Interpreting Wavefunction in Quantum Mechanics

In summary, the wave function is the state of the system in quantum mechanics and is governed by the Schroedinger's equation. The Born Rule states that the expected outcome of an observation is equal to the trace of a positive operator called the state of the system. States can be pure or mixed, with pure states being associated with elements of a vector space and able to be expanded in terms of a basis. The wave function is simply an expansion in terms of the position basis and is an aid in calculating expected values of observations.
  • #1
wasi-uz-zaman
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hi, from study of quantum mechanics i infer that wavefunction is a dummy function on which you apply required operator like momentum operator, energy operator etc., and their eigenvalues gives you the value of observable? i want to ask my interpretation of wavefunction is correct? or not?.
thanks
 
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  • #2
It is not correct. The wave function is the state of the system. The time evolution of the wave function is governed by the Schroedingers equation.
 
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  • #3
Atyy is correct

I posted the following in another thread that carefully explains what a state is which hopefully will help. To really grasp it you need to see the two axioms of QM as detailed by Ballentine in his text (Quantum Mechanics - A Modern Development).

1. To each observation there corresponds a Hermitian operator whose eigenvalues give the possible outcomes of the observation.
2. There exists a positive operator of unit trace P such that the expected outcome of the observation associated with the observable O is E(O) = Trace (PO) - this is the Born Rule in its most general form. By definition P is called the state of the system.

In fact the Born Rule is not entirely independent of the first axiom, as to a large extent it is implied from that via Gleason's Theorem - but that would take us too far afield - I simply mention it in passing.

Also note that the state, just like probabilities, is simply an aid in calculating expected outcomes. Its not real like say an electric field etc. In some interpretations its real - but the formalism of QM is quite clear - its simply, like probabilities, an aid in calculation.

By definition states of the form |x><x| are called pure. States that are a convex sum of pure states are called mixed ie are of the form ∑ pi |xi><xi| where the pi a positive and sum to one. It can be shown all states are either pure or mixed. Applying the Born rule to mixed states shows that if you have an observation whose eigenvectors are the |xi><xi| then outcome |xi><xi| will occur with probability pi. Physically one can interpret this as a system in state |xi><xi| randomly presented for observation with probability pi. In such a case no collapse occurs and an observation reveals what's there prior to observation - many issues with QM are removed. Such states are called proper mixed states.

Pure states, being defined by a single element of a vector space, can be associated with those elements and that's what's usually done. Of course when you do that they obey the vector space properties so the principle of superposition holds ie if |x1> and |x2> are any two pure states a linear combination is also a pure state. This is what is meant by a superposition. Note it deals with elements of a vector space not convex sums of pure states when considered operators - they are mixed states. This means the state 1/2 |x1> + 1/2 |x2> is a pure state and is totally different from the mixed state 1/2 |x1><x1| + 1/2 |x2><x2|.

Now to your question. Pure states, being an element of a vector space, can be expanded in terms of a basis. A wavefunction is simply the expansion in terms of the position basis. But that's just an arbitrary way of mathematically expressing it. It changes nothing - states are simply like probability - an aid to calculating the expected values of observations.

That's from the formalism - interpretations add their own take on it.

Thanks
Bill
 
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Related to Interpreting Wavefunction in Quantum Mechanics

1. What is a wavefunction in quantum mechanics?

A wavefunction, also known as a quantum state, is a mathematical function that describes the probability of finding a particle in a specific location with a specific energy. It is a fundamental concept in quantum mechanics and is used to predict the behavior and properties of particles at the microscopic level.

2. How is the wavefunction interpreted in quantum mechanics?

The wavefunction is interpreted as a representation of the probability amplitude of a particle's position and momentum. This means that the square of the wavefunction gives the probability of finding a particle in a particular location or with a particular momentum. It is also used to calculate other physical quantities, such as energy and angular momentum.

3. Can the wavefunction be observed or measured?

No, the wavefunction itself cannot be observed or measured. It is a mathematical concept that represents the probability of finding a particle in a particular state. However, the effects of the wavefunction can be observed through experiments and measurements of physical quantities.

4. What is the significance of the wavefunction in quantum mechanics?

The wavefunction is a fundamental concept in quantum mechanics and is essential for understanding the behavior and properties of particles at the microscopic level. It allows us to make predictions about the behavior of particles and their interactions with each other and with external forces. It also provides a mathematical framework for understanding the uncertainty and randomness inherent in quantum systems.

5. Can the wavefunction change over time?

Yes, the wavefunction can change over time according to the Schrödinger equation, which describes the time evolution of a quantum system. As a particle interacts with its surroundings, the wavefunction will change to reflect the new probabilities of finding the particle in different states. This is known as wavefunction collapse and is a key concept in understanding measurement in quantum mechanics.

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