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Born's Rule

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Born's Rule

Not to be confused with the Cauchy–Born rule in crystal mechanics.

The Born rule (also called the Born law, Born's rule, or Born's law) is a law of quantum mechanics which gives the probability that a measurement on a quantum system will yield a given result. It is named after its originator, the physicist Max Born. The Born rule is one of the key principles of quantum mechanics. There have been many attempts to derive the Born rule from the other assumptions of quantum mechanics, with inconclusive results; the Many Worlds Interpretation for example cannot derive the Born rule.[1] However, within the Quantum Bayesianism interpretation of quantum theory, it has been shown to be an extension of the standard Law of Total Probability, which takes into account the Hilbert space dimension of the physical system involved.[2]

The rule

The Born rule states that if an observable corresponding to a Hermitian operator A with discrete spectrum is measured in a system with normalized wave function \scriptstyle|\psi\rang (see bra-ket notation), then

  • the measured result will be one of the eigenvalues \lambda of A, and
  • the probability of measuring a given eigenvalue \lambda_i will equal \scriptstyle\lang\psi|P_i|\psi\rang, where P_i is the projection onto the eigenspace of A corresponding to \lambda_i.
(In the case where the eigenspace of A corresponding to \lambda_i is one-dimensional and spanned by the normalized eigenvector \scriptstyle|\lambda_i\rang, P_i is equal to \scriptstyle|\lambda_i\rang\lang\lambda_i|, so the probability \scriptstyle\lang\psi|P_i|\psi\rang is equal to \scriptstyle\lang\psi|\lambda_i\rang\lang\lambda_i|\psi\rang. Since the complex number \scriptstyle\lang\lambda_i|\psi\rang is known as the probability amplitude that the state vector \scriptstyle|\psi\rang assigns to the eigenvector \scriptstyle|\lambda_i\rang, it is common to describe the Born rule as telling us that probability is equal to the amplitude-squared (really the amplitude times its own complex conjugate). Equivalently, the probability can be written as \scriptstyle|\lang\lambda_i|\psi\rang|^2.)

In the case where the spectrum of A is not wholly discrete, the spectral theorem proves the existence of a certain projection-valued measure Q, the spectral measure of A. In this case,

  • the probability that the result of the measurement lies in a measurable set M will be given by \scriptstyle\lang\psi|Q(M)|\psi\rang.

If we are given a wave function \scriptstyle\psi for a single structureless particle in position space, this reduces to saying that the probability density function p(x,y,z) for a measurement of the position at time t_0 will be given by p(x,y,z)=\scriptstyle|\psi(x,y,z,t_0)|^2.


The Born rule was formulated by Born in a 1926 paper.[3] In this paper, Born solves the Schrödinger equation for a scattering problem and, inspired by Einstein's work on the photoelectric effect,[4] concluded, in a footnote, that the Born rule gives the only possible interpretation of the solution. In 1954, together with Walter Bothe, Born was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for this and other work.[5] John von Neumann discussed the application of spectral theory to Born's rule in his 1932 book.[6]


See also

External links

  • Quantum Mechanics Not in Jeopardy: Physicists Confirm a Decades-Old Key Principle Experimentally ScienceDaily (July 23, 2010)
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