Probabilities in Quantum Cosmological Models: A Decoherent Histories Analysis Using a Complex Potential

Research paper by J. J. Halliwell

Indexed on: 14 Sep '09Published on: 14 Sep '09Published in: General Relativity and Quantum Cosmology


In the quantization of simple cosmological models (minisuperspace models) described by the Wheeler-DeWitt equation, an important step is the construction, from the wave function, of a probability distribution answering various questions of physical interest, such as the probability of the system entering a given region of configuration space at any stage in its entire history. A standard but heuristic procedure is to use the flux of (components of) the wave function in a WKB approximation. This gives sensible semiclassical results but lacks an underlying operator formalism. In this paper, we address the issue of constructing probability distributions linked to the Wheeler-DeWitt equation using the decoherent histories approach to quantum theory. We show that the appropriate class operators (the generalization of strings of projectors) in quantum cosmology are readily constructed using a complex potential. We derive the class operator for entering or not entering one or more regions in configuration space. They commute with the Hamiltonian, have a sensible classical limit and are closely related to intersection number operators. We show that oscillatory WKB solutions to the Wheeler-DeWitt equation give approximate decoherence of histories, as do superpositions of WKB solutions, as long as the regions of configuration space are sufficiently large. The corresponding probabilities coincide, in a semiclassical approximation, with standard heuristic procedures. In brief, we exhibit the well-defined operator formalism underlying the usual heuristic interpretational methods in quantum cosmology.