Questions tagged [operators]

In physics, an operator is almost always either a square matrix or a linear mapping between two function spaces (defined on, say, $\mathbb R^n$). Operators serve as observables and as time evolution operators in Quantum Mechanics. This tag will most often find valid use in quantum mechanics; don't use this tag just because your equations contain "everyday operations" like $\times$, $+$!

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51
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7answers
81k views

What is the Physical Meaning of Commutation of Two Operators?

I understand the mathematics of commutation relations and anti-commutation relations, but what does it physically mean for an observable (self-adjoint operator) to commute with another observable (...
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6answers
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Is mass an observable in Quantum Mechanics?

One of the postulates of QM mechanics is that any observable is described mathematically by a hermitian linear operator. I suppose that an observable means a quantity that can be measured. The mass ...
44
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5answers
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Density matrix formalism

The density matrix $\hat{\rho}$ is often introduced in textbooks as a mathematical convenience that allows us to describe quantum systems in which there is some level of missing information. $\hat{\...
42
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3answers
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A "Hermitian" operator with imaginary eigenvalues

Let $${\bf H}=\hat{x}^3\hat{p}+\hat{p}\hat{x}^3$$ where $\hat{p}=-id/dx$. Clearly ${\bf H}^{\dagger}={\bf H}$, because ${\bf H}={\bf T} + {\bf T}^{\dagger}$, where ${\bf T}=\hat{x}^3\hat{p}$. In this ...
40
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2answers
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Rigged Hilbert space and QM

Are there any comprehensive texts that discuss QM using the notion of rigged Hilbert spaces? It would be nice if there were a text that went through the standard QM examples using this structure.
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2answers
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Physical interpretation of different selfadjoint extensions

Given a symmetric (densely defined) operator in a Hilbert space, there might be quite a lot of selfadjoint extensions to it. This might be the case for a Schrödinger operator with a "bad" potential. ...
39
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7answers
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Why are Only Real Things Measurable?

Why can't we measure imaginary numbers? I mean, we can take the projection of a complex wave to be the "viewable" part, so why are imaginary numbers given this immeasurable descriptor? Namely with ...
39
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2answers
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Equivalence of canonical quantization and path integral quantization

Consider the real scalar field $\phi(x,t)$ on 1+1 dimensional space-time with some action, for instance $$ S[\phi] = \frac{1}{4\pi\nu} \int dx\,dt\, (v(\partial_x \phi)^2 - \partial_x\phi\partial_t \...
38
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3answers
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What's wrong with this derivation that $i\hbar = 0$?

Let $\hat{x} = x$ and $\hat{p} = -i \hbar \frac {\partial} {\partial x}$ be the position and momentum operators, respectively, and $|\psi_p\rangle$ be the eigenfunction of $\hat{p}$ and therefore $$\...
37
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6answers
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How to get the position operator in the momentum representation from knowing the momentum operator in the position representation?

I know that $$\tag{1}\hat{p}~=~-i\hbar \frac{\partial}{\partial x}~.$$ How can I get $$\tag{2}\hat{x}~=~i\hbar \frac{\partial}{\partial p}~?$$ I think this simple and I'm just over thinking it, ...
36
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4answers
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How does non-commutativity lead to uncertainty?

I read that the non-commutativity of the quantum operators leads to the uncertainty principle. What I don't understand is how both things hang together. Is it that when you measure one thing first and ...
36
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2answers
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Is there a time operator in quantum mechanics?

The question in the title has been asked many times on this site before, of course. Here's what I found: Time as a Hermitian operator in QM? in 2011. Answer states time is a parameter. Is there an ...
31
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3answers
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The formal solution of the time-dependent Schrödinger equation

Consider the time-dependent Schrödinger equation (or some equation in Schrödinger form) written down as $$ \tag 1 i \partial_{0} \Psi ~=~ \hat{ H}~ \Psi . $$ Usually, one likes to write that it has a ...
30
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3answers
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Not all self-adjoint operators are observables?

The WP article on the density matrix has this remark: It is now generally accepted that the description of quantum mechanics in which all self-adjoint operators represent observables is untenable.[...
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3answers
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Time as a Hermitian operator in quantum mechanics

In non-relativistic QM, on one hand we have the following relations: $$\langle x | P | \psi \rangle ~=~ -i \hbar \frac{\partial}{\partial x} \psi(x),$$ $$\langle p | X | \psi \rangle ~=~ i \hbar \...
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6answers
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Must observables be Hermitian only because we want real eigenvalues, or is more to that?

Because (after long university absence) I recently came across field operators again in my QFT lectures (which are not necessarily Hermitian): What problem is there with observables represented by non-...
29
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7answers
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Why do we use Eigenvalues to represent Observed Values in Quantum Mechanics?

One of the postulates of quantum mechanics is that for every observable $A$, there corresponds a linear Hermitian operator $\hat A$, and when we measure the observable $A$, we get an eigenvalue of $\...
28
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3answers
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Why does non-commutativity in quantum mechanics require us to use Hilbert spaces?

I am reading Why we do quantum mechanics on Hilbert spaces by Armin Scrinzi. He says on page 13: What is new in quantum mechanics is non-commutativity. For handling this, the Hilbert space ...
28
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3answers
806 views

Uncertainty relation for non-simultaneous observation

Heisenberg's uncertainty relation in the Robertson-Schroedinger formulation is written as, $$\sigma_A^2 \sigma_B^2 \geq \left|\frac{1}{2} \langle\{\hat A, \hat B\}\rangle -\langle \hat A\rangle\...
27
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2answers
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What's the deal with momentum in the infinite square well?

Every now and then a question comes up about the status of the momentum operator in the infinite square well, and while we have two good answers on the topic here and here, I'm generally not satisfied ...
26
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1answer
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Evolution operator for time-dependent Hamiltonian

When I studied QM I'm only working with time independent Hamiltonians. In this case the unitary evolution operator has the form $$\hat{U}=e^{-\frac{i}{\hbar}Ht}$$ that follows from this equation $$ i\...
25
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1answer
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Operator Ordering Ambiguities

I have been told that $$[\hat x^2,\hat p^2]=2i\hbar (\hat x\hat p+\hat p\hat x)$$ illustrates operator ordering ambiguity. What does that mean? I tried googling but to no avail.
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2answers
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There are too many Wick's Theorems!

This is a follow-up question to QMechanic's great answer in this question. They give a formulation of Wick's theorem as a purely combinatoric statement relating two total orders $\mathcal T$ and $\...
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3answers
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Is there a "position operator" for the "particle on a ring" quantum mechanics model?

For this quantum mechanical system, is there an operator that corresponds to "position" the same way that there are operators corresponding to angular momentum and energy? My first guess for ...
24
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2answers
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What does the Canonical Commutation Relation (CCR) tell me about the overlap between Position and Momentum bases?

I'm curious whether I can find the overlap $\langle q | p \rangle$ knowing only the following: $|q\rangle$ is an eigenvector of an operator $Q$ with eigenvalue $q$. $|p\rangle$ is an eigenvector of ...
24
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2answers
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Intuitive meaning of Hilbert Space formalism

I am totally confused about the Hilbert Space formalism of Quantum Mechanics. Can somebody please elaborate on the following points: The observables are given by self-adjoint operators on the ...
24
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2answers
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Differences between symmetric, Hermitian, self-adjoint, and essentially self-adjoint operators

I am a physicist. I always heard physicists used the terminology "symmetric", "Hermitian", "self-adjoint", and "essentially self-adjoint" operators interchangeably. Actually what is the difference ...
24
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1answer
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Self-adjoint and unbounded operators in QM

An operator $A$ is said to be self-adjoint if $(\chi,A\psi)=(A\chi,\psi)$ for $\psi, \chi \in D_A$ and $D_A=D_{A^\dagger}$. But for the free particle momentum operator $\hat{p}$ these inner products ...
24
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7answers
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Why isn't momentum a function of position in quantum mechanics?

In quantum mechanics, the unitary time translation operator $\hat{U}(t_1,t_2)$ is defined by $\hat{U}(t_1,t_2)|ψ(t_1)\rangle = |ψ(t_2)\rangle$, and the Hamiltonian operator $\hat{H}(t)$ is defined as ...
23
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4answers
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Why do we use Hermitian operators in QM?

Position, momentum, energy and other observables yield real-valued measurements. The Hilbert-space formalism accounts for this physical fact by associating observables with Hermitian ('self-adjoint') ...
23
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2answers
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In what sense is the path integral an independent formulation of Quantum Mechanics/Field Theory?

We are all familiar with the version of Quantum Mechanics based on state space, operators, Schrodinger equation etc. This allows us to successfully compute relevant physical quantities such as ...
23
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2answers
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What Hermitian operators can be observables?

We can construct a Hermitian operator $O$ in the following general way: find a complete set of projectors $P_\lambda$ which commute, assign to each projector a unique real number $\lambda\in\mathbb R$...
23
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3answers
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Weyl Ordering Rule

While studying Path Integrals in Quantum Mechanics I have found that [Srednicki: Eqn. no. 6.6] the quantum Hamiltonian $\hat{H}(\hat{P},\hat{Q})$ can be given in terms of the classical Hamiltonian $H(...
23
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10answers
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Half-integer eigenvalues of orbital angular momentum

Why do we exclude half-integer values of the orbital angular momentum? It's clear for me that an angular momentum operator can only have integer values or half-integer values. However, it's not clear ...
22
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2answers
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Quantization of a particle on a spherical surface

Suppose we have a particle of mass $m$ confined to the surface of a sphere of radius $R$. The classical Lagrangian of the system is $$L = \frac{1}{2}mR^2 \dot{\theta}^2 + \frac{1}{2}m R^2 \sin^2 \...
22
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4answers
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How to tackle 'dot' product for spin matrices

I read a textbook today on quantum mechanics regarding the Pauli spin matrices for two particles, it gives the Hamiltonian as $$ H = \alpha[\sigma_z^1 + \sigma_z^2] + \gamma\vec{\sigma}^1\cdot\vec{\...
22
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2answers
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Is there any theorem that suggests that QM+SR has to be an operator theory?

UPDATE To make my question more precise, I'll define what I mean by an operator theory: An operator theory is a theory in which the dynamical objects are operators, i.e., the equations of motion are ...
22
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4answers
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Applications of the Spectral Theorem to Quantum Mechanics

I'm currently learning some basic functional analysis. Yesterday I arrived at the spectral theorem of self-adjoint operators. I've heard that this theorem has lots of applications in Quantum Mechanics....
22
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1answer
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Does every hermitian operator represent a measurable quantity?

In Quantum mechanics, observables are represented by hermitian operator. But does every hermitian operator represent a observable? If not , how do we know that whether a hermitian operator represent ...
21
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7answers
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Why is a Hermitian operator a "quantum random variable"?

To me, as a stupid mathematician, a random variable is a measurable function from some probability space $(\Omega, \sigma, \mu)$ to $(\Bbb{R}, B(\Bbb{R}))$. This makes sense. You have outcomes, events,...
21
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1answer
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What does the identity operator look like in Quantum Field Theory?

In texts on ordinary quantum mechanics the identity operators \begin{equation}\begin{aligned} I & = \int \operatorname{d}x\, |x\rangle\langle x| \\ & = \int \operatorname{d}p\, |p\...
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1answer
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Discreteness of set of energy eigenvalues

Given some potential $V$, we have the eigenvalue problem $$ -\frac{\hbar^2}{2m}\Delta \psi + V\psi = E\psi $$ with the boundary condition $$ \lim_{|x|\rightarrow \infty} \psi(x) = 0 $$ If we ...
20
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2answers
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A rigorous definition of the exponential of an operator in QM?

In the Quantum Mechanics course I took, we defined the operator exponential simply as $$ \mathrm{e}^{\hat A} = \sum_{n=0}^\infty \frac{1}{n!} \hat A^n \: . $$ This is probably a good definition for ...
20
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4answers
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Applying an operator to a wavefunction vs. a (ket) vector

I have a question regarding the effect of quantum mechanical operators. The definition that I'm familiar with says that an operator $A$ acts on a vector from a Hilbert space, $|\psi\rangle$, and the ...
20
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4answers
9k views

Why is normal ordering a valid operation?

Why is normal ordering even a valid operation in the first place? I mean it can give us some nice results, but why can we do the ordering for the operators like that? Is its definition motivated by ...
19
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7answers
10k views

How does the momentum operator act on state kets?

I have been going through some problems in Sakurai's Modern QM and at one point have to calculate $\langle \alpha|\hat{p}|\alpha\rangle$ where all we know about the state $|\alpha\rangle$ is that $$\...
19
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7answers
4k views

Is the Momentum Operator a Postulate?

I've been studying the postulates of QM and seeing how to derive important ideas from them. One thing that I haven't been able to derive from them, however, is the identity of the momentum operator. ...
19
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4answers
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Gelfand-Yaglom theorem for functional determinants

What is the 'Gelfand-Yaglom' Theorem? I have heard that it is used to calculate Functional determinants by solving an initial value problem of the form $Hy(x)-zy(x)=0$ with $y(0)=0$ and $y'(0)=1$. ...
19
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3answers
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How exactly is "normal-ordering an operator" defined?

(In this question, I'm only talking about the second-quantization version of normal ordering, not the CFT version.) Most sources (e.g. Wikipedia) very quickly define normal-ordering as "reordering ...
19
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2answers
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What is the meaning of the anti-commutator term in the uncertainty principle?

What is the meaning, mathematical or physical, of the anti-commutator term? $$\langle ( \Delta A )^{2} \rangle \langle ( \Delta B )^{2} \rangle \geq \dfrac{1}{4} \vert \langle [ A,B ] \rangle \vert^{2}...

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