Page: 24

12 THE PRINCIPLE OF SUPERPOSITION §4 the conditions could be imposed by a suitable preparation of the system, consisting perhaps in passing it through various kinds of sorting apparatus, such as slits and polarimeters, the system being left undisturbed after the preparation. The word state may be used to mean either the state at one particular time (after the preparation), or the state throughout the whole of time after the preparation. To distinguish these two meanings, the latter win be called a state of motion when there is liable to be ambiguity. The general principle of superposition of quantum mechanics applies to the states, with either of the above meanings, of any one dynamical system. It requires us to assume that between these states there exist peculiar relationships such that whenever the system is definitely in one state we can consider it as being partly in each of two or more other states. The original state must be regarded as the result of a kind of superposition of the two or more new states, in a way that cannot be conceived on classical ideas. Any state may be considered as the result of a superposition of two or more other states, and indeed in an infinite number of ways. Con- Conversely any two or more states may be superposed to give a new state. The procedure of expressing a state as the result of super- superposition of a number of other states is a mathematical procedure that is always permissible, independent of any reference to physical conditions, like the procedure of resolving a wave into Fourier com- components. Whether it is useful in any particular case, though, depends on the special physical conditions of the problem under consideration. In the two preceding sections examples were given of the super- superposition principle applied to a system consisting of a single photon. § 2 dealt with states differing only with regard to the polarization and § 3 with states differing only with regard to the motion of the photon as a whole. The nature of the relationships which the superposition principle requires to exist between the states of any system is of a kind that cannot be explained in terms of familiar physical concepts. One cannot in the classical sense picture a system being partly in each of two states and see the equivalence of this to the system being com- completely in some other state. There is an entirely new idea involved, to which one must get accustomed and in terms of which one must proceed to build up an exact mathematical theory, without having any detailed classical picture.


Document info




Dirac P.A.M. - Principles of quantum mechanics (4ed., Oxford, 1958).





Date add:

March 1, 2014, 12:02 p.m.