Meaning of the wave function

Y. Aharonov*, J. Anandan, L. Vaidman

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


So far, the wave function has been interpreted as a probability amplitude, which is given physical meaning by ensemble averages of a large number of identical systems at a given time. We give an alternative interpretation of the wave function for a single system by means of a measurement which lasts a long time. This is a measurement on a single quantum system which determines the expectation values of (not necessarily commuting) observables while the wave function is protected from collapsing because it undergoes another suitably chosen interaction. This type of measurement enables the distinction between states which are not orthogonal, but are protected by a suitable interaction with the states of their environment, even for a single system. It therefore gives a different ontological meaning to the wave function. Several experiments in which such a measurement is realized, which can in principle be performed using electrons, neutrons, or atoms, are studied.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4616-4626
Number of pages11
JournalPhysical Review A
Issue number6
StatePublished - 1993


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