This post is (a seed of) a bibliography covering the primordial research area that goes by some of the following names:
- The “preferred-factorization problem”, aka “quantum mereology”, in the context of decoherence.
- The “set-selection problem” in the context of consistent histories.Relatedly, I have another blog posts that reviews the consistency conditions in consistent histories.a
- The “problem of defining wavefunction branches,” especially in the context of a many-body lattice.
- The “quantum reality problem”.
Although the way this problem tends to be formalized varies with context, I don’t think we have confidence in any of the formalizations. The different versions are very tightly related, so that a solution in one context is likely give, or at least strongly point toward, solutions for the others.
As a time-saving device, I will mostly just quote a few paragraphs from existing papers that review the literature, along with the relevant part of their list of references. Currently I am drawing on seven papers: Carroll & Singh [arXiv:2005.12938]; Riedel, Zurek, & Zwolak [arXiv:1312.0331]; Weingarten [arXiv:2105.04545]; Kent [arXiv:1311.0249]; Zampeli, Pavlou, & Wallden [arXiv:2205.15893]; Ollivier [arXiv:2202.06832]; and Strasberg, Reinhard, & Schindler [arXiv:2304.10258].
I hope to update this from time to time, and perhaps turn it into a proper review article of its own one day. If you have a recommendation for this bibliography (either a single citation, or a paper I should quote), please do let me know.
Carroll & Singh
From “Quantum Mereology: Factorizing Hilbert Space into Subsystems with Quasi-Classical Dynamics” [arXiv:2005.12938]:
While this question has not frequently been addressed in the literature on quantum foundations and emergence of classicality, a few works have highlighted its importance and made attempts to understand it better. Brun and Hartle  studied the emergence of preferred coarse-grained classical variables in a chain of quantum harmonic oscillators. Efforts to address the closely related question of identifying classical set of histories (also known as the “Set Selection” problem) in the Decoherent Histories formalism [3–7, 10] have also been undertaken. Tegmark  has approached the problem from the perspective of information processing ability of subsystems and Piazza  focuses on emergence of spatially local sybsystem structure in a field theoretic context. Hamiltonian induced factorization of Hilbert space which exhibit k-local dynamics has also been studied by Cotler et al ). The idea that tensor product structures and virtual subsystems can be identified with algebras of observables was originally introduced by Zanardi et al in [15, 16] and was further extended in Kabernik, Pollack and Singh In Sec. 7 and 8 of Kabernik et al. (“Quantum State Reduction: Generalized Bipartitions from Algebras of Observables”, Phys. Rev. A 101, 032303 (2020), arXiv:1909.12851), the authors propose a criteria for a preferred quasiclassical observable, which implicitly defines wavefunction branches as the instantaneous eigenstates thereof. Although very interesting for extending the predictability sieve outside the context of a preferred system-environment tensor structure to (my preferred) context of a lattice (i.e., a microscopic tensor structure induced by spatial locality), I would be surprised if the single (system-dependent) observable they propose could capture all the things we associate with macroscopic outcomes. I also do not understand the motivation, beyond convenience, for (1) the assumption that this preferred observable is strictly a linear combination of local (single-site) observables or (2) the decision to use the Hilbert-Schmidt norm for the sieve. (Almost certainly this definition would not be “covariant under RG flow”, i.e., would depend importantly on the spatial scale at which you choose your microscopic subsystems.) Still, a compelling approach!b to induce more general structures in Hilbert space. In a series of papers (e.g. [18–21]; see also ) Castagnino, Lombardi, and collaborators have developed the self-induced decoherence (SID) program, which conceptualizes decoherence as a dynamical process which identifies the classical variables by inspection of the Hamiltonian, without the need to explicitly identify a set of environment degrees of freedom. Similar physical motivations but different mathematical methods have led Kofler and Brukner  to study the emergence of classicality under restriction to coarse-grained measurements.
 S. M. Carroll and A. Singh, “Mad-Dog Everettianism: Quantum Mechanics at Its Most Minimal,” arXiv:1801.08132 [quant-ph].
 T. A. Brun and J. B. Hartle, “Classical dynamics of the quantum harmonic chain,” Physical Review D 60 no. 12, (1999) 123503.
 M. Gell-Mann and J. Hartle, “Alternative decohering histories in quantum mechanics,” arXiv preprint arXiv:1905.05859 (2019) .
 F. Dowker and A. Kent, “On the consistent histories approach to quantum mechanics,” Journal of Statistical Physics 82 no. 5-6, (1996) 1575–1646.
 A. Kent, “Quantum histories,” Physica Scripta 1998 no. T76, (1998) 78.
 C. Jess Riedel, W. H. Zurek, and M. Zwolak, “The rise and fall of redundancy in decoherence and quantum Darwinism,” New Journal of Physics 14 no. 8, (Aug, 2012) 083010, arXiv:1205.3197[quant-ph].
 R. B. Griffiths, “Consistent histories and the interpretation of quantum mechanics,” J. Statist. Phys.
36 (1984) 219.
 F. Piazza, “Glimmers of a pre-geometric perspective,” Found. Phys. 40 (2010) 239–266,
 M. Tegmark, “Consciousness as a state of matter,” Chaos, Solitons & Fractals 76 (2015) 238–270.
 J. P. Paz and W. H. Zurek, “Environment-induced decoherence, classicality, and consistency of quantum histories,” Physical Review D 48 no. 6, (1993) 2728.
 N. Bao, S. M. Carroll, and A. Singh, “The Hilbert Space of Quantum Gravity Is Locally Finite-Dimensional,” arXiv:1704.00066 [hep-th].
 T. Banks, “QuantuMechanics and CosMology.” Talk given at the festschrift for L. Susskind, Stanford University, May 2000, 2000.
 W. Fischler, “Taking de Sitter Seriously.” Talk given at Role of Scaling Laws in Physics and Biology (Celebrating the 60th Birthday of Geoffrey West), Santa Fe, Dec., 2000.
 J. S. Cotler, G. R. Penington, and D. H. Ranard, “Locality from the spectrum,” Communications in Mathematical Physics 368 no. 3, (2019) 1267–1296.
 P. Zanardi, “Virtual quantum subsystems,” Phys. Rev. Lett. 87 (2001) 077901, arXiv:quant-ph/0103030 [quant-ph].
 P. Zanardi, D. A. Lidar, and S. Lloyd, “Quantum tensor product structures are observable induced,” Phys. Rev. Lett. 92 (2004) 060402, arXiv:quant-ph/0308043 [quant-ph].
 O. Kabernik, J. Pollack, and A. Singh, “Quantum State Reduction: Generalized Bipartitions from Algebras of Observables,” Phys. Rev. A 101 no. 3, (2020) 032303, arXiv:1909.12851 [quant-ph].
 M. Castagnino and O. Lombardi, “Self-induced decoherence: a new approach,” Studies in the History and Philosophy of Modern Physics 35 no. 1, (Jan, 2004) 73–107.
 M. Castagnino, S. Fortin, O. Lombardi, and R. Laura, “A general theoretical framework for decoherence in open and closed systems,” Class. Quant. Grav. 25 (2008) 154002, arXiv:0907.1337 [quant-ph].
 O. Lombardi, S. Fortin, and M. Castagnino, “The problem of identifying the system and the environment in the phenomenon of decoherence,” in EPSA Philosophy of Science: Amsterdam 2009, H. W. de Regt, S. Hartmann, and S. Okasha, eds., pp. 161–174. Springer Netherlands, Dordrecht, 2012.
 S. Fortin, O. Lombardi, and M. Castagnino, “Decoherence: A Closed-System Approach,” Brazilian Journal of Physics 44 no. 1, (Feb, 2014) 138–153, arXiv:1402.3525 [quant-ph].
 M. Schlosshauer, “Self-induced decoherence approach: Strong limitations on its validity in a simple spin bath model and on its general physical relevance,” Phys. Rev. A 72 no. 1, (Jul, 2005) 012109, arXiv:quant-ph/0501138 [quant-ph].
 J. Kofler and C. Brukner, “Classical World Arising out of Quantum Physics under the Restriction of Coarse-Grained Measurements,” Phys. Rev. Lett. 99 no. 18, (Nov, 2007) 180403, arXiv:quant-ph/0609079 [quant-ph].
Riedel, Zurek, & Zwolak
From “The Objective past of a quantum universe: Redundant records of consistent histories” [arXiv:1312.0331]:
“Into what mixture does the wavepacket collapse?” This is the preferred basis problem in quantum mechanics . It launched the study of decoherence [2, 3], a process central to the modern view of the quantum-classical transition [4–9]. The preferred basis problem has been solved exactly for so-called pure decoherence [1, 10]. In this case, a well-defined pointer basis  emerges whose origins can be traced back to the interaction Hamiltonian between the quantum system and its environment [1, 2, 4]. An approximate pointer basis exists for many other situations (see, e. g., Refs. [11–17]).
The consistent (or decoherent) histories framework [18–21] was originally introduced by Griffiths. It has evolved into a mathematical formalism for applying quantum mechanics to completely closed systems, up to and including the whole universe. It has been argued that quantum mechanics within this framework would be a fully satisfactory physical theory only if it were supplemented with an unambiguous mechanism for identifying a preferred set of histories corresponding, at the least, to the perceptions of observers [22–29] (but see counterarguments [30–35]). This would address the Everettian  question: “What are the branches in the wavefunction of the Universe?” This defines the set selection problem, the global analog to the preferred basis problem.
It is natural to demand that such a set of histories satisfy the mathematical requirement of consistency, i.e., that their probabilities are additive. The set selection problem still looms large, however, as almost all consistent sets bear no resemblance to the classical reality we perceive [37–39]. Classical reasoning can only be done relative to a single consistent set [20, 31, 32]; simultaneous reasoning from different sets leads to contradictions [22–24, 40, 41]. A preferred set would allow one to unambiguously compute probabilities1 for all observations from first principles, that is, from (1) a wavefunction of the Universe and (2) a Hamiltonian describing the interactions.
To agree with our expectations, a preferred set would describe macroscopic systems via coarse-grained variables that approximately obey classical equations of motion, thereby constituting a “quasiclassical domain” [14, 23, 24, 40, 49, 50]. Various principles for its identification have been explored, both within the consistent histories formalism [15, 26, 39, 49, 51–56] and outside it [57–61]. None have gathered broad support.
1We take Born’s rule for granted, putting aside the question of whether it should be derived from other principles [9, 36, 42–48] or simply assumed. That issue is independent of (and cleanly separated from) the topic of this paper.
 W. H. Zurek, Phys. Rev. D 24, 1516 (1981).
 W. H. Zurek, Phys. Rev. D 26, 1862 (1982).
 E. Joos and H. D. Zeh, Zeitschrift für Physik B Condensed Matter 59, 223 (1985).
 H. D. Zeh, Foundations of Physics 3, 109 (1973).
 W. H. Zurek, Physics Today 44, 36 (1991).
 W. H. Zurek, Rev. Mod. Phys. 75, 715 (2003).
 E. Joos, H. D. Zeh, C. Kiefer, D. Giulini, J. Kupsch, and I.-O. Stamatescu, Decoherence and the Appearance of a Classical World in Quantum Theory, 2nd ed. (SpringerVerlag, Berlin, 2003).
 M. Schlosshauer, Decoherence and the Quantum-toClassical Transition (Springer-Verlag, Berlin, 2008); in Handbook of Quantum Information, edited by M. Aspelmeyer, T. Calarco, and J. Eisert (Springer, Berlin/Heidelberg, 2014).
 W. H. Zurek, Physics Today 67, 44 (2014).
 M. Zwolak, C. J. Riedel, and W. H. Zurek, Physical Review Letters 112, 140406 (2014).
 J. R. Anglin and W. H. Zurek, Physical Review D 53, 7327 (1996); D. A. R. Dalvit, J. Dziarmaga, and W. H. Zurek, Physical Review A 72, 062101 (2005).
 O. Kübler and H. D. Zeh, Annals of Physics 76, 405 (1973).
 W. H. Zurek, S. Habib, and J. P. Paz, Phys. Rev. Lett. 70, 1187 (1993).
 M. Gell-Mann and J. B. Hartle, Phys. Rev. D 47, 3345 (1993).
 M. Gell-Mann and J. B. Hartle, Phys. Rev. A 76, 022104 (2007).
 J. J. Halliwell, Phys. Rev. D 58, 105015 (1998).
 J. Paz and W. H. Zurek, Phys. Rev. Lett. 82, 5181 (1999).
 R. B. Griffiths, Journal of Statistical Physics 36, 219 (1984).
 R. Omnès, The Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics (Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ, 1994).
 R. B. Griffiths, Consistent Quantum Theory (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK, 2002).
 J. J. Halliwell, in Fundamental Problems in Quantum Theory, Vol. 775, edited by D.Greenberger and A.Zeilinger (Blackwell Publishing Ltd, 1995) arXiv:grqc/9407040.
 F. Dowker and A. Kent, Phys. Rev. Lett. 75, 3038 (1995).
 F. Dowker and A. Kent, Journal of Statistical Physics. 82, 1575 (1996).
 A. Kent, Phys. Rev. A 54, 4670 (1996).
 A. Kent, Phys. Rev. Lett. 78, 2874 (1997).
 A. Kent and J. McElwaine, Phys. Rev. A 55, 1703 (1997).
 A. Kent, in Bohmian Mechanics and Quantum Theory: An Appraisal, edited by A. F. J. Cushing and S. Goldstein (Kluwer Academic Press, Dordrecht, 1996); arXiv:quant-ph/9511032.
 E. Okon and D. Sudarsky, Stud. Hist. Philos. Sci. B 48, Part A, 7 (2014).
 E. Okon and D. Sudarsky, arXiv:1504.03231 (2015).
 R. B. Griffiths and J. B. Hartle, Physical Review Letters 81, 1981 (1998).
 R. B. Griffiths, Physical Review A 57, 1604 (1998).
 R. B. Griffiths, Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part B: Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics 44, 93 (2013).
 M. Gell-Mann and J. B. Hartle, in Proceedings of the 4th Drexel Conference on Quantum Non-Integrability: The Quantum-Classical Correspondence, edited by D.-H. Feng and B.-L. Hu, Drexel University (International Press of Boston, Hong Kong, 1998); arXiv:grqc/9509054.
 M. Gell-Mann and J. Hartle, arXiv:gr-qc/9404013 (1994).
 R. Omnès, Rev. Mod. Phys. 64, 339 (1992).
 A. V. Nenashev, Physica Scripta T163, 014033 (2014); arXiv: 1601.08205 (2016).
 M. Gell-Mann and J. B. Hartle, in Proceedings of the 25th International Conference on High Energy Physics, edited by K. K. Phua and Y. Yamaguchi, South East Asia Theoretical Physics Association and Physical Society of Japan (World Scientific, Singapore, 1990).
 M. Tegmark, Chaos, Solitons & Fractals 76, 238 (2015).
 R. B. Griffiths, Phys. Rev. A 54, 2759 (1996).
 C. Anastopoulos, International Journal of Theoretical Physics 37, 2261 (1998).
 A. Kent, Physica Scripta T76, 78 (1998).
 T. A. Brun and J. B. Hartle, Phys. Rev. E 59, 6370 (1999).
 A. Kent, in Relativistic Quantum Measurement and Decoherence, Lecture Notes in Physics, Vol. 559, edited by H.-P. Breuer and F. Petruccione (Springer Berlin / Heidelberg, 2000) pp. 93–115.
 T. Brun, arXiv:quant-ph/0302034 (2003).
 L. de Broglie, in Electrons et Photons: Rapports et Discussions du Cinquieme Conseil de Physique tenu a Bruxelles du 24 au 29 Octobre 1927 sous les Auspices de l’Institut International de Physique Solvay (GauthierVillars, Paris, 1928).
 D. Bohm, Physical Review 85, 166 (1952).
 R. Bousso and L. Susskind, Physical Review D 85, 045007 (2012).
 A. Kent, Foundations of Physics 42, 421 (2012).
 A. Kent, Physical Review A 90, 012107 (2014).
From “Macroscopic Reality from Quantum Complexity” [arXiv:2105.04545]:
By linearity of quantum mechanical time evolution, however, it… follows that a measurement with a linear superposition in the initial state will yield a final state also with a superposition…In the measured final state, the meter no longer has a single value but a combination of two values which cannot, by itself, be connected to a recognizable configuration of a macroscopic object. The absence of a recognizable configuration for the macroscopic device is the “problem of measurement”.
The resolution of this problem proposed by the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics [1, 2] is that the states …actually represent two different worlds… Among the problems of the many-worlds interpretation, however, is that in general, for plausible models of a measurement process, the individual worlds given by the Schmidt basis do not have sufficiently narrow coordinate dispersions to count as classical reality . In addition, it is unclear under what circumstances and according to what basis a system larger than just a micro system and a measuring device should be split into separate worlds.
A resolution to the first of these problems, the absence of classical behavior in the split branches, is proposed to occur through environmentally-induced decoherence [3, 4]…Based on these various considerations it is argued that entangled environmental states … behave essentially as permanent classical records of the experimental results. Correspondingly, for many-worlds augmented with decoherence , the circumstance under which a system splits into distinct worlds is when a superposition has been produced mixing distinct values of one of these effectively classical degrees of freedom…
A step toward resolving the second problem, the absence of a criterion for branching for the universe as a whole rather than simply for some system-apparatus pair, takes the form of a theorem  according to which, for a system as a whole, if a particular spatial pattern of redundant records happens to occur, then there is a unique corresponding decomposition of a state vector into effectively classical branches.
A residual problem of [3–6], however, is that the rules governing their application to the world are intrinsically uncertain. In particular, the record production needed for environmentally-induced decoherence occurs over some nonzero intervals of time and space, and perhaps is entirely completed only asymptotically in long time and large distance limits. What fraction of the initial state in Eq. (3) must become entangled with the environment for splitting into classical branches to occur? When exactly over the time interval of decoherence, does the splitting of the world in parts occur? And since the process extends over space, this timing will differ in different frames related by a Lorentz boost. Which is the correct choice? These various questions may be of no practical consequence in treating the meter readings as nearly classical degrees of freedom after entanglement and using the resulting values to formulate observable predictions. But what seems to me to be clear is that something is missing from the theory. From outside the theory, something additional and arbitrary needs to be supplied by hand to resolve each of these issues. Moreover, no mathematical machinery is present in any of these proposal which allows the process of filling in what is missing to be stated precisely. As a consequence of all of which it appears to me to be implausible that the branches provided by these accounts are by themselves the fundamental substance of reality.
A discussion of issues concerning environmentally induced decoherence and its combination with the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics appears in .
 H. Everett, Rev. Mod. Phys. 29, 454 (1957).
 B. DeWitt, Physics Today 23, 30 (1970).
 H. D. Zeh, Found. Phys. 1, 69 (1970).
 W. H. Zurek, Phys. Rev. D24, 1516 (1981); Phys. Rev. D26; 1862 (1982) Mod. Phys. 75, 715 (2003).
 D. Wallace, Studies in the History and Philosophy of Modern Physics 34, 87 (2003).
 C. Jess Riedel, Phys. Rev. Lett. 118, 120402 (2017).
 M. A. Nielsen, arXiv:quant-ph/050207.
 A. R. Brown, L. Susskind, arXiv:0701.01107[hep-th]  D. N. Page, arXiv:1108.2709v2 [hep-th].
 M. Schlosshauer, Rev. Mod. Phys. 76, 1267 (2004).
 A. Kent, Found. Phys. 43, 421 (2012); Phys. Rev. A 90, 0121027 (2014); Phys. Rev. A 96, 062121 (2017).
 D. P. DiVincenzo, Phys. Rev. A 51, 1015(1995), arXiv:cond-mat/9407022.
From “Solution to the Lorentzian quantum reality problem” [arXiv:1311.0249]:
Quantum theory is a mathematically beautiful theory that unifies all of known physics with the exception of gravity. Its probabilistic predictions for experimental outcomes have been verified for a very large range of physical phenomena and contradicted by no experiment. Yet, as John Bell so eloquently and persuasively argued , we do not know what precisely it is that quantum probabilities are probabilities of. We do not have a mathematically precise description of what Bell called [2,3] the “beables” for quantum theory. That is, we do not have a sample space of events, or histories, or paths, or other mathematical objects, on which the quantum probability distribution is defined. This is the quantum reality problem, sometimes referred to as the measurement problem, rather misleadingly from a modern perspective, since few physicists now believe that the fundamental laws of nature involve measuring devices per se or that progress can be made by analyzing them. As Bell emphasized, the quantum reality problem becomes particularly conceptually problematic when we impose the natural condition that any solution should respect the symmetries of special relativity. We focus here on solutions to the Lorentzian quantum reality problem, i.e., solutions that have this property.
As Bell also stressed , mathematical aesthetics are not the main motivation for solving the quantum reality problem. The motivation is the following. On the one hand, the impressive successes of quantum theory and the lack of compelling alternatives make it natural to try to treat quantum theory as fundamental and so to derive everything else in physics from quantum theory. On the other hand, it appears to us that we live in a quasiclassical world, in which macroscopic variables are most of the time approximately governed by deterministic equations of motion, but are also affected by random events of quantum origin. Moreover, it appears as though this quasiclassical world emerged from an initial quantum state with no initial quasiclassical properties. Given a well-defined probabilistic version of the quantum theory of closed systems, we can hope to explain these features from within quantum theory and indeed to sketch a coherent and unified account of cosmology, classical and quasiclassical dynamics, and quantum theory. Without one, we cannot rigorously derive classical or quasiclassical physics from quantum theory nor give a coherent treatment of cosmology from within quantum theory….
The first well-known attempt to address the quantum reality problem directly was the pilot wave theory of de Broglie and Bohm [4,5], in which the beables are particle trajectories whose evolution is defined by the quantum wave function by a guidance equation. However, de Broglie and Bohm’s models apply to nonrelativistic quantum mechanics and are inconsistent with special relativity. No fundamentally relativistic generalization of the models has been found, nor is there a convincing extension to quantum field theory. Many (though not all) physicists also find de Broglie and Bohm’s trajectories and guidance equations rather mathematically unnatural and inelegant additions to quantum theory.
Nonrelativistic dynamical collapse models [6,7] attempt to give another story about physical reality that is consistent with experiment to date at the price of changing the dynamics and hence the experimental predictions of quantum theory. (For some attempts in the direction of relativistic collapse models, see [8–11].) While scientifically interesting, these and other generalizations of quantum theory do not address the main question we focus on here, namely, whether we can find a mathematically precise description of reality consistent with standard quantum theory.
Another line of thought, initiated by Everett, suggests that quantum theory is deterministic and that pure unitary quantum evolution holds at all times. The problems with this idea and with the many incompatible proposals for some form of “many worlds” quantum theory that it has inspired continue to be debated . Still, two relatively uncontroversial points can be made. First, since, according to most of those who advocate some version of many-worlds quantum theory, quantum theory is fundamentally deterministic and the appearance of quasiclassical physics is supposed to arise as an approximation via decoherence, no mathematically precise sample space and probability distribution emerges. Second, many-worlds theories are radically different types of scientific theory from standard “one-world” versions of quantum theory (or indeed from anything previously considered in science) and give a qualitatively different (and fantastically weird) description of reality.
 J. S. Bell, Speakable and Unspeakable in Quantum Mechanics: Collected Papers on Quantum Philosophy (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, U.K., 2004).
 J. S. Bell, Epistemol. Lett. 9, 11 (1976).
 J. S. Bell, in Quantum Implications: Essays in Honour of David Bohm, edited by B. Hiley and D.Peat (Routledge, Oxon, UK, 1987), pp. 227–234.
 D. Bohm, Phys. Rev. 85, 166 (1952).
 L. de Broglie, in Electrons et Photons: Rapports et Discussions du Cinquieme Conseil de Physique tenu a Bruxelles du 24 au 29 Octobre 1927 sous les Auspices de l’Institut International de Physique Solvay (Gauthier-Villars, Paris, 1928).
 G. C. Ghirardi, P. Pearle, and A. Rimini, Phys. Rev. A 42, 78 (1990).
 G. C. Ghirardi, A. Rimini, and T. Weber, Phys. Rev. D 34, 470 (1986).
 D. J. Bedingham, Found. Phys. 41, 686 (2011).
 Philip Pearle, Phys. Rev. A 59, 80 (1999).
 P. Pearle, Phys. Rev. A 71, 032101 (2005).
 R. Tumulka, J. Stat. Phys. 125, 821 (2006).
Zampeli, Pavlou, & Wallden
From “Contrary Inferences for Classical Histories within the Consistent Histories Formulation of Quantum Theory” [arXiv:2205.15893]:
The interpretation of consistent histories has been a heated topic (indicatively, examples of this dialogue can be found on the critical accounts of [18–20] that were followed by responses of proponents [21, 22]). Our work intends to add one more dimension in this scientific exchange strengthening the argument for supplementing the consistency condition with a “set-selection” criterion. This issue was first raised by Dowker and Kent  and later by Kent  who noted that the problem of contrary inferences is the result of a contextuality particular only to the histories formalism. He later gave a set- selection criterion to restrict “ordered consistent sets” [1, 23, 24]. In  it was argued that contrary inferences originate from the existence of zero covers on the histories space and brought forward another set-selection criterion that restricts attention to preclusive con- sistent sets. In , Anastopoulos connected the predictability of a consistent set with the persistence in time; while recently, Halliwell proposed to classify multiple consistent sets on whether or not there exists any unifying probability for combinations of incompatible sets which replicates the consistent histories result when restricted to a single consistent set . Gell-Mann and Hartle  and Riedel, Zurek and Zwolak  on the other hand gave set-selection criteria that were motivated by some physical principle (e.g. thermodynamic considerations) or induced by the environment respectively.
In the preclusive consistent sets criterion of , histories that are precluded (have
measure zero) have a special role, since such histories and their subsets are not allowed to happen in any “legitimate” (i.e. preclusive) consistent set. Precluded histories play crucial role in another histories formulation, called co-events formulation or anhomomorphic logic [27, 28], that interprets the decoherence functional (or quantum measure ) differently. Our results may have consequences in that approach too, but analysing this is left for a future work.
 Adrian Kent. Consistent sets yield contrary inferences in quantum theory. Physical Review Letters, 78(15):2874, 1997. DOI: 10.1103/physrevlett.78.2874.
 P. Wallden. Contrary inferences in consistent histories and a set selection criterion. Foundations of Physics, 44:1195, October 2014. DOI: 10.1007/s10701-014-9837-6. URL https://ui.adsabs.harvard.edu/abs/2014FoPh…44.1195W.
 J. J. Halliwell. Incompatible multiple consistent sets of histories and measures of quantumness. Physical Review A, 96(1), jul 2017. DOI: 10.1103/physreva.96.012123. URL https://doi.org/10.1103%2Fphysreva.96.012123
 Fay Dowker and Adrian Kent. On the consistent histories approach to quan- tum mechanics. Journal of Statistical Physics, 82(5-6):1575–1646, 1996. DOI: 10.1007/bf02183396.
 Elias Okon and Daniel Sudarsky. On the Consistency of the Consistent Histories Approach to Quantum Mechanics. Foundations of Physics, 44(1):19–33, January 2014. ISSN 1572-9516. DOI: 10.1007/s10701-013-9760-2. URL https://doi.org/10.1007/ s10701-013-9760-2.
 Elias Okon and Daniel Sudarsky. Measurements according to Consistent Histo- ries. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part B: Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics, 48:7–12, November 2014. ISSN 13552198. DOI: 10.1016/j.shpsb.2014.08.011. URL https://linkinghub.elsevier.com/retrieve/ pii/S1355219814000951.
 Angelo Bassi and GianCarlo Ghirardi. Decoherent Histories and Realism. Jour- nal of Statistical Physics, 98(1):457–494, January 2000. ISSN 1572-9613. DOI: 10.1023/A:1018647510799. URL https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1018647510799.
 Robert B. Griffiths. Consistent quantum measurements. Studies in History and Phi- losophy of Science Part B: Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics, 52: 188–197, November 2015. ISSN 13552198. DOI: 10.1016/j.shpsb.2015.07.002. URL https://linkinghub.elsevier.com/retrieve/pii/S1355219815000489.
 Robert B. Griffiths. Consistent Quantum Realism: A Reply to Bassi and Ghirardi. Journal of Statistical Physics, 99(5):1409–1425, June 2000. ISSN 1572-9613. DOI: 10.1023/A:1018601225280. URL https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1018601225280.
 Adrian Kent. Reply to: “Comment on: ‘Consistent sets yield contrary inferences in quantum theory’ ” [Phys. Rev. Lett. 81 (1998), no. 9, 1981; 1644140] by R. B. Griffiths and J. B. Hartle. Physical Review Letters, 81(9):1982, 1998. ISSN 0031-9007. DOI:
 Adrian Kent. Quantum histories and their implications. Lect. Notes Phys., 559:93–115, 2000.
 Murray Gell-Mann and James B. Hartle. Quasiclassical coarse graining and thermo-
dynamic entropy. Physical Review A, 76(2):022104, August 2007. DOI: 10.1103/Phys- RevA.76.022104. URL https://link.aps.org/doi/10.1103/PhysRevA.76.022104. Publisher: American Physical Society.
 C. Jess Riedel, Wojciech H. Zurek, and Michael Zwolak. Objective past of a quantum universe: Redundant records of consistent histories. Physical Review A, 93(3):032126, March 2016. DOI: 10.1103/PhysRevA.93.032126. URL https://link.aps.org/doi/ 10.1103/PhysRevA.93.032126. Publisher: American Physical Society.
 Rafael D. Sorkin. Quantum Measure Theory and its Interpretation. arXiv:gr- qc/9507057, June 1997. URL http://arxiv.org/abs/gr-qc/9507057. arXiv: gr- qc/9507057.
 Rafael D Sorkin. An exercise in “anhomomorphic logic”. Journal of Physics: Confer- ence Series, 67:012018, May 2007. ISSN 1742-6588, 1742-6596. DOI: 10.1088/1742- 6596/67/1/012018. URL http://stacks.iop.org/1742-6596/67/i=1/a=012018? key=crossref.4005da1bf56aeeaff5dfd80b73cc74c1.
 Rafael D. Sorkin. Quantum Mechanics as Quantum Measure Theory. Modern Physics Letters A, 09(33):3119–3127, October 1994. ISSN 0217-7323, 1793-6632. DOI: 10.1142/S021773239400294X. URL http://arxiv.org/abs/gr-qc/9401003. arXiv: gr-qc/9401003.
From “Emergence of Objectivity for Quantum Many-Body Systems” [arXiv:2202.06832]:
The emergence of classical reality from within a quantum mechanical universe has always been central to discussions on the foundations of quantum theory. While decoherence through interactions of a quantum system with its environment accounts for the disappearance of superpositions of quantum states [Zur81, Zur82, JZ85], it does not provide an a priori explanation for all intrinsic properties of a classical world and, in particular, for the emergence of an objective classical reality.
Quantum Darwinism [OPZ04, OPZ05, BKZ05, BKZ06, BKZ08, Zur09, Zur14, Zur18] proposes a solution to fill this gap. Its credo states that rather than interacting directly with systems of interest, observers intercept a small fraction of their environment to gather information about them. Classicality then emerges naturally from quantum Darwinism. First, observing the system of interest indirectly, by measuring its environment rather than directly with an apparatus, restricts obtainable information to observables on that are faithfully recorded in the environment. In practice, these observables are commuting with the well-defined preferred pointer basis induced by decoherence due to the interaction Hamiltonian between and . Second, requiring the observer to be able to infer the state of by measuring only a small fraction of implies that many such observers can do the same without modifying the state of the system. This, in turn, grants the state of the system an objective existence, as it can be discovered and agreed upon by many observers.
While early descriptions of quantum Darwinism [OPZ04, OPZ05] focused on simple models to build intuition, several subsequent works have studied the redundancy of information in more complex settings. References [BKZ08, RZ10, KHH14, ZRZ14, ZRZ16] show that quantum Darwinism through the redundant proliferation of information about the pointer states in the environment is a rather ubiquitous phenomenon encountered in many realistic situations.
The models used above to exemplify quantum Darwinism consider that the whole universe can be naturally split between , the system of interest, and , the environment itself subdivided into subsystems . As a consequence, the emergence of classicality is de facto analyzed relative to this separation. Redundant information is sought about observables on in . Yet, this is already going beyond what seems to be the minimal requirement that should allow to recover classical features of the universe: a natural egalitarian tensor product structure for the state space, without explicit reference to a preferred system environment dichotomy.
Such a scenario is particularly relevant for the Consistent Histories framework [Gri84, Omn94, G099]. The universe is viewed as a closed quantum system in which one wants to identify a single set of consistent histories that describe the quasi-classical domain, where emergent coarse-grained observables follow the classical equations of motion [RZZ16], and become objective for observers embedded in the quantum universe. In a similar fashion, this scenario is adapted for understanding the emergence of objective properties in many-body physics. The reason is that for such composite systems, quantum fluctuations can be recorded into complex mesoscopic regions, e.g., in the course of their amplification by classically chaotic systems. Hence, redundant information need not be relative to observables of a single subsystem or any predefined set of subsystems, but rather to observables of to-be-determined sets of subsystems. Ref. [Rie17] examines this question and shows that, due to the absence of a fixed set of subsystems defining the system of interest , it is possible to construct redundant records for two mutually incompatible observables. While this gives a clear example where redundancy of information is not enough to guarantee the uniqueness of objective observables, the main result of [Rie17] shows that this ambiguity requires the redundant records to delicately overlap with one another. In practical situations, such a delicate overlap is expected to be unlikely, thereby recovering the usual uniqueness of objective observables.
[BKZ05] R. Blume-Kohout and W. H. Zurek. A simple example of “quantum darwinism”: Redundant information storage in many-spin environments. Found Phys, 35:1857-1876, 2005.
[BKZ06] Robin Blume-Kohout and Wojciech H. Zurek. Quantum darwinism: Entanglement, branches, and the emergent classicality of redundantly stored quantum information. Phys. Rev. A, 73:062310, Jun 2006.
[BKZ08] Robin Blume-Kohout and Wojciech H. Zurek. Quantum darwinism in quantum brownian motion. Phys. Rev. Lett., 101:240405, Dec 2008.
[G099] R. B. Griffiths and R. Omnès. Consistent histories and quantum measurements. Phys. Today, 52:26, August 1999.
[Gri84] R. B. Griffiths. Consistent histories and the interpretation of quantum mechanics. J. Stat. Phys., 36:219, 1984.
[JZ85] E Joos and H. D. Zeh. The emergence of classical property through interaction with the environment. Z. Phys. B, 59:223, 1985.
[KHH14] J. K. Korbicz, P. Horodecki, and R. Horodecki. Objectivity in a noisy photonic environment through quantum state information broadcasting. Phys. Rev. Lett., 112:120402, Mar 2014.
[Omn94] R. Omnès. The Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics. Princeton University Press, 1994.
[OPZ04] H. Ollivier, D. Poulin, and W. H. Zurek. Objective properties from subjective quantum states: Environment as a witness. Phys. Rev. Lett., 93:220401, 2004.
[OPZ05] H. Ollivier, D. Poulin, and W. H. Zurek. Environment as a witness: Selective proliferation of information and emergence of objectivity. Phys. Rev. A, 72:012113, 2005.
[Rie17] C. Jess Riedel. Classical branch structure from spatial redundancy in a many-body wave function. Phys. Rev. Lett., 118:120402, Mar 2017.
[RZ10] C. Jess Riedel and Wojciech H. Zurek. Quantum darwinism in an everyday environment: Huge redundancy in scattered photons. Phys. Rev. Lett., 105:020401, Jul 2010.
[RZZ16] C. Jess Riedel, Wojciech H. Zurek, and Michael Zwolak. Objective past of a quantum universe: Redundant records of consistent histories. Phys. Rev. A, 93:032126, Mar 2016.
[ZRZ14] Michael Zwolak, C. Jess Riedel, and Wojciech H. Zurek. Amplification, redundancy, and quantum chernoff information. Phys. Rev. Lett., 112:140406, Apr 2014.
[ZRZ16] Michael Zwolak, C. Jess Riedel, and Wojciech H. Zurek. Amplification, decoherence and the acquisition of information by spin environments. Scientific Reports, 6(1):25277, 2016.
[Zur81] W. H. Zurek. Pointer basis of quantum apparatus: Into what mixture does the wave packet collapse? Phys. Rev. D, 24:1516, 1981.
[Zur82] W. H. Zurek. Environment-induced superselection rules. Phys. Rev. D, 26:1862-1880, 1982.
[Zur09] Wojciech Hubert Zurek. Quantum darwinism. Nature Physics, 5(3):181-188, 2009.
[Zur14] W. H. Zurek. Quantum darwinism, classical reality, and the randomness of quantum jumps. Physics Today, 67(10):44, 2014.
[Zur18] W. H. Zurek. Quantum theory of the classical: quantum jumps, born’s rule and objective classical reality via quantum darwinism. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. A., 376:20180107-20180107, 2018.
Strasberg, Reinhard, & Schindler
From “Everything Everywhere All At Once: A First Principles Numerical Demonstration of Emergent Decoherent Histories” [arXiv:2304.10258]:
The essential technical problem associated to the MWI is called the “preferred basis problem”: how to reconcile the Multiverse with our perceived classical experience within one universe? If quantum mechanics is applied to the entire Universe, then by linearity superpositions proliferate and spread, splitting the wave function into many universes, or “histories”, evolving in parallel (also called branches, worlds, realities, narratives, etc.). However, the wave function can—without approximation be split with respect to many different bases (indeed, a continuum of bases) and each basis provides a priori an equally justified starting point (and as we will discuss the wave function can be also split “backwards in time”). But as Bohr, in endless discussions with Einstein about the double slit experiment (and others), has made clear, a state describing a superposition of different properties makes said property ontologically indeterminate: in the double slit experiment the particle has no meaningful location without measurement . Thus, without identifying an additional structure justifying a classical description, as we experience it, the MWI describes infinitely many ontologically indeterminate splittings: a priori none of them allows to speak about “histories”, “worlds” or “realities” in any conventional, meaningful sense.
This additional structure must be derived, and within non-relativistic quantum mechanics a satisfactory derivation must comply at least with the following two minimal desiderata. (A) The system is isolated, evolves unitarily and is prepared in a pure state. This avoids the introduction of any form of classical noise from the outside (e.g., in form of ensemble averages), which potentially implies the answer to the question already from the start. We remark that the system might be (but does not need be) split into subsystems. (B) The condition of classicality must be a meaningful, rigorous definition that is suitable to account for multi-time properties or temporal correlation functions because the perception of classicality is a repeated experience (adapting Einstein’s quote, the moon was there yesterday, is there today and will be there tomorrow). This is important: speaking of different worlds or histories becomes only meaningful if we can reason about their past, present and future in classical terms.
Here, we use the decoherence functional (DF) introduced within the consistent or decoherent histories framework (or simply “histories framework” for short) [12-20] as a rigorous quantifier of multi-time classicality… We will discuss that almost all initial wave functions give rise to interesting universes or histories, that Ockham’s razor suggests to abandon collapse or hidden variable interpretations of quantum mechanics, and that the branching of the wave function is a priori not related to the arrow of time.
Perhaps surprisingly, our results do not rely on environmentally induced decoherence (EID) [21-23] or its refinement to quantum Darwinism [24-26]. This is surprising because the widely proclaimed (sole) answer to the question why the MWI gives rise to classically looking universes is EID, and many researchers worked on connecting the MWI or the histories framework to EID and quantum Darwinism [27-37], yet an explicit evaluation of the DF following the desiderata (A) and (B) is still missing. Only if one invokes a rigorous notion of multi-time quantum Markovianity [38-40], clear connections between the DF and EID have been established [29, 31, 33, 37], but this only shifts the problem of proving multi-time classicality to proving multi-time Markovianity, which is a daunting task too [41-45].
In contrast, the present approach does not rely on any system-bath tensor product splitting of the isolated system, although it is important to emphasize that it is not in conflict with EID or quantum Darwinism when applied to such a tensor product structure. Instead, we only consider slow and coarse observables of isolated, non-integrable quantum systems, similar to the approach taken by van Kampen in 1954 . While the importance of slow and coarse (or quasi-conserved) observables has been appreciated (see, e.g., Refs. [16, 19, 47] and references therein), the key factor of non-integrability is not recognized as a key factor by proponents of the histories, EID or quantum Darwinism framework. Consequently, van Kampen’s work has been ignored, despite him emphasizing its importance for the quantum-to-classical transition [48, 49]. However, also van Kampen did not put forward any rigorous analytical derivation of his claims and obviously no numerical evidence. Only very recently, analytical [37, 45] and numerical [37, 45, 50, 51] evidence for the correctness of van Kampen’s idea has been collected, but it has not yet been considered in light of the MWI and the histories framework.
 K. Barad, Meeting the universe halfway: Quantum physics and the entanglement of matter and meaning (Duke University Press, 2007).
 R. B. Griffiths, “Consistent histories and the interpretation of quantum mechanics,” J. Stat. Phys. 36, 219-272 (1984).
 M. Gell-Mann and J. B. Hartle, “Complexity, Entropy and the Physics of Information,” (Reading: Addison-Wesley, 1990) Chap. Quantum Mechanics in the Light of Quantum Cosmology, pp. 425-459.
 R. Omnès, “Consistent interpretations of quantum mechanics,” Rev. Mod. Phys. 64, 339-382 (1992).
 H. F. Dowker and J. J. Halliwell, “Quantum mechanics of history: The decoherence functional in quantum mechanics,” Phys. Rev. D 46, 1580-1609 (1992).
 M. Gell-Mann and J. B. Hartle, “Classical equations for quantum systems,” Phys. Rev. D 47, 3345-3382 (1993).
 F. Dowker and A. Kent, “On the consistent histories approach to quantum mechanics,” J. Stat. Phys. 82 (1996), 10.1007/BF02183396.
 L. Diósi, “Anomalies of Weakened Decoherence Criteria for Quantum Histories,” Phys. Rev. Lett. 92, 170401 (2004).
 M. Gell-Mann and J. B. Hartle, “Quasiclassical coarse graining and thermodynamic entropy,” Phys. Rev. A 76, 022104 (2007).
 R. B. Griffiths, “The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy,” (2019) Chap. The Consistent Histories Approach to Quantum Mechanics, summer 2019 ed.
 W. H. Zurek, “Decoherence, einselection, and the quantum origins of the classical,” Rev. Mod. Phys. 75, 715-775 (2003).
 E. Joos, H. D. Zeh, C. Kiefer, D. Giulini, J. Kupsch, and I.-O. Stamatescu, Decoherence and the Appearance of a Classical World in Quantum Theory (Springer, Berlin Heidelberg, 2003).
 M. Schlosshauer, “Quantum decoherence,” Phys. Rep. 831, 1-57 (2019).
 W. H. Zurek, “Quantum Darwinism,” Nature Phys. 5 (2009), doi.org/10.1038/nphys1202.
 J. K. Korbicz, “Roads to objectivity: Quantum Darwinism, Spectrum Broadcast Structures, and Strong quantum Darwinism – a review,” Quantum 5, 571 (2021).
 W. H. Zurek, “Quantum Theory of the Classical: Einselection, Envariance, Quantum Darwinism and Extantons,” Entropy 24, 1520 (2022).
 J. Finkelstein, “Definition of decoherence,” Phys. Rev. D 47, 5430-5433 (1993).
 S. Saunders, “Decoherence, relative states, and evolutionary adaptation,” Found. Phys. 23, 1553-1585 (1993).
 J. P. Paz and W. H. Zurek, “Environment-induced decoherence, classicality, and consistency of quantum histories,” Phys. Rev. D 48, 2728-2738 (1993).
 T. A. Brun, “Quantum Jumps as Decoherent Histories,” Phys. Rev. Lett. 78, 1833-1837 (1997).
 T. Yu, “Decoherence and localization in quantum twolevel systems,” Physica A 248, 393-418 (1998).
 L. Vaidman, “On schizophrenic experiences of the neutron or why we should believe in the many-worlds interpretation of quantum theory,” Int. Stud. Phil. Sci. 12, 245 (1998).
 T. A. Brun, “Continuous measurements, quantum trajectories, and decoherent histories,” Phys. Rev. A 61, 042107 (2000)
 C. J. Riedel, W. H. Zurek, and M. Zwolak, “Objective past of a quantum universe: Redundant records of consistent histories,” Phys. Rev. A 93, 032126 (2016).
 A. Albrecht, R. Baunach, and A. Arrasmith, “Einselection, equilibrium, and cosmology,” Phys. Rev. D 106, 123507 (2022).
 A. Touil, F. Anza, S. Deffner, and J. P. Crutchfield, “Branching States as The Emergent Structure of a Quantum Universe,” arXiv: 2208.05497 (2022).
 P. Strasberg, “Classicality with(out) decoherence: Concepts, relation to Markovianity, and a random matrix theory approach,” arXiv: 2301.02563 (2023).
 F. A. Pollock, C. Rodríguez-Rosario, T. Frauenheim, M. Paternostro, and K. Modi, “Operational Markov condition for quantum processes,” Phys. Rev. Lett. 120, 040405 (2018).
 L. Li, M. J. W. Hall, and H. M. Wiseman, “Concepts of quantum non-Markovianity: A hierarchy,” Phys. Rep. 759, 1-51 (2018).
 S. Milz and K. Modi, “Quantum Stochastic Processes and Quantum non-Markovian Phenomena,” PRX Quantum 2, 030201 (2021).
 R. Dümcke, “Convergence of multitime correlation functions in the weak and singular coupling limits,” J. Math. Phys. 24, 311 (1983).
 G. W. Ford and R. F. O’Connell, “There is no quantum regression theorem,” Phys. Rev. Lett. 77, 798-801 (1996).
 P. Figueroa-Romero, K. Modi, and F. A. Pollock, “Almost markovian processes from closed dynamics,” Quantum 3, 136 (2019).
 P. Figueroa-Romero, F. A. Pollock, and K. Modi, “Markovianization with approximate unitary designs,”
Commun. Phys. 4, 127 (2021).
 P. Strasberg, A. Winter, J. Gemmer, and J. Wang, “Classicality, Markovianity and local detailed balance from pure state dynamics,” arXiv 2209.07977 (2022).
 N. Van Kampen, “Quantum statistics of irreversible processes,” Physica 20, 603-622 (1954).
 J. Halliwell, “Many Worlds? Everett, Quantum Theory, and Reality,” (Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2010) Chap. Macroscopic Superpositions, Decoherent Histories, and the Emergence of Hydrodynamic Behaviour, pp. 99-118
 N. G. van Kampen, B. DeWitt, S. Goldstein, J. Bricmont, R. B. Griffiths, and R. Omnès, “Quantum Histories, Mysteries, and Measurements,” Phys. Today 53, 76 (2000).
 N. G. van Kampen, “The scandal of quantum mechanics,” Am. J. Phys. 76, 989 (2008).
 J. Gemmer and R. Steinigeweg, “Entropy increase in k-step Markovian and consistent dynamics of closed quantum systems,” Phys. Rev. E 89, 042113 (2014).
 D. Schmidtke and J. Gemmer, “Numerical evidence for approximate consistency and Markovianity of some quantum histories in a class of finite closed spin systems,” Phys. Rev. E 93, 012125 (2016).
(↵ returns to text)
- Relatedly, I have another blog posts that reviews the consistency conditions in consistent histories.↵
- In Sec. 7 and 8 of Kabernik et al. (“Quantum State Reduction: Generalized Bipartitions from Algebras of Observables”, Phys. Rev. A 101, 032303 (2020), arXiv:1909.12851), the authors propose a criteria for a preferred quasiclassical observable, which implicitly defines wavefunction branches as the instantaneous eigenstates thereof. Although very interesting for extending the predictability sieve outside the context of a preferred system-environment tensor structure to (my preferred) context of a lattice (i.e., a microscopic tensor structure induced by spatial locality), I would be surprised if the single (system-dependent) observable they propose could capture all the things we associate with macroscopic outcomes. I also do not understand the motivation, beyond convenience, for (1) the assumption that this preferred observable is strictly a linear combination of local (single-site) observables or (2) the decision to use the Hilbert-Schmidt norm for the sieve. (Almost certainly this definition would not be “covariant under RG flow”, i.e., would depend importantly on the spatial scale at which you choose your microscopic subsystems.) Still, a compelling approach!↵