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Wavefunction collapse - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Wavefunction collapse
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
In certain interpretations of quantum mechanics, wavefunction collapse is one of two processes
by which quantum systems apparently evolve according to the laws of quantum mechanics. It is
also called collapse of the state vector. The existence of the wavefunction collapse is required in
G the version of the Copenhagen interpretation where the wavefunction has an unspecified
physical significance, reality, or interpretation
G the so-called transactional interpretation
G in a "spiritual interpretation" in which consciousness causes collapse.
On the other hand, the collapse does not occur in
G the version of the Copenhagen interpretation where the wavefunction is considered nothing
more than a mathematical function with no direct physical significance
G the interpretation based on consistent histories
G the many-worlds interpretation
G the Bohm interpretation.
In general, quantum systems exist in a superposition of basis states, and evolve according to the
time dependent Schrdinger equation, which is one of the two processes mentioned at the
beginning of this article - a process included in all interpretations. The contribution of each basis
state to the overall wavefunction is called the amplitude. However, when the wavefunction
collapses, which is the other process, from an observer's perspective the state seems to "jump" to
one of the basis states and uniquely acquire the value of the property being measured that is
associated with that particular basis state. After the collapse, the system begins to evolve again
according to the Schrdinger equation.
Upon performing measurement of an observable A, the probability of collapsing to a particular
eigenstate of A is directly proportional to the squared modulus of the (generally complex) (1 of 3)4/26/2006 8:58:31 AM
Wavefunction collapse - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
amplitude associated with it. Hence, in experiments such as the double-slit experiment each
individual photon arrives at a discrete point on the screen, but as more and more photons are
accumulated, they form an interference pattern overall.
The cluster of phenomena described by the expression wavefunction collapse is a fundamental
problem in the interpretation of quantum mechanics known as the measurement problem. The
problem is not really confronted by the Copenhagen interpretation which simply postulates that
this is a special characteristic of the "measurement" process. The Everett many-worlds
interpretation deals with it by discarding the collapse-process, thus reformulating the relation
between measurement apparatus and system in such a way that the linear laws of quantum
mechanics are universally valid, that is, the only process according to which a quantum system
evolves is governed by the Schrdinger equation. Often tied in with the many-worlds
interpretation but not limited to it is the physical process of decoherence, which causes an
apparent collapse. Decoherence is also important for the interpretation based on Consistent
Note that a general description of the evolution of quantum mechanical systems is possible by
using density operators and quantum operations. In this formalism (which is closely related to the
C*-algebraic formalism) the collapse of the wave function corresponds to a non-unitary quantum
See also
G Afshar experiment
G Schrdinger's cat
G arrow of time
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Wavefunction collapse - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
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