like “probabilistic zombies”.

See also the abstract of my paper:

More detailed list of topics and references:

  • Algorithmic information theory / algorithmic probability
    A good description can be found in the book “An Introduction to Kolmogorov Complexity and Its Applications” by Li and Vitanyi (Springer Verlag).
  •  Solomonoff Induction
    The following “Less Wrong” blog post gives a nice introduction:
  • Paradoxes
    To see that there is a lot that we do not yet understand, and to bring yourself into some serious (but necessary) metaphysical vertigo, read for example about Parfit’s “teletransportation paradox”, or have a look at the book “The Mind’s I” by Dennett and Hofstadter

Paolo Perinotti, University of Pavia, Italy – From cellular automata to relativity