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- What is a Wavefunction?

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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.

©2012 Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics