What is in a name?

For those coming in and reading various Bohm sympathetic papers, they might be a little puzzled. What is the name of this theory? Are there multiple theories? What should it be called?

So here is my view on the matter. There are three good contenders for the name: pilot wave theory, deBroglie-Bohm theory, and Bohmian mechanics. They are all the same theory.

Pilot wave theory was the original name given by de Broglie. It is somewhat descriptive, but places an emphasis on the wave without informing on what are the beables of the theory. It also sounds weak to my ears.

deBroglie-Bohm theory was the choice given by Bell. It describes the two independent discoverers of this theory. But it seems non-descriptive to me. It tells someone nothing about the theory.

Bohmian mechanics is a middle ground. The mechanics is crucial. It suggests that this is a theory about particles. It also fits in nicely with its sibling theories of Newtonian mechanics, statistical mechanics, and quantum mechanics. All three of those theories have important links to Bohmian mechanics. It also gives credit to one of the inventors, albeit to the one who discovered it second. But more importantly, the name Bohm has been cemented with this theory. De Broglie’s name never was, as far as I know. He proposed it and then it disappeared into the dustbin of silence. Bohm’s theory did too in some ways, but it was Bohm’s work that inspired Bell and his results. For that, it is reasonable to be in Bohm’s honor.

I would also say that Bohmian mechanics has a nice ring to it. Names are not shorthand histories nor abstracts for a theory. It is nice if they are linked to history and descriptive, but more importantly it should be lasting. This is the name that does all of that.

Indeed, I would say its major problem is that many of those I talk to want to call it Bohemian mechanics. But that is hardly a reason to reject it.

I have heard arguments that Bohm disliked the name Bohmian mehcanics and that it is therefore disrespectful to use it for that reason. Unfortunately for some, the wishes of those who come up with the idea are rarely listened to. I remember a story about Zorn of Zorn’s lemma and how he was haunted his whole life by that being his claim to fame while he considered that work to be trivial and his later work to be more important. It is all in the name. Zorn had no hope to escape this fate given how nice it sounds. The same is true of Bohm. He just has a great name for theory naming.

Related to this concern is the belief that Bohmian mechanics is different from the theory that Bohm came up with in 1952. This is false. The presentation is different, but both theories have the same trajectories as outputs. That is, they are the same theories of particle motions. It is true that the approach taken here, and by Bell, and by de Broglie, emphasize the first-order nature of the theory while Bohm’s presentation had an air of being second-order, but that is in presentation only.

The emphasis on the probability current that is present throughout this site and the work of DGZ and Bell is different from Bohm’s emphasis. But even the role of the probability is present in his work.

So that is my two cents worth on the name. It sounds better than the alternatives and it seems roughly valid in description and history, if not perfect. Do not even get me started on Bohm’s later theory names of the causal interpretation and the ontological interpretation.

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