In quantum mechanics the wave function is complex-valued function. However in some approach it is seen as section of a complex line bundle. What is the difference between a section of a complex line bundle and a complex-valued function?

  • 5
    $\begingroup$ Just as a side note: on any contractible space (for example $\mathbb{R}^n$) all bundles are trivial, i.e. they are just the product of the base and the fibre. In this case, there is no difference between a complex valued function and a section of a complex line bundle. $\endgroup$
    – diracula
    Oct 10, 2017 at 18:41

1 Answer 1


A complex-valued function is a single function defined globally over all of spacetime (or whatever physical system you're considering). A section of a complex line bundle locally looks like an ordinary function $M \to \mathbb{C}$, but there is not necessarily a single coordinate chart that covers all of the spacetime. Instead, you need to specify the wavefunction via different functions in different regions of spacetime, along with a set of rules for how to translate between the different functions in the regions where their domains overlap. It's extremely similar to the way that not all manifolds can be covered by a single coordinate chart, but you can always make a global coordinate system by piecing together local functions defined on multiple patches.

The situation is rather subtle, because with fiber bundles there are several distinct notions of "topological non-triviality:"

  1. The base manifold itself (i.e. spacetime) can have nontrivial topology (e.g. a torus rather than a disk).
  2. There is also a more severe type of topological non-triviality where, very roughly speaking, there exists a collection of maps, one from each patch to the fiber, that are individually valid local sections, but that can't "fit together" into a smooth global section.
  3. There is an even more severe notion, where the fiber bundle is so "twisted" topologically that there are no global sections, even ones defined separately over multiple patches. For example, the hairy ball theorem says that no circle bundle with fiber $S^1$ over the sphere $S^2$ admits a global section.

These three notions are not independent: any fiber bundle whose base manifold is contractible is trivial according to sense #2. Also, sense #3 is strictly stronger than sense #2 for general fiber bundles, but for principal bundles they are equivalent.

In physics, nontrivial sections of a complex line bundle usually come up in the context of E&M in the presence of magnetic monopoles (which usually come about because some nonabelian gauge symmetry is spontaneously broken). Pointlike magnetic monopoles are like topological point defects in the domain of definition of the gauge potential $A_\mu(x)$, so they render the domain of $A_\mu$ topologically nontrivial. So as long as you're working in the usual situation where there are no magnetic monopoles, you can get away with just using a single wavefunction $M^n \to \mathbb{C}$ to describe $n$ electrically charged particles.

  • $\begingroup$ so what you mean is that section are function defined only locally over patches.they may have different functional forms over different patches? $\endgroup$ Oct 10, 2017 at 19:04
  • $\begingroup$ @amiltonmoreira Yes, that's right. The section is, very roughly speaking, the union of the functions defined on each patch. $\endgroup$
    – tparker
    Oct 11, 2017 at 0:22
  • $\begingroup$ @amiltonmoreira Edited to add further info. $\endgroup$
    – tparker
    Oct 11, 2017 at 1:13

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

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