2014 : WHAT SCIENTIFIC IDEA IS READY FOR RETIREMENT?

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Professor of Physics, Institute for Advanced Study; Author, Many Colored Glass; The Scientist as Rebel
The Collapse Of The Wave-Function

Fourscore and seven years ago, Erwin Schrödinger   invented wave-functions as a way to describe the behavior of atoms and other small objects. According to the rules of quantum mechanics, the motions of objects are unpredictable. The wave-function tells us only the probabilities of the possible motions. When an object is observed, the observer sees where it is, and the uncertainty of the motion disappears. Knowledge removes uncertainty. There is no mystery here.

Unfortunately, people writing about quantum mechanics often use the phrase "collapse of the wave-function" to describe what happens when an object is observed. This phrase gives a misleading idea that the wave-function itself is a physical object. A physical object can collapse when it bumps into an obstacle. But a wave-function cannot be a physical object. A wave-function is a description of a probability, and a probability is a statement of ignorance. Ignorance is not a physical object, and neither is a wave-function. When new knowledge displaces ignorance, the wave-function does not collapse; it merely becomes irrelevant.