Take the 2-minute tour ×
Physics Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for active researchers, academics and students of physics. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Why we don't see any Gibb's phenomenon in quantum mechanics?


At sharp edges (discontinuities), we usually find ringing. This cane be observed in many physical phenomenon (eg. shock waves). Naturally, whenevr there is a shrp discontinuity in wave functions, i'd expect a ringing in the probability of finding a particle around that edge.

share|improve this question
What do you mean? What does the Gibb's phenomenon have anything to do with quantum mechanics? A little (or a lot) more context would help. –  Michael Brown Jul 9 '13 at 6:42

2 Answers 2

First of all, the Gibbs phenomenon is a mathematical effect – it is the appearance of narrow but intense oscillations around the right value whenever a function with a discontinuity is approximated by its Fourier expansion that is truncated.

This phenomenon doesn't occur when the relevant function is a wave function $\psi(x,y,z)$ in quantum mechanics for a simple reason: the wave functions don't have such discontinuities. If a wave function had a jump of this sort, then its derivative $\psi'$ or $\nabla x$ would have a $\delta$-function at the point of the jump, and its square would integrate to infinity ($\delta^2$ is infinitely times greater than just $\delta$).

But this integral is proportional to a formula for the expectation value of the kinetic energy $$\int_{-\infty}^\infty |\psi'|^2 dx = -\int_{\infty}^\infty \psi^* \psi'' dx$$ by integration by parts so whenever it diverges, it means that the energy is infinite which is physically impossible. That's why real-world, finite-energy wave functions can't have jump-like discontinuities as a function of spatial coordinates although their first derivatives are already allowed to have such jumps.

share|improve this answer
If there is no such things in wave function, then how come quantum particles are created and annihilated in particle physics? Also how does wave function collapse? –  Rajesh D Jul 9 '13 at 7:20
In any real-world process described by QFT, particles are never created at a strictly defined point with $\Delta x =0$ because of the very same reason I have already explained: that would require $\Delta p = \infty$ by the uncertainty principle and that would also require an infinite energy. In reality, particles are always created in wave functions that are non-vanishing in a whole region of the position space. Wave functions that would be localized at points wouldn't even be normalizable. –  Luboš Motl Jul 9 '13 at 13:35
Moreover, when you localize to smaller distance than the Compton wavelength, new particle production (and other relativistic effects) becomes extreme. ... There is nothing such a "wave function collapse". What actually happens when misguided people talk about a "collapse" is that we learn the results of a measurement so it's practical for us to replace the original complicated probabilities ready for all options by the conditional probabilities in which the particular measured values have already been taken into account and the remaining options forgotten. Nothing "real" collapses in Nature. –  Luboš Motl Jul 9 '13 at 13:38

Remember that

$$p\Psi=-i\hbar\nabla\Psi $$


$$E\Psi=i\hbar\partial_t\Psi $$

Now, if the wavefunction is initially continuous, and if you take the limit as ... let an image explain it ...

enter image description here

The derivative approaches infinity, right ? .

I.e. the momentum or the Energy would approach infinity, so done . '

share|improve this answer

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.