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These are some brief notes I wrote for myself because I kept forgetting where the Cauchy-Schwarz Inequality comes from, and would have to go look at it again every time it came up in my studies.
They also apply the Cauchy-Schwarz Inequality to derive the generalize Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle.

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You are on page 1of 5

1 Introduction

The Cauchy Schwarz Inequality states that any time you take an inner product

(i.e. dot product) of two vectors, you can’t get something longer than if you

just multiplied the two vectors’ lengths. This is the crucial theorem underlying

Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle.

In the simple vectors we draw in physics 101, the inequality is obvious,

because the dot product of two vectors ~a and ~b is

~a · ~b = |a||b| cos θ (1)

with θ the angle between the vectors. Because cos θ ≤ 1, the dot product is less

than or equal to the product of the lengths. Also, the dot product equals the

product of the lengths only when the vectors point in the same direction. Here,

we want to generalize this result to abstract vector spaces, working from the

axioms. Since we’re talking about abstract vectors from now on, rather than

little arrows in a plane, we’ll switch to the bra-ket notation.

Vector spaces can exist without inner products, but they’re less interesting that

way because we can’t define orthogonality or take projections. Inner products

are also closely tied to norms. If a vector space has an inner product defined,

we can define the norm of a vector v by

p

|v| = hv | vi (2)

Alternatively, if we have a norm but no inner product (as might be the case

in a physical situation, where the norm is what you get by laying down a ruler),

we can define the inner product of two vectors by

4hv | wi ≡ |v + w|2 − |v − w|2 (3)

Although it isn’t immediately obvious, this definition is linear in both vec-

tors. For a complex vector space, the appropriate definition is

4ha|bi ≡ |a + b|2 − |a − b|2 − ı(|a + ıb|2 − |a − ıb|2 ). (4)

1

3 Decomposition of a Vector

When we have an inner product space, there are some vectors whose inner

products are especially simple - parallel and orthogonal vectors. Intuitively,

parallel vectors are vectors that point the same direction. Their definition is

two vectors for which the length of the sum is the sum of the lengths. Orthogonal

(or perpendicular) vectors are defined as having an inner product of zero. For

these vectors, the Pythagorean Theorem tells us that the square of the length

of the sum is the sum of the squares of the lengths.

Looking at any two vectors |yi and |xi, it would be nice if we could under-

stand them simply in terms of parallel and orthogonal vectors, even though |yi

and |xi are in general neither of these. What we’ll try to do then is take |yi

apart into two pieces, one of which is parallel to |xi, and the other orthogonal

to it.

Specifically, we want to find some scalar c such that

| yi = c | xi+ | wi (5)

with

hx | wi = 0 (6)

Dotting both sides of (5) with hx | gives

hx | yi = chx | xi + hx | wi

hx | yi = chx | xi + 0

hx | yi

c = (7)

hx | xi

Putting this result for c back into (5) yields

hx | yi

| yi = | xi+ | wi. (8)

hx | xi

Geometrically, we’re creating a right triangle with | yi as the hypotenuse.

We suspect that

|hx | yi| ≤ |x||y| (9)

.

That’s the Cauchy-Schwarz Inequality. We want to prove it from the axioms

of the inner product, which are

hx | xi ≥ 0, and hx | xi = 0 ⇔| xi = 0

hx | yi = hy | xi∗

hx | αy + βzi = αhx | yi + βhx | zi (10)

2

Written out entirely in inner products, the Cauchy-Schwarz inequality is

p

|hx | yi| ≤ hx | xihy | yi. (11)

Because the right hand side is positive, the statement is equivalent to what

we get by squaring both sides.

We broke | yi down into parallel and perpendicular parts, so let’s substitute

(8) into (12) and see what we’ve got.

!

2

2 hx | yi

hx | yi ≤ hx | xi hw | wi + hx | xi (13)

hx | xi

Simplifying a little gives that the Cauchy-Schwarz Inequality is equivalent

to

hx | yi2 ≤ hx | yi2 + hx | xihw | wi (14)

which is obviously true. Further, the equality obtains only when | xi = 0 or

| wi = 0, meaning | xi and | yi are linearly dependent.

5 Alternate Proof

Here’s another proof that is a bit more clever. We’ll work in a real vector space

for this one.

The Cauchy-Schwarz Inequality is trivial if | xi and | yi are dependent. So

assume they are independent, meaning

∀λ ∈ R, λ | yi− | xi =

6 0. (15)

Then the norm of this subtraction must be positive.

∀λ ∈ R, λ2 hy | yi − 2λhx | yi + hx | xi ≥ 0 (16)

The left hand side is quadratic in λ, but the quadratic has no roots because

it’s always greater than zero. Therefore the discriminant is negative. This

means

hx | yi2 < hx | xihy | yi (17)

3

6 The Triangle Inequality

Once we have the Cauchy-Schwarz Inequality, we can get the Triangle Inequality,

which says

Both sides are positive, so we can square them. Writing the result in inner

products gives

p

hx + y | x + yi ≤ hx | xi + 2 hx | xihy | yi + hy | yi

p

2hx | yi ≤ 2 hx | xihy | yi (19)

Another Triangle Inequality is

This follows from

−2|x||y| ≤ 2hx | yi

|x|2 − 2|x||y| + |y|2 ≤ |x|2 + hx | yi + |y|2

2

(|x| − |y|) ≤ hx | xi + 2hx | yi + hy | yi

2

(|x| − |y|) ≤ hx + y | x + yi

||x| − |y|| ≤ |x + y|

||x| − |y|| ≤ |x − y| (21)

This means that when you add or subtract two vectors, the length of the

resultant is always between what you get by adding and subtracting the lengths

of the two vectors directly.

Suppose two Hermitian linear operators A and B have the commutator

[A, B] = C (23)

with C some other linear operator. We’re interested in the simultaneous eigen-

vectors of A and B. Or, if they don’t have them, we’re interested in knowing

how close we can get.

4

When |ψi is an eigenvector of A, it has zero variance, meaning hψ|A2 |ψi = hψ|A|ψi2 .

So the variance is a measure of how close we are to an eigenvector. To make

things easier on ourselves, we could consider the operator A′ ≡ A − hψ|A|ψi.

Adding a constant to an operator doesn’t change its variance, but this particu-

lar constant does kill the mean. So without loss of generality, let’s kill off the

means of A and B.

Here it is:

p

∆A∆B ≡ hΨ|A2 |ΨihΨ|B 2 |Ψi

p

= hAΨ|AΨihBΨ|BΨi

≥ |hAΨ|BΨi|

= |hΨ|AB|Ψi|

1

∗

≥ (hΨ|AB|Ψi − hΨ|AB|Ψi )

2ı

1

= hΨ|C|Ψi

2ı

1

= |hΨ|C|Ψi| (24)

2

We invoked the Cauchy-Schwarz Inequality to go from the second to the

third line. To go from the fourth to fifth line, we said that the magnitude of

a complex number is greater than or equal to the magnitude of its imaginary

part.

For the special case where A is the position operator and B is the momentum

operator, the canonical commutation relation tells us C = h̄. This is a constant

times the identity, and plugging this into (24) gives

h̄

∆x∆p ≥ (25)

2

Also note that when we asserted that the magnitude of a number is less

than or equal to that of its imaginary part, we could have made an equivalent

statement about its real part. In this case we’d get an uncertainty relation

involving the anti-commutator.

8 References

Axler, Sheldon. Linear Algebra Done Right

Spivak, Michael. Calculus on Manifolds

Blandord, Roger and Kip Thorne. Applications of Classical Physics

Hassani, Sadri. Mathematical Physics

Shankar, R. Principles of Quantum Mechanics

Wikipedia Uncertainty Principle

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