What is a Wavefunction?

Recording Details

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PIRSA Number: 
08110045

Abstract

Conventional quantum mechanics answers this question by specifying the required mathematical properties of wavefunctions and invoking the Born postulate. The ontological question remains unanswered. There is one exception to this. A variation of the Feynman chessboard model allows a classical stochastic process to assemble a wavefunction, based solely on the geometry of spacetime paths. A direct comparison of how a related process assembles a Probability Density Function reveals both how and why PDFs and wavefunctions differ from the perspective of an underlying kinetic theory. If the fine-scale motion of a particle through spacetime is continuous and position is a single valued function of time, then we are able to describe ensembles of paths directly by PDFs. However, should paths have time reversed portions so that position is not a single-valued function of time, a simple Bernoulli counting of paths fails, breaking the link to PDF\'s! Under certain circumstances, correcting the path-counting to accommodate time-reversed sections results in wavefunctions not PDFs. The result is that a single `switch\' simultaneously turns on both special relativity and quantum propagation. Physically, fine-scale random motion in space alone yields a diffusive process with PDFs governed by the Telegraph equations. If the fine-scale motion includes both directions in time, the result is a wavefunction satisfying the Dirac equation that also provides a detailed answer to the title question.