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We discuss some difficulties that arise in attempting to interpret the Page–Wootters and Internal Quantum Reference Frames formalisms, then use a ‘final measurement’ approach to demonstrate that there is a workable single-world realist interpretation for these formalisms. We note that it is necessary to adopt some interpretation before we can determine if the ‘reference frames’ invoked in these approaches are operationally meaningful, and we argue that without a clear operational interpretation, such reference frames might not be suitable to define an equivalence principle. We argue that the notion of superposition should take into account the way in which an instantaneous state is embedded in ongoing dynamical evolution, and this leads to a more nuanced way of thinking about the relativity of superposition in these approaches. We conclude that typically the operational content of these approaches appears only in the limit as the size of at least one reference system becomes large, and therefore these formalisms have an important role to play in showing how our macroscopic reference frames can emerge out of wholly relational facts.


This is a pre-copy-editing, author-produced PDF of an article accepted for publication in Foundations of Physics, volume 52, in 2022 following peer review. The final publication may differ and is available at Springer via

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