Information, immaterialism, instrumentalism: Old and new in quantum information
Philosophy of Quantum Information and Entanglement
We live, we are told, in an information age. We are told this, perhaps, less often than once we were; but no doubt only because the phrase has become worn from use. If ours is an age of information, then quantum information theory is a field propitiously in tune with the spirit of the times: a rich and sophisticated physical theory that seeks to tame quantum mysteries (no less!) and turn them to ingenious computational and communication ends. It is a theory that hints, moreover, at the
... er, at the possibility of finally rendering the quantum unmysterious; or at least, this is a conclusion that many have been tempted to draw. And yet, for all its timeliness, some of the most intriguing of the prospects that quantum information science presents are to be found intertwining with some surprisingly old and familiar philosophical themes. These themes are immaterialism and instrumentalism; and in this essay we shall be exploring how these old ideas feature in the context of two of the most tantalizing new questions that have arisen with the advent of this field: Does quantum information theory finally help us to resolve the conceptual conundrums of quantum mechanics? And does the theory indicate a new way of thinking about the world-one in which the material as the fundamental subject matter of physical theory is seen to be replaced by the immaterial: information? The moral I will suggest is that it is only once the influence of these old ideas is explicitly recognised for what it is and treated accordingly that one can begin to hope * I would like to thank the organisers for the invitation to speak at the Boston Colloquium and to contribute to this resulting volume. This paper draws on material discussed in Timpson (2004 Timpson ( , 2008b .