Are these articles proof that wave function is real?

In summary, two articles have claimed to show images of the wave function of a hydrogen atom, leading to questions about the reality of the wave function. However, the experiment described in the first article only shows that the results are consistent with the statistical interpretation of the wave function, and does not prove its ontic nature. The wave function is a complex valued function and can only be used as a mathematical tool for calculating probabilities. There is no consistent interpretation of relativistic wave functions, and the wave function is not a physical object that can be photographed.
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  • #2
Depends on your standard of proof and definition of science. Informed by Popper's The Logic of Scientific Discovery, I suggest that technology may be validated, as here, but that science must be falsifiable and beyond mere ad-hockery. It is an image artifact of some instrument.
 
  • #3
From the article on physicsworld.com:

"The group observed several hundreds of thousands of ionization events to obtain the results, with the same preparation of the wavefunction for each."

This shows that the experiment is in full accordance with the minimal statistical interpretation of the wave function. You have to prepare and measure a large ensemble of equally and independently prepared atoms in order to get the probability distribution for the electron's position and compare it with the prediction from quantum theory. So you cannot conclude from this that the wavefunction is necessarily ontic. The experiment is fully consistent with the usual epistemic view of the minimal interpretation.
 
  • #4
vanhees71 said:
From the article on physicsworld.com:

"The group observed several hundreds of thousands of ionization events to obtain the results, with the same preparation of the wavefunction for each."

This shows that the experiment is in full accordance with the minimal statistical interpretation of the wave function. You have to prepare and measure a large ensemble of equally and independently prepared atoms in order to get the probability distribution for the electron's position and compare it with the prediction from quantum theory. So you cannot conclude from this that the wavefunction is necessarily ontic. The experiment is fully consistent with the usual epistemic view of the minimal interpretation.
So it doesn't prove or give evidence for the wave function being real?
 
  • #5
No! By the way, the wave function is complex ;-).
 
  • #6
vanhees71 said:
No! By the way, the wave function is complex ;-).
So your saying that it doesn't show/prove that the wave function is real. Also, what do you mean that it is complex? And do you think that the wave function is a real thing or just a mathematical tool?
 
  • #7
For me the wave function (or better quantum theory as a whole) is a physical theory allowing me to calculate probabilities for the outcome of measurements given an equivalence class of real-world preparation procedures. Whether there is an ontic interpretation of the quantum theoretical states or not for me is a purely metaphysical question without much implications for physics.

The thing with "complex" was a joke. Of course the wave function is a complex valued function in Schrödinger quantum theory (beyond that, i.e., in the relativistic context it's anyway only of approximate nature; there's no consistent interpretation of relativistic wave functions for interacting particles).
 
  • #8
vanhees71 said:
For me the wave function (or better quantum theory as a whole) is a physical theory allowing me to calculate probabilities for the outcome of measurements given an equivalence class of real-world preparation procedures. Whether there is an ontic interpretation of the quantum theoretical states or not for me is a purely metaphysical question without much implications for physics.

The thing with "complex" was a joke. Of course the wave function is a complex valued function in Schrödinger quantum theory (beyond that, i.e., in the relativistic context it's anyway only of approximate nature; there's no consistent interpretation of relativistic wave functions for interacting particles).
So you believe that it is just a mathematical tool and is not a real thing, correct?
 
  • #9
Nick V said:
Also, what do you mean that it is complex?
That's a physicist's inside joke. In mathematics, the complex numbers are the ones that are of the form ##a+bi## where ##i^2=-1## - these are what laypeople call "imaginary" numbers. The real numbers are the subset in which ##b## is zero. The value of the wave function is a complex number, not a real one.
 
  • #10
Nick V said:
So it doesn't prove or give evidence for the wave function being real?
It does not. It's the result of combining a large number of individual measurements and no more shows that the wave function is real than a pie chart showing that the average American family has 2.2 children proves the existence of fractional children.
 
  • #11
vanhees71 said:
Of course the wave function is a complex valued function in Schrödinger quantum theory (beyond that, i.e., in the relativistic context it's anyway only of approximate nature; there's no consistent interpretation of relativistic wave functions for interacting particles).

I disagree. In QFT, the wave function is, of course, a function on the configuration space, which is a space of functions. Thus, we have a wave functional. But this is clearly not a decisive problem - anyway, Haag's theorem tells us (roughly) that only some finite-dimensional regularizations make sense, say, a lattice theory with periodic boundary conditions so that as the UV, as the IR infinities are regulated away. And for these lattices the "wave functional" is again a simply wave function on a high- but finite-dimensional configuration space.
 
  • #12
Well, that's strictly speaking true. The only problem with that seems to be that space-time is not a discrete lattice, at least not within the resolution of our current observations.
 
  • #13
Nick V said:
So you believe that it is just a mathematical tool and is not a real thing, correct?

It doesn't matter what Vanhees believes, or even me for that matter, the thing is the wave-function is complex so whatever it is a picture of it can't be a wave-function. Complex numbers are specified by two real numbers so you can't take a picture of it.

Nugatory gave its real explanation.

Thanks
Bill
 
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Related to Are these articles proof that wave function is real?

1. Is the wave function real?

The wave function is a mathematical tool used to describe the behavior of particles in quantum mechanics. Whether it is "real" or not is a philosophical question that is still debated among scientists.

2. What evidence supports the reality of the wave function?

There is no direct empirical evidence that proves the wave function is real. However, the predictions made using the wave function have been repeatedly confirmed through experiments, providing strong evidence for its validity.

3. Do all scientists agree on the reality of the wave function?

No, there is still debate among scientists about the nature of the wave function. Some argue that it is simply a mathematical construct and not a real physical entity, while others believe it represents a fundamental aspect of reality.

4. Can the wave function be observed or measured?

No, the wave function itself cannot be observed or measured directly. However, its effects can be observed through experiments and its mathematical predictions have been confirmed numerous times.

5. Does the reality of the wave function have any practical implications?

The reality of the wave function has significant implications for our understanding of quantum mechanics and the behavior of particles at the subatomic level. It also has practical applications in technologies such as quantum computing and cryptography.

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