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Are newton's laws also an approximation?

  1. Feb 18, 2013 #1
    So are newton's laws also an approximation to quantum phenomena. Can it be derived from quantum laws?
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 18, 2013 #2
  4. Feb 18, 2013 #3
    To point to a few specifics, there seems to be a few possible interpretations, though I imagine someone else here could tell you more about the current consensus:

    "Once the Schrödinger equation was given a probabilistic interpretation, Ehrenfest showed that Newton's laws hold on average: the quantum statistical expectation value of the position and momentum obey Newton's laws."

    "Because quantum mechanics only reproduces classical mechanics in a statistical interpretation, and because the statistical interpretation only gives the probabilities of different classical outcomes, Bohr has argued that classical physics does not emerge from quantum physics in the same way that classical mechanics emerges as an approximation of special relativity at small velocities. He argued that classical physics exists independently of quantum theory and cannot be derived from it. His position is that it is inappropriate to understand the experiences of observers using purely quantum mechanical notions such as wavefunctions because the different states of experience of an observer are defined classically, and do not have a quantum mechanical analog."
  5. Feb 18, 2013 #4


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    Ehrenfest's theorem is not saying that the average values obey Newton's laws, which is wrong! This is only the case for the motion in a harmonic-oscillator potential or in a constant force field. Ehrenfest's theorem says
    [tex]\frac{\mathrm{d}}{\mathrm{d} t} \langle A \rangle =\frac{1}{\mathrm{i} \hbar}\langle [\hat{A},\hat{H}] \rangle,[/tex]
    where [itex]A[/itex] is a not explicitly time dependent observable. For momentum you find
    [tex]\frac{\mathrm{d}}{\mathrm{d} t} \langle \vec{p} \rangle =-\langle \vec{\nabla} V(\hat{\vec{x}}) \rangle.[/tex]
    Except for a constant force or a force that is linear in [itex]\vec{x}[/itex] the expectation value on the right-hand side is not the same as [itex]-\vec{\nabla} V(\langle x \rangle)[/itex]!
  6. Feb 18, 2013 #5
    Ahh, I stand corrected. The wikipedia quote was a bit misleading, so thanks for the insight vanhees!
  7. Aug 21, 2013 #6
    Quite a late reply but anyways ... I did not understand. Why can't newton laws be derived from quantum mechanics?
    Also what do you exactly mean by force in the context of quantum mechanics?
  8. Aug 22, 2013 #7
    Maybe WKB approximation could derive Newton's law.
  9. Aug 22, 2013 #8
    Why "maybe"?
  10. Aug 25, 2013 #9
    I am not sure about that. The WKB approximation will be studied in advanced quantum mechanics (gratuate level). I haven't learnt that part.
  11. Aug 25, 2013 #10


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    First of all, all physics laws are approximations. Secondly, quantum mechanics is closely related to Hamiltonian mechanics, which is a formulation of classical mechanics which is equivalent to Newtonian mechanics, but looks very different. The concept of force is not usually used in Hamiltonian mechanics. Nevertheless, force is dp/dt.

    WKB could easily be covered in undergraduate quantum.
  12. Aug 26, 2013 #11
    So is this conclusion made by me right?
    1) All the macro-laws are approximation of the underlying micro-laws.
    2) In theory we could derive the macro laws accurately from the underlying quantum laws but it would be too complicated.
  13. Aug 26, 2013 #12


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    Well, not all macro-laws can be derived from quantum mechanics. For example, gravity.
    There's plenty of macro-laws which we don't know how to derive from micro-laws, and there's probably a lot of missing stuff from the micro-laws.
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