As Tim Maudlin points out in his paper:

Early on, Bell’s result was often reported as ruling out determinism, or hidden variables. Nowadays, it is sometimes reported as ruling out, or at least calling in question, realism. But these are all mistakes. What Bell’s theorem, together with the experimental results, proves to be impossible (subject to a few caveats we will attend to) is not determinism or hidden variables or realism but locality, in a perfectly clear sense. What Bell proved, and what theoretical physics has not yet properly absorbed, is that the physical world itself is non-local.

John Bell himself had stated:

But why then had Born not told me of this “pilot wave”? If only to point out what was wrong with it? Why did von Neumann not consider it? More extraordinarily, why did people go on producing “impossibility” proofs, after 1952, and as recently as 1978? … Why is the pilot wave picture ignored in text books? Should it not be taught, not as the only way, but as an antidote to the prevailing complacency? To show us that vagueness, subjectivity, and indeterminism, are not forced on us by experimental facts, but by deliberate theoretical choice? (Bell 1982, reprinted in 1987c: 160)

Is it true that the historical attitudes from physicists were that it served as evidence against determinism and/or realism? And if so, what caused this historical and seemingly popular misconception?

  • $\begingroup$ I'm pretty sure that historically, every conceivable interpretation of Bell's theorem has been entertained at some point or other. One criticism that has been made of Maudlin's claim that Bell proved that the physical world is non-local is that the concept of locality is a classical concept and it is not clear that it applies to quantum phenomena. A question of this sort might get more traction on the philosophy stack. $\endgroup$
    – nwr
    Commented May 7 at 15:28
  • $\begingroup$ In Against Realism by Travis Norsen (2006) has a list of quotes on page 2 of papers referring to Bell's theorem as a "violation of local realism". $\endgroup$
    – Mauricio
    Commented May 7 at 15:37
  • $\begingroup$ @nwr That same “classical assumption” argument is addressed here: arxiv.org/abs/1408.1828. In short, there’s no way around non locality $\endgroup$
    – Cory
    Commented May 7 at 16:21
  • $\begingroup$ It's still seen as evidence against realism and determinism by most physicists. That that's a misconception is an opinion, and not an especially popular one. $\endgroup$
    – benrg
    Commented May 8 at 6:23
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ It is ironic that Maudlin makes the same mistake that he spots, one that Bell did not make. Bell’s theorem does not rule out determinism or hidden variables or realism or non-contextuality or locality, it only rules out a conjunction of their special variants. One can keep any one by sacrificing others. The early reception is discussed by Freire and it was mostly one of missing the theorem's significance, even by de Broglie and Bohm. He does say that Clark-Turner realized a "conflict" with hidden variables in 1968, but did not make much of it. $\endgroup$
    – Conifold
    Commented May 8 at 7:03


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