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Postulates of Quantum Mechanics

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system is completely specified by a Hilbert space vector (r, t), known as the

wavefunction. The wave function must be continuous and finite everywhere, and

must satisfy the following condition:

I.

II.

III.

, , ) (a Hermitian operator) is obtained.

The state vector can be expanded with the eigenvectors of A as a basis.

The probability of obtaining a particular eigenvalue as the result of

measurement is given by the squared of the modulus of the coefficient of

the corresponding eigenvector in the expansion of the total state vector.

The act of measurement causes the wavefunction to collapse to the

corresponding eigenvector (or to the projection of onto the degenerate

subspace, in case the eigenvalue is degenerate).

particle)

Observable

Observable

Operator

Operator

Name

Symbol

Symbol

Operation

Position

Momentum

Multiply by

Total energy

Dynamic variable

A(r, p, E)

A( , ,

is given by

= 0. This implies that the average value of f, <f>, equals zero. Hence, f=0. Hence,

(T + V E) = 0. This is called the Schrodingers equation. The reason why this

equation works only in non-relativistic limits is that the expression of T used here

is non-relativistic.

One can mathematically show that for any continuous linear operator A: H H,

there exists a unique continuous linear operator A*: H H with the following

property:

Hermitian operator. In case A* = A-1, the operator A is called a Unitary operator.

Hermitian operators always have real eigenvalues, which is consistent with the fact

that measurements always return one of the eigenvalues of the operator

corresponding to the observable.

With regard to the third postulate, it is interesting to note that we can only know

the probability of finding the particle in a particular state, and this is not due to the

inadequacy of quantum mechanics. The reason we can only know about the

probability that a measurement will return a particular value is due to the fact that

the various dynamic variables which we employ in order to study microscopic

particles do not have well-defined values. In short, the particle doesnt have a welldefined state before the measurement occurs. Let us take an example where we are

measuring the position of the particle. The particle doesnt have an exact position

until the position is measured. The act of measurement forces the particle to

randomly assume some position, with the probability density given by the modulus

of the wave function. This event is called the wave function collapse, because

after the measurement, the wave function collapses to become peaked at the

measured value.

Thus, there are two different kinds of physical processes which occur in quantum

mechanics: the ordinary ones, in which the state of a system evolves undisturbed

according to some wave equation (the Schrdinger equation is a good

approximation for non-relativistic limits), and measurements, which cause the

wave function to suddenly and discontinuously collapse. The mechanism of

collapse is unknown, and the word measurement yet lacks a rigorous definition.

Moreover, since the particle doesnt have a well-defined position before

measurement, we can no longer give meaningful physical interpretations to terms

like velocity, momentum, trajectory of the particle, etc. In fact, these terms are not

well-defined for microscopic particles, because such particles simply dont have a

well-defined position, momentum, etc. before they are measured.

To make the matters worse, it turns out that there are certain pairs of conjugate

variables, like position and momentum, which cannot be simultaneously

measured. It is engrained within the very nature of the wave function that it cannot

collapse into a state which simultaneously has an exact position and momentum.

Thus, if we know with certainty about the exact position of a particle at some

instant, the particle simply wont have a well-defined momentum, such that if the

very next moment its momentum were measured, it could turn out to be anything.

The more precisely the position of some particle is determined, the less precisely

its momentum can be known, and vice versa. A formal inequality relating

the standard deviation of position x and the standard deviation of momentum p is

given as:

Spin is an intrinsic form of angular momentum carried by elementary particles,

composite particles (hadrons), and atomic nuclei. As the name suggests, spin was

originally conceived as the rotation of a particle around some axis. This picture is

correct so far as spin obeys the same mathematical laws as quantized angular

momenta do. On the other hand, the spin of an elementary particle is a truly

intrinsic physical property, akin to the particle's electric charge and rest mass.

Theoretical and experimental studies have shown that the spin possessed by such

particles cannot be explained by postulating that they are made up of even smaller

particles rotating about a common center of mass; as far as can be determined,

these elementary particles have no inner structure.

When the idea of electron spin was first introduced in 1925, even Wolfgang Pauli

had trouble accepting Ralph Kronig's model. The problem was not that a rotating

charged particle would have given rise to a magnetic field but that the electron was

so small that the equatorial speed of the electron would have to be greater than the

speed of light for the magnetic moment to be of the observed strength.

In 1930, Paul Dirac developed a new version of the Wave Equation which

was relativistically invariant (unlike Schrdinger's one), and predicted the

magnetic moment correctly, and at the same time treated the electron as a point

particle. In the Dirac equation all four quantum numbers including the additional

quantum number, s arose naturally during its solution.

Identical particles, also called indistinguishable or indiscernible particles,

are particles that cannot be distinguished from one another, even in principle.

Species of identical particles include elementary particles such as electrons, and,

with some clauses, composite particles such as atoms and molecules.

There are two ways in which one might distinguish between particles. The first

method relies on differences in the particles' intrinsic physical properties, such

as mass, electric charge, and spin. If differences exist, we can distinguish between

that microscopic particles of the same species have completely equivalent physical

properties. For instance, every electron in the universe has exactly the same

electric charge; this is why we can speak of such a thing as "the charge of the

electron".

Even if the particles have equivalent physical properties, there remains a second

method for distinguishing between particles, which is to track the trajectory of each

particle. As long as we can measure the position of each particle with infinite

precision (even when the particles collide), there would be no ambiguity about

which particle is which.

The problem with this approach is that it contradicts the principles of quantum

mechanics. According to quantum theory, the particles do not possess definite

positions during the periods between measurements. Instead, they are governed

by wavefunctions that give the probability of finding a particle at each position. As

time passes, the wavefunctions tend to spread out and overlap. Once this happens,

it becomes impossible to determine, in a subsequent measurement, which of the

particle positions correspond to those measured earlier. The particles are then said

to be identical, or indistinguishable.

Two indistinguishable particles only have one state, not two. This means that if we

exchange the positions of the particles, we do not get a new state, but rather the

same physical state. In fact, one cannot tell which particle is in which position.

A physical state is described by a wavefunction, or more generally by a vector,

which is also called a "state"; if interactions with other particles are ignored, then

two different wavefunctions are physically equivalent if their absolute value is

equal. So, while the physical state does not change under the exchange of the

particles' positions, the wavefunction may get a minus sign.

Bosons (particles with whole number spin) are particles whose wavefunction is

symmetric under such an exchange, so if we swap the particles the wavefunction

does not change. Fermions (particles with half-integer spin) are particles whose

wavefunction is antisymmetric, so under such a swap the wavefunction gets a

minus sign, meaning that the amplitude for two identical fermions to occupy the

same state must be zero. This is the Pauli Exclusion Principle: two identical

fermions cannot occupy the same state. This rule does not hold for bosons.

Another strange aspect of quantum mechanics is that although the position of a

particle is not certain, the time recorded by its internal clock does not suffer from

the same uncertainty. In short, particles dont have real positions, but they do have

a real age. If this were not the case, then we would have to discard our usual

approach of treating time as a parameter, and without a well-defined parameter we

would not be able to describe the evolution of physical systems. The whole of

physics would be thrown into disarray, and we would have no clue so as to which

direction we should advance. Thankfully, that didnt happen.

What quantum mechanics currently lacks is a proper system to determine the

operator for any observable, given the three basic operators. It also lacks a

theoretical justification of the exact relationship between operators and

observables. What is the theoretical connection between a dynamical variable, and

its quantum operator?

One has an intuitive feeling that the classical definition of the dynamical variables

and the mathematical nature of the operators have some connection. If we

understood this connection, we would also understand why the eigenvalues of the

operators correspond to the possible outcomes of measurement. This could also

have got something to do with the very nature of the wavefunction.

What we need is the correct mathematics that would enable us to easily construct

operators, given any observable. I can see half of the problems melting away if we

could do that. For example, how would you construct the operator for XP (position

times momentum)? Is it XP or PX (since the two operators do not commute)? This

ambiguity cannot be theoretically resolved, and only an experiment can provide an

answer. For another instance, using the usual method of operator construction does

not enable us to construct an operator for the rate of change of momentum with

respect to time (because the rate of change of the momentum operator with respect

to time is simply meaningless; operators dont change with time).

In short, we need the exact science of operator construction. Since quantum

particles dont have a real position, the phrase, measuring the position is actually

misleading. A more accurate description of the measurement process would be like

this: when we interact with the quantum particle using the same procedure as used

in measuring the position of a classical particle, the value we get is one of the

eigenvalues of the position operator. The measurement procedure has a direct

effect on the wavefunction, and the procedure itself is related to the classical

definition of the observable. Hence, the nature of the observable and the effect it

has on the wavefunction must have some connection. It is my intuitive guess that

all the answers lie in the nature of the wavefunction, including the way it interacts

with its surroundings.

We know that when an observable is a linear symmetric combination of the three

basic observables, we can find its operator simply by replacing the three basic

variables by their respective observables. However, if the combination is linear but

not symmetric, we get an ambiguous case, and if the combination is not linear, we

get meaningless results when we apply the above method for operator construction.

For instance, what would be the operator for sin P? Supposedly, the sine of the

momentum operator is supposed to be another operator the one corresponding to

sin P. Basically what this means is that if A is an operator corresponding to A, then

f(A) is an operator whose eigenvalues are the f of the eigenvalues of A. This

definition would then be consistent with the condition that a measurement of A

returns one of the eigenvalues of A. So if we measure f(A), the result should be the

f of the eigenvalues of eigenvalues of A. However, these values are precisely

supposed to be the eigenvalues of f(A).

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