BOOK REVIEWS: Quantum Mechanics: Fundamentals

NASA Astrophysics Data System (ADS)

This review is of three books, all published by Springer, all on quantum theory at a level above introductory, but very different in content, style and intended audience. That of Gottfried and Yan is of exceptional interest, historical and otherwise. It is a second edition of Gottfried’s well-known book published by Benjamin in 1966. This was written as a text for a graduate quantum mechanics course, and has become one of the most used and respected accounts of quantum theory, at a level mathematically respectable but not rigorous. Quantum mechanics was already solidly established by 1966, but this second edition gives an indication of progress made and changes in perspective over the last thirty-five years, and also recognises the very substantial increase in knowledge of quantum theory obtained at the undergraduate level. Topics absent from the first edition but included in the second include the Feynman path integral, seen in 1966 as an imaginative but not very useful formulation of quantum theory. Feynman methods were given only a cursory mention by Gottfried. Their practical importance has now been fully recognised, and a substantial account of them is provided in the new book. Other new topics include semiclassical quantum mechanics, motion in a magnetic field, the S matrix and inelastic collisions, radiation and scattering of light, identical particle systems and the Dirac equation. A topic that was all but totally neglected in 1966, but which has flourished increasingly since, is that of the foundations of quantum theory. John Bell’s work of the mid-1960s has led to genuine theoretical and experimental achievement, which has facilitated the development of quantum optics and quantum information theory. Gottfried’s 1966 book played a modest part in this development. When Bell became increasingly irritated with the standard theoretical approach to quantum measurement, Viki Weisskopf repeatedly directed him to Gottfried’s book. Gottfried had devoted a chapter of his book to these matters, titled ‘The Measurement Process and the Statistical Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics’. Gottfried considered the von Neumann or Dirac ‘collapse of state-vector’ (or ‘reduction postulate’ or ‘projection postulate’) was unsatisfactory, as he argued that it led inevitably to the requirement to include ‘consciousness’ in the theory. He replaced this by a more mathematically and conceptually sophisticated treatment in which, following measurement, the density matrix of the correlated measured and measuring systems, rho, is replaced by hat rho, in which the interference terms from rho have been removed. rho represents a pure state, and hat rho a mixture, but Gottfried argued that they are ‘indistinguishable’, and that we may make our replacement, ‘safe in the knowledge that the error will never be found’. Now our combined state is represented as a mixture, it is intuitive, Gottfried argued, to interpret it in a probabilistic way, |cm|2 being the probability of obtaining the mth measurement result. Bell liked Gottfried’s treatment little more than the cruder ‘collapse’ idea of von Neumann, and when, shortly before Bell’s death, his polemical article ‘Against measurement’ was published in the August 1990 issue of Physics World (pages 33-40), his targets included, not only Landau and Lifshitz’s classic Quantum Mechanics, pilloried for its advocacy of old-fashioned collapse, and a paper by van Kampen in Physica, but also Gottfried’s approach. Bell regarded his replacement of rho by hat rho as a ‘butchering’ of the density matrix, and considered, in any case, that even the butchered density matrix should represent co-existence of different terms, not a set of probabilities. Gottfried has replied to Bell ( Physics World, October 1991, pages 34-40; Nature 405, 533-36 (2000)). He has also become a major commentator on Bell’s work, for example editing the section on quantum foundations in the World Scientific edition of Bell’s collected works. Thus it is exceedingly interesting to disco