Wave function collapse

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In quantum mechanics, wave function collapse is said to occur when a wave function—initially in a superposition of several eigenstates—appears to reduce to a single eigenstate (by "observation").  It is the essence of measurement in quantum mechanics and connects the wave function with classical observables like position and momentum.


  • Unfortunately, people writing about quantum mechanics often use the phrase "collapse of the wave-function" to describe what happens when an object is observed. This phrase gives a misleading idea that the wave-function itself is a physical object. A physical object can collapse when it bumps into an obstacle. But a wave-function cannot be a physical object. A wave-function is a description of a probability, and a probability is a statement of ignorance. Ignorance is not a physical object, and neither is a wave-function. When new knowledge displaces ignorance, the wave-function does not collapse; it merely becomes irrelevant.
  • If the packet is to be reduced, the interaction must have produced knowledge in the brain of the observer. If the observer forgets the result of his observation, or loses his notebook, the packet is not reduced. We are again led to emphasize the fact that the wave function of a pure-state assemblage is merely a mathematical tool for computing from all previous observations what the relative probabilities are for different results when we make our next observation.
    • Edwin C. Kemble, The Fundamental Principles of Quantum Mechanics (1937), Chap. IX. The Measurement of Dynamic Variables
  • To Einstein the collapse postulate was an even more pernicious retreat from realism than that described above: it implied that physical quantities usually have no values until they are observed, and therefore that the observer must be intrinsically involved in the physics being observed.  This suggests that there might be no real world in the absence of an observer!
    • Andrew Whitaker, "John Bell and the most profound discovery of science", Physics World (December 1998)
  • If collapse actually worked the way its adherents say it does, it would be:

    1. The only non-linear evolution in all of quantum mechanics.
    2. The only non-unitary evolution in all of quantum mechanics.
    3. The only non-differentiable (in fact, discontinuous) phenomenon in all of quantum mechanics.
    4. The only phenomenon in all of quantum mechanics that is non-local in the configuration space.
    5. The only phenomenon in all of physics that violates CPT symmetry.
    6. The only phenomenon in all of physics that violates Liouville's Theorem (has a many-to-one mapping from initial conditions to outcomes).
    7. The only phenomenon in all of physics that is acausal / non-deterministic / inherently random.
    8. The only phenomenon in all of physics that is non-local in spacetime and propagates an influence faster than light.


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