According to Wikipedia: 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 due to interaction with the external world; this is called an 'observation'. There are many different interpretations of wave function collapse and there is no agreement, which one is correct?

In nature, the sound waves which are phonons, produced by various instruments comprise of multiple harmonics, which closely resemble a harmonic series. In terms of a frequency, the harmonic series is an arithmetic series. The difference between consecutive harmonics is constant and equal to the fundamental frequency.

When the auditory system is processing this sound wave it's analysing its harmonics and its periodicity. The end result of this complicated analysis is the determination of the "pitch" which is equal to the fundamental, defined as the lowest frequency of the periodic waveform. From pitch, the brain is able to estimate the length of the object producing this sound, important factor from the evolutionary perspective. Pitch being a single value frequency still represents a superposition of the harmonics. Could we in the language of Quantum Mechanics interpret search for the Pitch as a process similar to the collapse of the wave function?


In a word, no.

The collapse of a quantum wavefunction is equally likely to produce the fundamental mode as it is to produce any of its higher harmonics.

The 'search for the pitch' as you've described it* should, if working 'as designed', always produce the fundamental.

As such, the two processes do not share even their basic features.

*In the real world, psychoacoustics is much more complicated than what you've described, and there's plenty of effects (example) that put further holes in that analogy.

  • $\begingroup$ An electron in the ground state of a hydrogen atom would be the example of such a particle, that a measurement of its total energy can lead only to a single result. Couldn't we then consider "the measurement" of the fundamental frequency of the sound wave as a process also leading to a single result? $\endgroup$ – Stan Tarka Feb 3 at 19:53
  • $\begingroup$ If what you want to do is to bury your head in the sand and ignore any and all inconvenient cases until you're only left with the tiny minority of cases where things can be twisted into vaguely-similar shapes, then yes, I suppose that it's possible. If what you want to do is science, then the answer is no. $\endgroup$ – Emilio Pisanty Feb 3 at 20:00

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