Quantum mechanics is generally regarded as the physical theory that is our best candidate for a fundamental and universal description of the physical world. The conceptual framework employed by this theory differs drastically from that of classical physics. Indeed, the transition from classical to quantum physics marks a genuine revolution in our understanding of the physical world.
It is generally believed that the uncertainty relation Δq Δp≥1/2ħ, where Δq and Δp are standard deviations, is the precise mathematical expression of the uncertainty principle for position and momentum in quantum mechanics. We show that actually it is not possible to derive from this relation two central claims of the uncertainty principle, namely, the impossibility of an arbitrarily sharp specification of both position and momentum (as in the single-slit diffraction experiment), and the impossibility of the determination of the path (...) of a particle in an interference experiment (such as the double-slit experiment).The failure of the uncertainty relation to produce these results is not a question of the interpretation of the formalism; it is a mathematical fact which follows from general considerations about the widths of wave functions.To express the uncertainty principle, one must distinguish two aspects of the spread of a wave function: its extent and its fine structure. We define the overall widthW Ψ and the mean peak width wψ of a general wave function ψ and show that the productW Ψ w φ is bounded from below if φ is the Fourier transform of ψ. It is shown that this relation expresses the uncertainty principle as it is used in the single- and double-slit experiments. (shrink)
Time is often said to play in quantum mechanics an essentially different role from position: whereas position is represented by a Hermitian operator, time is represented by a c-number. This discrepancy has been found puzzling and has given rise to a vast literature and many efforts at a solution. In this paper it is argued that the discrepancy is only apparent and that there is nothing in the formalism of quantum mechanics that forces us to treat position and time differently. (...) The apparent problem is caused by the dominant role point particles play in physics and can be traced back to classical mechanics. (shrink)
The concepts of uncertainty in prediction and inference are introduced and illustrated using the diffraction of light as an example. The close relationship between the concepts of uncertainty in inference and resolving power is noted. A general quantitative measure of uncertainty in inference can be obtained by means of the so-called statistical distance between probability distributions. When applied to quantum mechanics, this distance leads to a measure of the distinguishability of quantum states, which essentially is the absolute value of the (...) matrix element between the states. The importance of this result to the quantum mechanical uncertainty principle is noted. The second part of the paper provides a derivation of the statistical distance on the basis of the so-called method of support. (shrink)