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Quantum superposition

1 Concept
The principle of quantum superposition is most clearly
understood when it refers to pure states of a quantum system.

1.1 Preparation of a primary beam in a

pure state
One considers a primary beam of quantal entities (examples: photons, material particles such as atoms) that has
been prepared in a so-called pure state, as follows.

Quantum superposition of states and decoherence

Initially, instances of the quantal entity of interest, ray

or particle of a wave or material nature, as the case may
be, are obtained in large numbers, issuing from an oven
or some natural object such as the sun, that can be considered the initiating source. The source supplies a raw
beam composed of a chemically pure substance (e.g. a
vapour of atoms of silver) or a form of radiation (e.g.
a beam of light). While they are still in the oven, the
quantal entities are in some kind of mutual thermal equilibrium, having interacted with one another, directly or
indirectly. Thereby they have become entangled. Also
thereby, their respective quantum mechanical phases became partly coherent, for example because of stimulated

For any particular quantum system, the principle of

quantum superposition states the existence of certain
relations amongst states, respectively pure with respect to
particular distinct quantum state analysers. It is a fundamental principle of quantum mechanics.
Mathematically, it refers to a property of pure state solutions to the Schrdinger equation; since the Schrdinger
equation is linear, any linear combination of pure state
solutions to a particular equation will also be a pure
state solution of it. Such solutions are often made to
be orthogonal (i.e. the vectors are at right-angles to
each other), such as the energy levels of an electron. In
other words, the overlap of the states is nullied, and the
expectation value of an operator is the expectation value
of the operator in the individual states, multiplied by the
fraction of the superposition state that is in that state
(see also eigenstates). Such resolution into orthogonal
components is the basis of what is known as quantum
measurement, a concept that is characteristic of quantum physics, inexplicable in classical physics.

A raw beam of them comes through a small hole in the

wall of the oven, or a small hole in the window blind in
the case of Newton using sunlight. The beam is such that,
within it, interactions of the quantal entities are negligible, and the entities may be considered to some degree independent apart from their entanglement and coherence.
The raw beam is passed through what will here be called
a quantum lter.[1] That is a device, such as perhaps a
crystal (e.g. of calcite) or prism, that is used to select a
fraction of the raw beam, very narrowly dened by some
criterion used in the design of the lter. The lter is in
eect a physical spectrum analyser, all the output subbeams of which are allowed to pass to a remote place, and
ignored, except one, which is the sole output sub-beam of
interest, and is further processed in the experiment. (Alternatively, the lter can be such as to pass only one subbeam, the rest of its input beam being absorbed; e.g. a
piece of tourmaline.) The lter is a macroscopic object,
but it is so designed and physically constructed that it can
also be considered as a quantal object that has mutually
entangled quantum mechanical collective modes. For example, a prism has machined smooth surfaces. Rough

Physically, it refers to the separation and reconstitution of

dierent quantum states.
For example, a physically observable manifestation of superposition is interference peaks from an electron wave in
a double-slit experiment.
Another example is a quantum logical qubit state, as used
in quantum information processing, which is a linear superposition of the basis states |0 and |1 . Here |0 is
the Dirac notation for the quantum state that will always
give the result 0 when converted to classical logic by a
measurement. Likewise |1 is the state that will always
convert to 1.


surfaces would not do. Likewise, the constituent micro- beams.[8] The output that is found in the interference patscopic particles, such as atoms, of a crystal diractor are tern is not some partial or fractional state such as perhaps
physically arranged with spatial periodicity.
classical thinking might expect. No, it is a pure state that
The ltered output is here called the 'primary beam'. It is either detected or not detected, with a denite probais pure with respect to the lter. This means that if it is bility. The probabilistic occurrence of such pure states is
passed through a copy of the lter, it comes out practically a principle that is characteristic of quantum physics.
intact, not signicantly reduced by a second ltration.[2]
Alternatively, the primary beam can be prepared by special techniques, so as to consist of practically individual,
mutually incoherent, and mutually unentangled photons
or atoms, each associated with a 'herald' quantal entity
that indicates when the object quantal entity is to be detected. Such experiments are less common than those
with partly coherent and entangled beams.


For perfect superposition it is essential that the intermediate beams are mutually coherent. That is to say, they
are all physically derived from one and the same primary
beam in a pure state. Moreover, for maintenance of coherence, there must be no intrusive factor in the several
intermediate beam paths that aects some of the quantal entities dierently from others. In other words, each
and every one of the quantal entities in the beam must be
exposed to one and the same arrangement of ight paths.
Otherwise, superposition is imperfect.

Analysis of the primary beam into sec- It is evident that for this scheme to work, the analyser
arrangement considered as a whole is unaltered by inondary sub-beams
terchanging its input and output of the primary beam.
In a manner of speaking, passage of the quantal entities
through the analyser arrangement as a whole is reversible.
This is reected in the Hermitian nature of the mathematical operators, called observables, that represent the
devices such as analysers. In contrast to this, the combination of production of the beam and its destruction by a
detector is irreversible.

The primary pure beam then passes into a beam splitter or measurement device of the rst kind, or
premeasurement device, that will here be called a 'quantum analyser'[3][4][5][6] that has multiple output channels.
All the output channels are kept open, but otherwise the
analyser is in many respects like the lter. Again, it is a
macroscopic object that has mutually entangled quantum
mechanical collective modes. Consequently, the emerg- The principle was described by Paul Dirac as follows:
ing secondary sub-beams are coherent, perhaps more coherent than they were in the raw beam.
The general principle of superposition of quantum mechanics apThe quanta emerge probabilistically as sub-beams in the
plies to the states [undisturbed moanalysers several output channels. Respectively, the
tions] ... of any one dynamical syssub-beams are then in states pure with respect to the
tem. It requires us to assume that
between these states there exist peculiar relationships such that whenever the system is denitely in one
1.3 Re-constitution of the primary pure
state we can consider it as being
partly in each of two or more other
states. The original state must be
The sub-beams are then passed, through a carefully conregarded as the result of a kind of
trived spatial arrangement, to a copy of the analyser in
superposition of the two or more
a reverse posture, intended to re-constitute the primary
new states, in a way that cannot be
conceived on classical ideas. Any
The principle of quantum superposition states that,
state may be considered as the reprovided the primary beam is pure, it is possible so to
sult of a superposition of two or
carefully contrive the spatial arrangements, that the remore other states, and indeed in
sult is a perfect restoration of the primary input beam.
an innite number of ways. ConThe primary pure state has been restored. It is said to be
versely any two or more states may
a superposition of the several intermediate pure states.
be superposed to give a new state...
If the spatial arrangement is not exactly the one that restores the primary pure state, in general the output of the
The non-classical nature of the sure-constitutive copy analyser is split or analysed with defperposition process is brought out
inite probabilities into the several output channels. If they
clearly if we consider the superposiare reassembled, but not in the special way that restores
tion of two states, A and B, such that
the original beam, they produce what is called an interthere exists an observation which,
ference pattern. Again it is said to be a superposition,
when made on the system in state
a dierent but denite one, of the several intermediate
A, is certain to lead to one particular

result, a say, and when made on the
system in state B is certain to lead to
some dierent result, b say. What
will be the result of the observation
when made on the system in the superposed state? The answer is that
the result will be sometimes a and
sometimes b, according to a probability law depending on the relative weights of A and B in the superposition process. It will never be
dierent from both a and b [i.e, either a or b]. The intermediate character of the state formed by superposition thus expresses itself through
the probability of a particular result
for an observation being intermediate between the corresponding probabilities for the original states, not
through the result itself being intermediate between the corresponding
results for the original states."[9]



Alternatively to the foregoing case of coherent reassembly of the split beams, if one the several split beams is
not sent on for reassembly but instead is interrupted by
a detector, the detected state is in general dierent from
that of the primary pure beam; it is said to be decohered
from it, because it has not been exposed to the possibility of coherent reassembly.[10] In a manner of speaking,
the re-constitutive second analyser has been replaced by
a lter with a detector in its output channel. The term
'registration' is sometimes used to refer to this.[11][12]

mystery is not 'how can a certain relation hold between

pure quantum states?' No, it is 'how can a quantum analyser exist and dene a quantum pure state?' That quantum analysers exist and dene quantum states is essential
in Niels Bohrs 'postulate of the quantum'.

2 Theory
2.1 Examples
For an equation describing a physical phenomenon, the
superposition principle states that a combination of solutions to a linear equation is also a solution of it. When
this is true the equation is said to obey the superposition
principle. Thus if state vectors f 1 , f 2 and f 3 each solve
the linear equation on , then = c1 f 1 + c2 f 2 + c3
f 3 would also be a solution, in which each c is a coecient. The Schroedinger equation is linear, so quantum
mechanics follows this.
For example, consider an electron with two possible congurations, up and down. This describes the physical system of a qubit.

c1 | + c2 |
is the most general state. But these coecients dictate
probabilities for the system to be in either conguration.
The probability for a specied conguration is given by
the square of the absolute value of the coecient. So the
probabilities should add up to 1. The electron is in one of
those two states for sure.

pup =| c1 |2


Primary beam in a mixed state

If the experiment is done with several independent

sources for the particles, so that the primary beam is
not in a pure state and the particles phases are incoherent because they have not interacted, but instead is in what
is called a mixed state, the scenario can conveniently be
described by a statistical density matrix. The density matrix shows whether the beam is of a pure or of a mixed


pdown =| c2 |2
pdown or up = pup + pdown = 1
Continuing with this example: If a particle can be in state
up and down, it can also be in a state where it is an amount
3i/5 in up and an amount 4/5 in down.

| =

i| + | .

= 9 . The probIn this, the probability for up is 3i
4 2
= 16 . Note that 9 + 16 = 1
moving indepen5

Isolated particle,
dently, not in a beam of many particles

For an isolated single instance of a quantal entity, considered without respect to any quantum lter or analyser, purity, mixture, and superposition are undened. The single isolated quantal entity is simply what it is in itself. A
classically thinking observer therefore sees no quantum
superposition. For a classical thinker, the fundamental

In the description, only the relative size of the dierent

components matter, and their angle to each other on the
complex plane. This is usually stated by declaring that
two states which are a multiple of one another are the
same as far as the description of the situation is concerned. Either of these describe the same state for any

| |


A(x, y)|x, y


The fundamental law of quantum mechanics is that the

evolution is linear, meaning that if state A turns into A
and B turns into B after 10 seconds, then after 10 seconds
the superposition turns into a mixture of A and B with
the same coecients as A and B.
For example, if we have the following

| |
| + |
Then after those 10 seconds our state will change to

c1 | + c2 | c1 (|) + c2

| + |

The description of the two particles is much larger than

the description of one particleit is a function in twice
the number of dimensions. This is also true in probability,
when the statistics of two random variables are correlated.
If two particles are uncorrelated, the probability distribution for their joint position P(x, y) is a product of the
probability of nding one at one position and the other at
the other position:

P (x, y) = Px (x)Py (y)

In quantum mechanics, two particles can be in special
states where the amplitudes of their position are uncorrelated. For quantum amplitudes, the word entanglement
replaces the word correlation, but the analogy is exact. A
disentangled wave function has the form:

So far there have just been 2 congurations, but there can

be innitely many.
A(x, y) = x (x)y (y)
In illustration, a particle can have any position, so that
there are dierent congurations which have any value of while an entangled wavefunction does not have this form.
the position x. These are written:

2.2 Analogy with probability


In probability theory there is a similar principle. If a sysThe principle of superposition guarantees that there are tem has a probabilistic description, this description gives
states which are arbitrary superpositions of all the posi- the probability of any conguration, and given any two
tions with complex coecients:
dierent congurations, there is a state which is partly
this and partly that, with positive real number coecients, the probabilities, which say how much of each

there is.

For example, if we have a probability distribution for

This sum is dened only if the index x is discrete. If the where a particle is, it is described by the state
index is over R , then the sum replaced by an integral. The
quantity (x) is called the wavefunction of the particle.
If we consider a qubit with both position and spin, the
state is a superposition of all possibilities for both:

+ (x)|x, + (x)|x,

Where is the probability density function, a positive

number that measures the probability that the particle will
be found at a certain location.

The evolution equation is also linear in probability, for

fundamental reasons. If the particle has some probability
for going from position x to y, and from z to y, the probability of going to y starting from a state which is half-x
and half-z is a half-and-half mixture of the probability of
going to y from each of the options. This is the principle
A pair of particles can be in any combination of pairs of linear superposition in probability.
of positions. A state where one particle is at position x Quantum mechanics is dierent, because the numbers
and the other is at position y is written |x, y . The most can be positive or negative. While the complex nature
general state is a superposition of the possibilities:
of the numbers is just a doubling, if you consider the
The conguration space of a quantum mechanical system
cannot be worked out without some physical knowledge.
The input is usually the allowed dierent classical congurations, but without the duplication of including both
position and momentum.


Hamiltonian evolution

real and imaginary parts separately, the sign of the coecients is important. In probability, two dierent possible
n |n
outcomes always add together, so that if there are more
options to get to a point z, the probability always goes up.
In quantum mechanics, dierent possibilities can cancel. So


completely describes the quantum
In probability theory with a nite number of states, the
state of the particle. This list is called the state vector,
probabilities can always be multiplied by a positive numand formally it is an element of a Hilbert space, an
ber to make their sum equal to one. For example, if there
innite dimensional complex vector space. It is usual to
is a three state probability system:
represent the state so that the sum of the absolute squares
of the amplitudes add up to one:
(...2 ,1 ,0 ,1 ,2 ...)

x|1 + y|2 + z|3

n n = 1
where the probabilities x, y, z are positive numbers.
Rescaling x,y,z so that
For a particle described by probability theory random
walking on a line, the analogous thing is the list of probabilities (...P2 , P1 , P0 , P1 , P2 , ...) , which give the
x+y+z =1
probability of any position. The quantities that describe
how they change in time are the transition probabilities
The geometry of the state space is a revealed to be a tri- K
xy (t) , which gives the probability that, starting at x,
angle. In general it is a simplex. There are special points the particle ends up at y after time t. The total probain a triangle or simplex corresponding to the corners, and bility of ending up at y is given by the sum over all the
these points are those where one of the probabilities is possibilities
equal to 1 and the others are zero. These are the unique
locations where the position is known with certainty.

In a quantum mechanical system with three states, the Py (t0 + t) =

Px (t0 )Kxy (t)
quantum mechanical wavefunction is a superposition of
states again, but this time twice as many quantities with The condition of conservation of probability states that
no restriction on the sign:
starting at any x, the total probability to end up somewhere
must add up to 1:
A|1+B|2+C|3 = (Ar +iAi )|1+(Br +iBi )|2+(Cr +iC
i )|3
Kxy = 1
rescaling the variables so that the sum of the squares is
1, the geometry of the space is revealed to be a highSo that the total probability will be preserved, K is what
dimensional sphere
is called a stochastic matrix.
When no time passes, nothing changes: for zero elapsed
time Kxy(0)=xy , the K matrix is zero except from a
state to itself. So in the case that the time is short, it is
A sphere has a large amount of symmetry, it can be better to talk about the rate of change of the probability
viewed in dierent coordinate systems or bases. So un- instead of the absolute change in the probability.
like a probability theory, a quantum theory has a large
number of dierent bases in which it can be equally

well described. The geometry of the phase space can be P (t + dt) = P (t) + dt
Px Rxy
viewed as a hint that the quantity in quantum mechanx
ics which corresponds to the probability is the absolute
where Rxy is the time derivative of the K matrix:
square of the coecient of the superposition.
A2r + A2i + Br2 + Bi2 + Cr2 + Ci2 = 1


Hamiltonian evolution

Rxy =

Kxy (dt) xy

The numbers that describe the amplitudes for dierent The equation for the probabilities is a dierential equation
possibilities dene the kinematics, the space of dier- which is sometimes called the master equation:
ent states. The dynamics describes how these numbers
change with time. For a particle that can be in any one of
innitely many discrete positions, a particle on a lattice, dPy = P R
x xy
the superposition principle tells you how to make a state: dt


The R matrix is the probability per unit time for the particle to make a transition from x to y. The condition that

the K matrix elements add up to one becomes the condi- (I + iH dt)(I iHdt) = I
tion that the R matrix elements add up to zero:
H H = 0
which says that H is Hermitian. The eigenvalues of the
Hermitian matrix H are real quantities which have a physRxy = 0
ical interpretation as energy levels. If the factor i were aby
sent, the H matrix would be antihermitian and would have
One simple case to study is when the R matrix has an purely imaginary eigenvalues, which is not the traditional
equal probability to go one unit to the left or to the right, way quantum mechanics represents observable quantities
describing a particle which has a constant rate of random like the energy.
walking. In this case Rxy is zero unless y is either x+1,x,
or x1, when y is x+1 or x1, the R matrix has value For a particle which has equal amplitude to move left and
c, and in order for the sum of the R matrix coecients right, the Hermitian matrix H is zero except for nearest
to equal zero, the value of Rxx must be 2c. So the neighbors, where it has the value c. If the coecient is
everywhere constant, the condition that H is Hermitian
probabilities obey the discretized diusion equation:
demands that the amplitude to move to the left is the complex conjugate of the amplitude to move to the right. The
equation of motion for is the time dierential equation:
= c(Px+1 2Px + Px1 )

which, when c is scaled appropriately and the P distribud

tion is smooth enough to think of the system in a contin- i n = c n+1 + cn1
uum limit becomes:
In the case that left and right are symmetric, c is real. By
redening the phase of the wavefunction in time,
P (x, t)
ei2ct , the amplitudes for being at dierent locations are
=c 2
only rescaled, so that the physical situation is unchanged.
But this phase rotation introduces a linear term.
Which is the diusion equation.
Quantum amplitudes give the rate at which amplitudes
change in time, and they are mathematically exactly the dn
same except that they are complex numbers. The analog i dt = cn+1 2cn + cn1
of the nite time K matrix is called the U matrix:
which is the right choice of phase to take the continuum
limit. When c is very large and psi is slowly varying so

that the lattice can be thought of as a line, this becomes

n (t) =
Unm (t)m
the free Schrdinger equation:
Since the sum of the absolute squares of the amplitudes
must be constant, U must be unitary:

Unp = mp

or, in matrix notation,

= 2

If there is an additional term in the H matrix which is

an extra phase rotation which varies from point to point,
the continuum limit is the Schrdinger equation with a
potential energy:

U U = I

= 2 + V (x)

The rate of change of U is called the Hamiltonian H, up

to a traditional factor of i:
These equations describe the motion of a single particle
in non-relativistic quantum mechanics.
Hmn = i


2.4 Quantum mechanics in imaginary

The Hamiltonian gives the rate at which the particle has

an amplitude to go from m to n. The reason it is multiplied by i is that the condition that U is unitary translates The analogy between quantum mechanics and probability
is very strong, so that there are many mathematical links
to the condition:

between them. In a statistical system in discrete time,
t=1,2,3, described by a transition matrix for one time step

n =
Hnm m
Kmn , the probability to go between two points after a i
nite number of time steps can be represented as a sum
whose Hamiltonian has the same eigenvalues as those of
over all paths of the probability of taking each path:
the R matrix of the statistical system. The eigenvectors
are the same too, except expressed in the rescaled basis.

The stationary distribution of the statistical system is the

Kxy (T ) =
ground state of the Hamiltonian and it has energy exactly
x(t) t
zero, while all the other energies are positive. If H is exwhere the sum extends over all paths x(t) with the prop- ponentiated to nd the U matrix:
erty that x(0) = 0 and x(T ) = y . The analogous expression in quantum mechanics is the path integral.
A generic transition matrix in probability has a stationary U (t) = e
distribution, which is the eventual probability to be found
and t is allowed to take on complex values, the K' matrix
at any point no matter what the starting point. If there
is found by taking time imaginary.
is a nonzero probability for any two paths to reach the
same point at the same time, this stationary distribution
does not depend on the initial conditions. In probability

theory, the probability m for the stochastic matrix obeys K (t) = e
detailed balance when the stationary distribution n has
For quantum systems which are invariant under time rethe property:
versal the Hamiltonian can be made real and symmetric,
so that the action of time-reversal on the wave-function
is just complex conjugation. If such a Hamiltonian has
n Knm = m Kmn
a unique lowest energy state with a positive real waveDetailed balance says that the total probability of going function, as it often does for physical reasons, it is confrom m to n in the stationary distribution, which is the nected to a stochastic system in imaginary time. This reprobability of starting at m m times the probability of lationship between stochastic systems and quantum syshopping from m to n, is equal to the probability of go- tems sheds much light on supersymmetry.
ing from n to m, so that the total back-and-forth ow of
probability in equilibrium is zero along any hop. The condition is automatically satised when n=m, so it has the 3 Experiments and applications
same form when written as a condition for the transitionprobability R matrix.
Successful experiments involving superpositions of
relatively large (by the standards of quantum physics) objects have been performed.[13]
n Rnm = m Rmn
A cat state has been achieved with photons.[14]
When the R matrix obeys detailed balance, the scale of
A beryllium ion has been trapped in a superposed
the probabilities can be redened using the stationary disstate.[15]
tribution so that they no longer sum to 1:


= n pn

In the new coordinates, the R matrix is rescaled as follows:


n Rnm
= Hnm
and H is symmetric

Hnm = Hmn
This matrix H denes a quantum mechanical system:

A double slit experiment has been performed with

molecules as large as buckyballs.[16][17]
An experiment involving a superconducting quantum interference device (SQUID) has been linked
to theme of the cat state thought experiment.[18]
By use of very low temperatures, very ne experimental arrangements were made to protect
in near isolation and preserve the coherence
of intermediate states, for a duration of time,
between preparation and detection, of SQUID
currents. Such a SQUID current is a coherent
physical assembly of perhaps billions of electrons. Because of its coherence, such an assembly may be regarded as exhibiting collective

states of a macroscopic quantal entity. For the
principle of superposition, after it is prepared
but before it is detected, it may be regarded
as exhibiting an intermediate state. It is not
a single-particle state such as is often considered in discussions of interference, for example
by Dirac in his famous dictum stated above.[19]
Morever, though the 'intermediate' state may
be loosely regarded as such, it has not been
produced as an output of a secondary quantum
analyser that was fed a pure state from a primary analyser, and so this is not an example of
superposition as strictly and narrowly dened.
Nevertheless, after preparation, but before
measurement, such a SQUID state may be regarded in a manner of speaking as a pure
state that is a superposition of a clockwise and
an anti-clockwise current state. In a SQUID,
collective electron states can be physically prepared in near isolation, at very low temperatures, so as to result in protected coherent
intermediate states. Remarkable here is that
there are found two well-separated respectively
self-coherent collective states that exhibit such
metastability. The crowd of electrons tunnels
back and forth between the clockwise and the
anti-clockwise states, as opposed to forming a
single intermediate state in which there is no
denite collective sense of current ow.[20][21]
In contrast, for actual real cats, such wellseparated metastable collective states states do
not exist and consequently cannot be physically prepared. Schrdingers point was that
classical thinking does not in general anticipate such physically distinct and separate
metastable quantum states. In classical thinking, distinct quantum states even of single
atoms can indeed be regarded as metastable,
and are remarkable and unexpected. In the
days when Schrdinger raised his argumentative example, no one had imagined the invention of SQUIDs that exhibit such states on a
macroscopic scale. The present-day physicist
here pays close attention to the requirement
mentioned above, that the intermediate states
must be carefully physically shielded to protect
them from any factor that aects some of the
independent quantal entities (in this case collective not single particle) dierently from others. Contrary to this requirement, the living
cat breathes. This destroys intermediate state
coherence, and so the conditions required for
exhibition of the principle of superposition are
not fullled.

and non vibrating states. The resonator comprises

about 10 trillion atoms.[22]
An experiment involving a u virus has been
proposed.[23] This makes sense only because a virus
is not in the ordinary sense of the word a living thing.
It is a static arrangement of molecules that does not
metabolize, whereas metabolism is one of the essential features of living things.
Recent research indicates that chlorophyll within
plants appears to exploit the feature of quantum superposition to achieve greater eciency in
transporting energy, allowing pigment proteins to
be spaced further apart than would otherwise be
In quantum computing the phrase "cat state" often refers
to the special entanglement of qubits wherein the qubits
are in an equal superposition of all being 0 and all being
1; i.e.,
| = |00...0 + |11...1

4 Formal interpretation
Applying the superposition principle to a quantum mechanical particle, the congurations of the particle are all
positions, so the superpositions make a complex wave in
space. The coecients of the linear superposition are a
wave which describes the particle as best as is possible,
and whose amplitude interferes according to the Huygens
For any physical property in quantum mechanics, there is
a list of all the states where that property has some value.
These states are necessarily perpendicular to each other
using the Euclidean notion of perpendicularity which
comes from sums-of-squares length, except that they also
must not be i multiples of each other. This list of perpendicular states has an associated value which is the value of
the physical property. The superposition principle guarantees that any state can be written as a combination of
states of this form with complex coecients.
Write each state with the value q of the physical quantity
as a vector in some basis nq , a list of numbers at each
value of n for the vector which has value q for the physical
quantity. Now form the outer product of the vectors by
multiplying all the vector components and add them with
coecients to make the matrix

Anm =

qnq m

A piezoelectric "tuning fork" has been constructed, where the sum extends over all possible values of q. This
which can be placed into a superposition of vibrating matrix is necessarily symmetric because it is formed from

the orthogonal states, and has eigenvalues q. The matrix
A is called the observable associated to the physical quantity. It has the property that the eigenvalues and eigenvectors determine the physical quantity and the states which
have denite values for this quantity.

Copenhagen or other interpretations.

Every physical quantity has a Hermitian linear operator

associated to it, and the states where the value of this
physical quantity is denite are the eigenstates of this
linear operator. The linear combination of two or more
eigenstates results in quantum superposition of two or
more values of the quantity. If the quantity is measured,
the value of the physical quantity will be random, with a
probability equal to the square of the coecient of the superposition in the linear combination. Immediately after
the measurement, the state will be given by the eigenvector corresponding to the measured eigenvalue.

If the operators corresponding to two observables do not

commute, they have no simultaneous eigenstates and they
obey the uncertainty principle. A state where one observable has a denite value corresponds to a superposition of
many states for the other observable.

The Heisenberg uncertainty principle states that for any

given instant of time, the position and velocity of an electron or other subatomic particle cannot both be exactly

6 See also
Mach-Zehnder interferometer

Physical interpretation

It is natural to ask why ordinary everyday real (macroscopic, Newtonian) objects and events do not seem empirically to display quantum mechanical features such as
superposition. Indeed, this is sometimes regarded even
as mysterious, for example by Richard Feynman.[26] In
1935, Erwin Schrdinger devised a well-known thought
experiment, now known as Schrdingers cat, which highlighted the dissonance between quantum mechanics and
Newtonian physics, where only one conguration occurs, although a conguration for a particle in Newtonian
physics species both position and momentum.
The explanation is as follows. It is a logical truism that
a single detection of a quantal entity, observed alone,
empirically considered, is not an example of a relation
of several states. For the several states are not empirically dened when the quantal entity is observed alone.
It would therefore be nonsense to try to say that it, a single
state, observed alone, empirically shows superposition.
Superposition is a relation of several states that are empirically dened only when several intermediate beams
are empirically veried to be present. Actual empirical
observation of superposition requires that the several intermediate beams should be actually observed, in several
distinct experimental set-ups. Without the several experiments, talk of superposition is mere theoretical speculation, not empirical observation. The superposed state is,
as dened above, also a pure state, with respect to the primary analyser. It is classically inexplicable how a quantum analyser can have several pure states as outputs. That
is Feynmans mystery.

Penrose Interpretation
Pure qubit state
Quantum computation
Schrdingers cat
Wave packet

7 References
[1] Cohen-Tannoudji, C., Diu, B., Lalo, F. (1973/1977).
Quantum Mechanics, translated from the French by S.R.
Hemley, N. Ostrowsky, D. Ostrowsky, second edition,
volume 1, Wiley, New York, ISBN 0471164321, p. 260.
[2] Feynman, R.P., Leighton, R.B., Sands, M. (1965), Chapter 6.
[3] Merzbacher, E. (1961/1970), p. 219.
[4] Bartell, L.S. (1980). Complementarity in the double-slit
experiment: on simple realizable systems for observing
intermediate particle-wave behavior, Phys. Rev. D 21:
[5] Aspect, A., Dalibard, J., Roger, G. (1982). Experimental tests of Bells inequalities using time-varying analysers,
Phys. Rev. Lett. 49: 18041807.
[6] McIntyre, D.H. (2012).
Quantum Mechanics: a
Paradigms Approach, Pearson Addison-Wesley, San
Francisco, ISBN 978-0-321-76579-6, Chapter 1.
[7] Feynman, R.P., Leighton, R.B., Sands, M. (1965), Chapter 6.

Quantum superposition is exhibited in fact in many di- [8] Feynman, R.P., Leighton, R.B., Sands, M. (1965), Chapter 5.
rectly observable phenomena, such as interference peaks
from an electron wave in a double-slit experiment. Super[9] Dirac P.A.M. (1930/1958), p. 12.
position persists at all scales, provided that coherence is
shielded from disruption by intermittent external factors. [10] Bacciagaluppi, G. (2012). The role of decoherence in
quantum mechanics.
This is a reason for dierences of opinion, as between the


[11] Ludwig, g. (1985). An Axiomatic Basis for Quantum

Mechanics, vol. 1, Derivation of Hilbert Space Structure,
translated from German by L.F. Boron, Springer, Berlin,
ISBN 978-3-642-70029-2, passim.
[12] Wheeler, J.A., Zurek, W.H. (1983), pp. viii, xvi, 3, 7, 46,
185, 194, 196.
[13] What is the Worlds Biggest Schrodinger Cat?
[14] Schrdingers Cat Now Made of Light
[15] C. Monroe, et. al. A Schrodinger Cat Superposition State
of an Atom
[16] Wave Particle Duality of C60
[17] Diraction of the Fullerenes C60 and C70 by a standing
light wave
[18] Leggett, A.J. (1986). The superposition principle in
macroscopic systems, pp. 2840 in Quantum Concepts
of Space and Time, edited by R. Penrose and C.J. Isham,
ISBN 0-19-851972-9.
[19] Dirac, P.A.M. (1930/1958), p. 9.
[20] Physics World: Schrodingers cat comes into view
[21] Friedman, J.R., Patel, V., Chen, W., Tolpygo, S.K.,
Lukens, J.E. (2000).Quantum superposition of distinct
macroscopic states, Nature 406: 4346.
[22] Scientic American : Macro-Weirdness: Quantum Microphone Puts Naked-Eye Object in 2 Places at Once: A
new device tests the limits of Schrdingers cat
[23] How to Create Quantum Superpositions of Living
[24] Scholes, Gregory; Elisabetta Collini, Cathy Y.
Wong, Krystyna E. Wilk, Paul M. G. Curmi, Paul
Brumer & Gregory D. Scholes (4 February 2010).
Coherently wired light-harvesting in photosynthetic
marine algae at ambient temperature. Nature 463
(7281): 644647.
doi:10.1038/nature08811. PMID 20130647.
[25] Moyer, Michael (September 2009). Quantum Entanglement, Photosynthesis and Better Solar Cells. Scientic
American. Retrieved 12 May 2010.
[26] Feynman, R.P., Leighton, R.B., Sands, M. (1965), 1-1.


Bibliography of cited references

Dirac, P.A.M. (1930/1958). The Principles of

Quantum Mechanics, 4th edition, Oxford University
Feynman, R.P., Leighton, R.B., Sands, M. (1965).
The Feynman Lectures on Physics, volume 3,
AddisonWesley, Reading, MA.
Merzbacher, E. (1961/1970). Quantum Mechanics,
second edition, Wiley, New York.


Wheeler, J.A.; Zurek, W.H. (1983). Quantum Theory and Measurement. Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press.


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