Scientific article
Open access

Quantum theory based on real numbers can be experimentally falsified

Published inNature, vol. 600, no. 7890, p. 625-629
Publication date2021-12-15
First online date2021-12-15

While complex numbers are essential in mathematics, they are not needed to describe physical experiments, expressed in terms of probabilities, hence real numbers. Physics however aims to explain, rather than describe, experiments through theories. While most theories of physics are based on real numbers, quantum theory was the first to be formulated in terms of operators acting on complex Hilbert spaces. This has puzzled countless physicists, including the fathers of the theory, for whom a real version of quantum theory, in terms of real operators, seemed much more natural. In fact, previous works showed that such "real quantum theory" can reproduce the outcomes of any multipartite experiment, as long as the parts share arbitrary real quantum states. Thus, are complex numbers really needed in the quantum formalism? Here, we show this to be case by proving that real and complex quantum theory make different predictions in network scenarios comprising independent states and measurements. This allows us to devise a Bell-like experiment whose successful realization would disprove real quantum theory, in the same way as standard Bell experiments disproved local physics.

  • Hilbert space
  • Network
Note21 pages. Some typos corrected in the analytic proof, new discussion about the use of tensor products to model space-like separation in quantum field theory, short introduction to non-local real quantum models reproducing the predictions of quantum theory, compendium of theoretical arguments against real quantum theory, real quantum simulation of joint measurements of independent preparations
  • Austrian Science Fund FWF - [M 2812]
Citation (ISO format)
RENOU, Marc-Olivier et al. Quantum theory based on real numbers can be experimentally falsified. In: Nature, 2021, vol. 600, n° 7890, p. 625–629. doi: 10.1038/s41586-021-04160-4
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Article (Published version)
ISSN of the journal0028-0836

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