On the approach to thermal equilibrium of macroscopic quantum systems

We consider an isolated, macroscopic quantum system. Let H be a microcanonical “energy shell,” i.e., a subspace of the system’s Hilbert space spanned by the (finitely) many energy eigenstates with energies between E and E + δE. The thermal equilibrium macro-state at energy E corresponds to a subspace Heq of H such that dim Heq/ dim H is close to 1. We say that a system with state vector ψ H is in thermal equilibrium if ψ is “close” to Heq. We show that for “typical” Hamiltonians with given eigenvalues, all initial state vectors ψ0 evolve in such a way that ψt is in thermal equilibrium for most times t. This result is closely related to von Neumann’s quantum ergodic theorem of 1929.
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