Introduction to Quantum Mechanics 3rd Edition
Book Preface
Unlike Newton’s mechanics, or Maxwell’s electrodynamics, or Einstein’s relativity, quantum theory was not created—or even definitively packaged—by one individual, and it retains to this day some of the scars of its exhilarating but traumatic youth. There is no general consensus as to what its fundamental principles are, how it should be taught, or what it really “means.” Every competent physicist can “do” quantum mechanics, but the stories we tell ourselves about what we are doing are as various as the tales of Scheherazade, and almost as implausible. Niels Bohr said, “If you are not confused by quantum physics then you haven’t really understood it”; Richard Feynman remarked, “I think I can safely say that nobody understands quantum mechanics.” The purpose of this book is to teach you how to do quantum mechanics. Apart from some essential background in Chapter 1, the deeper quasi-philosophical questions are saved for the end. We do not believe one can intelligently discuss what quantum mechanics means until one has a firm sense of what quantum mechanics does. But if you absolutely cannot wait, by all means read the Afterword immediately after finishing Chapter 1.
Not only is quantum theory conceptually rich, it is also technically difficult, and exact solutions to all but the most artificial textbook examples are few and far between. It is therefore essential to develop special techniques for attacking more realistic problems. Accordingly, this book is divided into two parts;1 Part I covers the basic theory, and Part II assembles an arsenal of approximation schemes, with illustrative applications. Although it is important to keep the two parts logically separate, it is not necessary to study the material in the order presented here. Some instructors, for example, may wish to treat time-independent perturbation theory right after Chapter 2.
This book is intended for a one-semester or one-year course at the junior or senior level. A one-semester course will have to concentrate mainly on Part I; a full-year course should have room for supplementary material beyond Part II. The reader must be familiar with the rudiments of linear algebra (as summarized in the Appendix), complex numbers, and calculus up through partial derivatives; some acquaintance with Fourier analysis and the Dirac delta function would help. Elementary classical mechanics is essential, of course, and a little electrodynamics would be useful in places. As always, the more physics and math you know the easier it will be, and the more you will get out of your study. But quantum mechanics is not something that flows smoothly and naturally from earlier theories. On the contrary, it represents an abrupt and revolutionary departure from classical ideas, calling forth a wholly new and radically counterintuitive way of thinking about the world. That, indeed, is what makes it such a fascinating subject.
At first glance, this book may strike you as forbiddingly mathematical. We encounter Legendre, Hermite, and Laguerre polynomials, spherical harmonics, Bessel, Neumann, and Hankel functions, Airy functions, and even the Riemann zeta function—not to mention Fourier transforms, Hilbert spaces, hermitian operators, and Clebsch–Gordan coefficients. Is all this baggage really necessary? Perhaps not, but physics is like carpentry: Using the right tool makes the job easier, not more difficult, and teaching quantum mechanics without the appropriate mathematical equipment is like having a tooth extracted with a pair of pliers—it’s possible, but painful. (On the other hand, it can be tedious and diverting if the instructor feels obliged to give elaborate lessons on the proper use of each tool. Our instinct is to hand the students shovels and tell them to start digging. They may develop blisters at first, but we still think this is the most efficient and exciting way to learn.) At any rate, we can assure you that there is no deep mathematics in this book, and if you run into something unfamiliar, and you don’t find our explanation adequate, by all means ask someone about it, or look it up. There are many good books on mathematical methods—we particularly recommend Mary Boas, Mathematical Methods in the Physical Sciences, 3rd edn, Wiley, New York (2006), or George Arfken and Hans- Jurgen Weber, Mathematical Methods for Physicists, 7th edn, Academic Press, Orlando (2013). But whatever you do, don’t let the mathematics—which, for us, is only a tool—obscure the physics.
Several readers have noted that there are fewer worked examples in this book than is customary, and that some important material is relegated to the problems. This is no accident. We don’t believe you can learn quantum mechanics without doing many exercises for yourself. Instructors should of course go over as many problems in class as time allows, but students should be warned that this is not a subject about which anyone has natural intuitions—you’re developing a whole new set of muscles here, and there is simply no substitute for calisthenics. Mark Semon suggested that we offer a “Michelin Guide” to the problems, with varying numbers of stars to indicate the level of difficulty and importance. This seemed like a good idea (though, like the quality of a restaurant, the significance of a problem is partly a matter of taste); we have adopted the following rating scheme: an essential problem that every reader should study; a somewhat more difficult or peripheral problem; an unusually challenging problem, that may take over an hour. (No stars at all means fast food: OK if you’re hungry, but not very nourishing.) Most of the one-star problems appear at the end of the relevant section; most of the three-star problems are at the end of the chapter. If a computer is required, we put a mouse in the margin. A solution manual is available (to instructors only) from the publisher.
In preparing this third edition we have tried to retain as much as possible the spirit of the first and second. Although there are now two authors, we still use the singular (“I”) in addressing the reader—it feels more intimate, and after all only one of us can speak at a time (“we” in the text means you, the reader, and I, the author, working together). Schroeter brings the fresh perspective of a solid state theorist, and he is largely responsible for the new chapter on symmetries. We have added a number of problems, clarified many explanations, and revised the Afterword. But we were determined not to allow the book to grow fat, and for that reason we have eliminated the chapter on the adiabatic approximation (significant insights from that chapter have been incorporated into Chapter 11), and removed material from Chapter 5 on statistical mechanics (which properly belongs in a book on thermal physics). It goes without saying that instructors are welcome to cover such other topics as they see fit, but we want the textbook itself to represent the essential core of the subject.
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