Consistent histories

Interpretation of quantum mechanics based on a consistency criterion that assigns probabilities to various alternative histories of a system

In quantum mechanics, the consistent histories (also referred to as decoherent histories) approach is intended to give a modern interpretation of quantum mechanics, generalising the conventional Copenhagen interpretation and providing a natural interpretation of quantum cosmology.


  • Some months before Feynman's death in 1988, Gell-Mann described to a class at Caltech the status of our work on decoherent histories at that time. Feynman was in attendance, and at the end of the class, he stood up, and some of the students expected an exciting argument. But his comment was, "I agree with everything you said."
    • Murray Gell-Mann and James Hartle, in "Observant Readers Take the Measure of Novel Approaches to Quantum Theory; Some Get Bohmed", Physics Today (1999)
  • In the consistent-histories approach, the classical limit can be studies by using appropriate subspaces of the quantum Hilbert space as a "coarse graining," analogous to dividing up phase space into nonoverlapping cells in classical statistical mechanics. This coarse graining can then be used to construct quantum histories. It is necessary to show that the resulting family of histories is consistent, so that the probabilities assigned by quantum dynamics make good quantum mechanical sense. Finally, one needs to show that the resulting quantum dynamics is well approximated by appropriate classical equations.
    • Robert B. Griffiths and Roland Omnes, "Consistent Histories and Quantum Measurements", Physics Today (1999)
  • There is nothing absurd or inconsistent about the decoherent histories approach in particular, or about the general idea that the state vector serves only as a predictor of probabilities, not as a complete description of a physical system. Nevertheless, it would be disappointing if we had to give up the “realist” goal of finding complete descriptions of physical systems, and of using this description to derive the Born rule, rather than just assuming it. We can live with the idea that the state of a physical system is described by a vector in Hilbert space rather than by numerical values of the positions and momenta of all the particles in the system, but it is hard to live with no description of physical states at all, only an algorithm for calculating probabilities.
    • Steven Weinberg, Lectures on Quantum Mechanics (2012), Ch. 3 : General Principles of Quantum Mechanics

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