Foundations of Physics

, Volume 21, Issue 1, pp 43–62 | Cite as

Particles, particle labels, and quanta: The toll of unacknowledged metaphysics

  • Michael Redhead
  • Paul Teller
Part IV. Invited Papers Dedicated To John Stewart Bell


The practice of describing multiparticle quantum systems in terms of labeled particles indicates that we think of quantum entities as individuatable. The labels, together with particle indistinguishability, create the need for symmetrization or antisymmetrization (or, in principle, higher-order symmetries), which in turn results in “surplus formal structure” in the formalism, formal structure which corresponds to nothing in the real world. We argue that these facts show quanta to be unindividuatable entities, things in principle incapable of supporting labels, and so things which support no factual difference_if two of them are thought of as being switched. When thinking of the metaphysics of quanta, we should eschew the misleading labels of the tensor product Hilbert space formalism and prefer the ontologically more faithful description of the Fock space formalism. This conception eliminates puzzles about the quantum statistics of bosons.


Hilbert Space Quantum Statistic Tensor Product Formal Structure Quantum System 
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Copyright information

© Plenum Publishing Corporation 1991

Authors and Affiliations

  • Michael Redhead
    • 1
  • Paul Teller
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of History and Philosophy of ScienceCambridge UniversityCambridgeUnited Kingdom
  2. 2.Department of PhilosophyUniversity of CaliforniaDavis

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