Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Essence of Quantum Theory

The purpose of this short post is to provide a very brief presentation of Quantum Theory.


In quantum theory, particles are waves of various shapes. You cannot directly observe the waves, only some of their properties. Each property is well defined only for some of the possible shapes. There is no shape for which the properties "position" and "momentum" are simultaneously well defined (Heisenberg's principle). When you observe a property, you find the wave in a shape corresponding to that property (like magic!), without regard of its previous shape. Entanglement: n particles are a single wave in a space with n x 3 dimensions, they don't have individual shapes.


In classical physics, particles are points moving on well-defined trajectories. This picture turned out to be an approximation: a particle is in fact a wave (although there is no waving medium for this wave). We know it is a wave, because it interferes, it can be diffracted, its allowed states in an atom are those corresponding to an integral number of wavelengths, and it is governed by a wave equation. As a wave, it has no definite trajectory, and insisting in discussing in terms of position and momentum as for point particles leads to problems.

But you can't observe the wave directly, only classical properties, like position or momentum. Each property you observe is well defined only for a particular set of possible shapes of the wave. When you observe its position, the wave appears to be concentrated at a point, but it has an undefined momentum. Conversely, the possible shapes that have well defined momentum have no well defined position – they are spread in all the space. Similar things happen when you want to observe any other classical property.

The first strangest thing about quanta is that when you look at them, they take precisely one of those shapes corresponding to the property you observe, without regard of their previously known shape. If further you try to observe another property, which is not well defined for the previously observed shape, you will find the new kind of shape, allowed by the new property. Knowing its shape before an observation, you can not predict which of the allowed shapes you obtain, but only the probability for each allowed shape.

The second strangest thing is the entanglement. When dealing with more particles, say n, they are not described by individual waves, but by a single wave on a space obtained by multiplying the usual three-dimensional space with itself n times. This means that after two particles interact, they have no individual shape, but a common shape on this space with 6 dimensions. We can still observe one of the particles, and obtain a particular 3-dimensional shape for it, but if we try to observe both particles, the shape of one is dependent on the shape of the other. The strangest part is that their shapes are correlated even if the particles are separated by very large distances.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Are vector bundles fundamental in Physics?

Vector bundles and gauge theory

The idea in Gauge Theory is that the fields of the known forces can be expressed starting with some principal bundles and their associated vector bundles. To be more precise, let's consider Maxwell's electromagnetic field $F_{ab}$. It can be represented with the help of a principal bundle of group $U(1)$, and a connection on this bundle. The connection corresponds to the electromagnetic potential, and the curvature to the electromagnetic field. It is known that we can modify the potential to $A_a(t,x)\mapsto A_a(t,x) + \partial_a \theta(t,x)$, and obtain the same $F_{ab}$. In terms of bundles, this transformation corresponds to a gauge transformation of $\mathbb C$ by the action of $e^{i\theta(t,x)}$. The connection will appear to depend on the gauge, but the curvature is gauge invariant.

A bundle is just another manifold

Both principal bundles and vector bundles are differential manifolds (that is, topological spaces which looks locally, from topological viewpoint, like a vector space with with a fixed number of dimensions, and on which we can define partial derivatives). A fiber bundle over spacetime looks locally like the cartesian product between the spacetime and a fixed manifold named fiber. For the vector bundles the fiber is a vector space, for the principal bundle it is a Lie group. The $U(1)$ bundle looks locally like a cartesian product between the spacetime and a circle. This space is 5-dimensional, and it was used by Kaluza and Klein in their attempt to unify electromagnetism with gravity by using a 5-dimensional version of general relativity.

After the electromagnetic force was understood as a gauge field, Yang and Mills provided a generalization which allowed us to see as gauge fields also the strong and electroweak forces. It seemed as easy as replacing the $U(1)$ group with a non-abelian group like $U(2)$ for the electroweak force, and $SU(3)$ for the color force. New bundles resulted, and they can be viewed as well as spacetimes with more dimensions, from which some are compactified.

The obvious problem with these extra dimensions is that we cannot "see" them. What explanation is that we cannot test? To avoid this questions, these dimensions are referred as corresponding to "internal spaces", and the Kaluza-Klein interpretation is in general avoided, being preferred that in terms of bundles.

What is more fundamental, the field or the connection?

It was believed that the potential is only a mathematical trick to simplify Maxwell's equations, and that it has no correspondent in reality. There are some reasons to change this view.

One is, as I explained here, in chapter III., the following. Maxwell's equations contain constraints imposed on the field for equal time, that is, between the values of the field at spacelike separated points (Gauss' law). This may seem a little bit acausal, because requires the initial conditions at two spacelike separated points to be related. Of course, the separation between the two points is infinitesimal, but it still exists, and has non-local consequences. In terms of the potential, these constraints are no longer needed. If we consider the connection as fundamental, then the curvature will be a derived field. It will still obey Gauss' law, but this time just as a consequence of being associated to the connection, which is the true fundamental field. And the connection is not constrained.

Taking a charged field, such as the Dirac electron field, under a gauge transformation it is multiplied by $e^{i\theta(t,x)}$. The Dirac-Maxwell equations maintain their form, if we apply the corresponding gauge transformation to the potential. This allows us to perform an experiment to see whether the potential is a real field, or just a mathematical trick. This experiment was imagined by Werner Ehrenberg and Raymond E. Siday, and Aharonov and Bohm, a decade later. It was verified experimentally by S. Olariu and I. Iovitzu Popescu, and confirmed two years later by Osakabe et. al..

Basically, this effect shows that the electromagnetic potential has a fundamental nature. But how can a potential be the fundamental quantity? Which potential, considering that there can be an infinity such choices, related by $A_a(t,x)\mapsto A_a(t,x) + \partial_a \theta(t,x)$? The only way known for this is if it represents a connection on a $U(1)$-bundle. This way, the potential is just the expression of the connection, in a particular frame on the bundle. Gauge transformations are just changes of that frame.

The Aharonov-Bohm effect is interpreted topologically as an effect of the holonomy of a connection on this bundle (which is the electromagnetic potential). These properties are captured by Wilson’s loops.

Are those "internal spaces" real?

It is easy to check the number of dimensions of our space: it is the number of coordinates required to indicate the position of a point, that is, 3. The number of numbers needed to express a rotation, 3(3-1)/2=3, indicates also that we live in a 3-dimensional space. How can we check the extra, "internal" dimensions? We just count the numbers needed to represent them. Since the electromagnetic potential can be changed in a way indicating a rotation of a circle, we conclude that the internal space has one dimension. It is the same as in the case of the 3-dimensional space. The only difference is that we can actually move in this space, and this is why we consider it real. We cannot move in the internal dimensions. But can we, at least, send particles to move in those dimensions?

In fact we can. The Aharonov-Bohm effect shows that we can rotate the wavefunction of an electron. We can compare the rotation of a part of the wavefunction of an electron with that of another part. To do this, we just make them interfere, and see the relative rotation between them. Isn't this remind us of comparing the speed of light in two arms of the Michaelson-Morley interferometer? Only that the Aharonov-Bohm effect succeded, and showed that there is an "internal rotation".

Now, it is time to remember the notion of existence as it is used by mathematicians. Something exists from a mathematical viewpoint if it is logically consistent. The 5-dimensional spacetime (3+1+1) of the electromagnetism exists, in this respect. Did the rotation verified by the Aharonov-Bohm effect confirm its physical existence? In fact, we can take for the internal space, instead of a circle, the complex space $\mathbb C$. The group $U(1)$ acts as well on this space, and we can think that the physical spacetime is in fact 6-dimensional (3+1+2). What is the true number of dimensions? I would say that this number is given by the number of dimensions of the $U(1)$-bundle, that is, 3+1+1. And the internal space happens to be a circle because the $U(1)$ group itself is, topologically, a circle. It has one dimension too. And both the circle bundle and the $\mathbb C$ bundle are associated to this principal bundle, that is, they are obtained from representations of the $U(1)$ group.

OK, so the space dimensions are more real for us, because we can move almost freely in these dimensions. Time is the fourth, at least mathematically, and some people can accept that it is the fourth physically too. They think that this is true, because of the great beauty and symmetry of the Lorentz group. But the internal dimensions, have they more than a mathematical existence? We can ask as well whether the three space dimensions are true or not. What if the real number of space dimensions is two, as the holographic principle suggests?

Do we have a criterion to distinguish between real dimensions and simple mathematical constructions in physics? Can this criterion be the experiment?

Monday, April 19, 2010

Why are vector bundles natural in Physics?

Aren't usual vector fields enough?

When we work with a space $M$ (a differentiable manifold in fact), we may need to consider fields on that space. The fields can be scalar, vector, tensor, spinor fields, depending on the possible values they can take - scalars, vectors, tensors, spinors. But all these can be considered vectors in some spaces, so in general the fields will be considered to be vector fields.

We can think that, considering vector fields on a space, it is as simple as considering functions on that space $M$, valued in a vector space $V$. Unfortunately, this is not the case, and there is a very good reason for this. I will explain it here.

When working with a function $f:M\to V$, we can represent it by its graph, which is in fact a subset of the cartesian product, $\{(x,f(x))|x\in M\}\subset M\times V$. Therefore, we may hope that all the vector fields on $M$ valued in $V$ are subsets of $M\times V$. If the base manifold is the sphere $S^2\subset \mathbb{R}^3$, its tangent vector fields cannot be, in general, represented as subsets of the cartesian product $S^2\times\mathbb{R}^2$ (we say that $S^2$ is not parallelizable). This and other simple examples force us to consider a more general definition of vector fields.

On the other hand, there are spaces with which this representation works always. For example, we can take $M=\mathbb{R}^n$ or a simply connected open subset of it, $M\subset\mathbb{R}^n$. All possible vector fields of such an $M$ can be represented as subsets of $M\times V$.

The idea behind the vector bundles was to consider the base space $M$ as being covered by open sets like above. The restriction of a vector fields to such an open set $U\subset M$ can be represented as a subset of $U\times V$. But the way they are glued together can vary very much, because when they are glued together, the vector space $V$ can be transformed relatively to $V$ on another open set. Take for example a circle as the basis manifold, and consider as a vector space the Euclidean one-dimensional space. We can glue it to each point o the circle in two ways: as a cylinder, and as the Mobius strip. The idea is that we can cover the base manifold with opens such that the way we associate vector spaces to its points is trivial on each open set from the covering.

The basic point is that, in order to have fields of any kind on a manifold, you need bundles. The fields are "sections" in the bundles. Now, these fields can be combined as we do with the vectors. In fact, what we can do with the vector spaces, we can do with vector bundles as well. We can construct direct sums, duals, tensor products.

Vector bundles and quantum entanglement

There is an important difference between two types of tensor products. The fields which are sections of a given vector bundle $E\to M$ form themselves a vector space $\Gamma(E\to M)$. Two such vector spaces of sections can as well be tensored. The tensor product $\Gamma(E_1)\otimes \Gamma(E_2)$ of two vector spaces of sections of two bundles over the same base manifold $M$ is larger than the vector space defined by the sections of the tensor product of the two bundles, $\Gamma(E_1\otimes E_2)$. The first contains nonlocal fields of the form $\phi(x,y)$, while the second contains only local fields, of the form $\varphi(x)=\phi(x,x)$. $\Gamma(E_1)\otimes \Gamma(E_2)$ are no longer sections of a vector bundle. The entangled states in Quantum Mechanics are represented by such nonlocal fields.

One of the most important applications of vector bundles in Physics is related to the Gauge Theory. We will discuss more about this other time.