Quantum physics frequently involves a need to count the states, subspaces, measurement outcomes, and other elements of quantum dynamics. However, with quantum mechanics assigning probabilities to such objects, it is often desirable to work with the notion of a “total” that takes into account their varied relevance. For example, such an effective count of position states available to a lattice electron could characterize its localization properties. Similarly, the effective total of outcomes in the measurement step of a quantum computation relates to the efficiency of the quantum algorithm. Despite a broad need for effective counting, a well-founded prescription has not been formulated. Instead, the assignments that do not respect the measure-like nature of the concept, such as versions of the participation number or exponentiated entropies, are used in some areas. Here, we develop the additive theory of effective number functions (ENFs), namely functions assigning consistent totals to collections of objects endowed with probability weights. Our analysis reveals the existence of a minimal total, realized by the unique ENF, which leads to effective counting with absolute meaning. Touching upon the nature of the measure, our results may find applications not only in quantum physics, but also in other quantitative sciences.
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