Certainty in Heisenberg's uncertainty principle: Revisiting definitions for estimation errors and disturbance


We revisit the definitions of error and disturbance recently used in error-disturbance inequalities derived by Ozawa and others by expressing them in the reduced system space. The interpretation of the definitions as mean-squared deviations relies on an implicit assumption that is generally incompatible with the Bell-Kochen-Specker-Spekkens contextuality theorems, and which results in averaging the deviations over a non-positive-semidefinite joint quasiprobability distribution. For unbiased measurements, the error admits a concrete interpretation as the dispersion in the estimation of the mean induced by the measurement ambiguity. We demonstrate how to directly measure not only this dispersion but also every observable moment with the same experimental data, and thus demonstrate that perfect distributional estimations can have nonzero error according to this measure. We conclude that the inequalities using these definitions do not capture the spirit of Heisenberg’s eponymous inequality, but do indicate a qualitatively different relationship between dispersion and disturbance that is appropriate for ensembles being probed by all outcomes of an apparatus. To reconnect with the discussion of Heisenberg, we suggest alternative definitions of error and disturbance that are intrinsic to a single apparatus outcome. These definitions naturally involve the retrodictive and interdictive states for that outcome, and produce complementarity and error-disturbance inequalities that have the same form as the traditional Heisenberg relation.

Physical Review A 89, 022106
Justin Dressel
Justin Dressel
Associate Professor of Physics

Researches quantum information, computation, and foundations.