Bra-ket notation

From Example Problems
Jump to: navigation, search

Bra-ket notation is the standard notation for describing quantum states in the theory of quantum mechanics. It can also be used to denote abstract vectors and linear functionals in pure mathematics. It is so called because the inner product of two states is denoted by a bracket, \langle \phi |\psi \rangle , consisting of a left part, \langle \phi |, called the bra, and a right part, |\psi \rangle , called the ket. The notation was invented by Paul Dirac, and is also known as Dirac notation. It has recently become popular in quantum computing.

Bras and kets

In quantum mechanics, the state of a physical system is identified with a vector in a complex Hilbert space, H. Each vector is called a "ket", and written as

|\psi \rangle

where ψ denotes the particular ket, read as "psi ket."

Every ket |\psi \rangle has a dual bra, written as

\langle \psi |

This is a continuous linear function from H to the complex numbers C, defined by:

\langle \psi |\rho \rangle ={\bigg (}|\psi \rangle \;,\;|\rho \rangle {\bigg )} for all kets |\rho \rangle

where ( , ) denotes the inner product defined on the Hilbert space. The bra is simply the conjugate transpose (also called the Hermitian conjugate) of the ket and vice versa. The notation is justified by the Riesz representation theorem, which states that a Hilbert space and its dual space are isometrically isomorphic. Thus, each bra corresponds to exactly one ket, and vice versa. This is not always the case; on page 111 of Quantum Mechanics by Cohen-Tannoudji et al. it is clarified that there is such a relationship between bras and kets, so long as the defining functions used are square integrable. Consider a continuous basis and a Dirac delta function or a sine or cosine wave as a wave function. Such functions are not square integrable and therefore it arises that there are bras that exist with no corresponding ket. This does not hinder quantum mechanics because all physically realistic wave functions are square integrable.

Bra-ket notation can be used even if the vector space is not a Hilbert space. In any Banach space B, the vectors may be notated by kets and the continuous linear functionals by bras. Over any vector space without topology, we may also notate the vectors by kets and the linear functionals by bras. In these more general contexts, the bracket does not have the meaning of an inner product, because the Riesz representation theorem does not apply.

Applying the bra \langle \phi | to the ket |\psi \rangle results in a complex number, called a "bra-ket" or "bracket", which is written as

\langle \phi |\psi \rangle .

In quantum mechanics, this is the probability amplitude for the state ψ to collapse into the state φ.


Bras and kets can be manipulated in the following ways:

  • Given any bra \langle \phi |, kets |\psi _{1}\rangle and |\psi _{2}\rangle , and complex numbers c1 and c2, then, since bras are linear functionals,
\langle \phi |\;{\bigg (}c_{1}|\psi _{1}\rangle +c_{2}|\psi _{2}\rangle {\bigg )}=c_{1}\langle \phi |\psi _{1}\rangle +c_{2}\langle \phi |\psi _{2}\rangle .
  • Given any ket |\psi \rangle , bras \langle \phi _{1}| and \langle \phi _{2}|, and complex numbers c1 and c2, then, by the definition of addition and scalar multiplication of linear functionals,
{\bigg (}c_{1}\langle \phi _{1}|+c_{2}\langle \phi _{2}|{\bigg )}\;|\psi \rangle =c_{1}\langle \phi _{1}|\psi \rangle +c_{2}\langle \phi _{2}|\psi \rangle .
c_{1}|\psi _{1}\rangle +c_{2}|\psi _{2}\rangle is dual to c_{1}^{*}\langle \psi _{1}|+c_{2}^{*}\langle \psi _{2}|.
  • Given any bra \langle \phi | and ket |\psi \rangle , an axiomatic property of the inner product gives
\langle \phi |\psi \rangle =\langle \psi |\phi \rangle ^{*}.

Linear operators

If A : HH is a linear operator, we can apply A to the ket |\psi \rangle to obtain the ket (A|\psi \rangle ). Linear operators are ubiquitous in the theory of quantum mechanics. For example, hermitian operators are used to represent observable physical quantities, such as energy or momentum, whereas unitary linear operators represent transformative processes such as rotation or the progression of time.

Operators can also be viewed as acting on bras from the right hand side. Applying the operator A to the bra \langle \phi | results in the bra (\langle \phi |A), defined as a linear functional on H by the rule

{\bigg (}\langle \phi |A{\bigg )}\;|\psi \rangle =\langle \phi |\;{\bigg (}A|\psi \rangle {\bigg )}.

This expression is commonly written as

\langle \phi |A|\psi \rangle .

A convenient way to define linear operators on H is given by the outer product: if \langle \phi | is a bra and |\psi \rangle is a ket, the outer product

|\phi \rangle \langle \psi |

denotes the rank one operator that maps the ket |\rho \rangle to the ket |\phi \rangle \langle \psi |\rho \rangle (where \langle \psi |\rho \rangle is a scalar multiplying the vector |\phi \rangle ). One of the uses of the outer product is to construct projection operators. Given a ket |\psi \rangle of norm 1, the orthogonal projection onto the subspace spanned by |\psi \rangle is

|\psi \rangle \langle \psi |

Composite bras and kets

Two Hilbert spaces V and W may form a third space V\otimes W by a tensor product. In quantum mechanics, this is used for describing composite systems. If a system is composed of two subsystems described by V and W respectively, then the Hilbert space of the entire system is the tensor product of the two spaces. (The exception to this is if the subsystems are actually identical particles. In that case, the situation is a little more complicated.)

If |\psi \rangle is a ket in V and |\phi \rangle is a ket in W, the tensor product of the two kets is a ket in V\otimes W. This is written variously as

|\psi \rangle |\phi \rangle or |\psi \rangle \otimes |\phi \rangle or |\psi \phi \rangle or |\psi ,\phi \rangle .

Representations in terms of bras and kets

In quantum mechanics, it is often convenient to work with the projections of state vectors onto a particular basis, rather than the vectors themselves. The reason is that the former are simply complex numbers, and can be formulated in terms of partial differential equations (see, for example, the derivation of the position-basis Schrödinger equation). This process is very similar to the use of coordinate vectors in linear algebra.

For instance, the Hilbert space of a zero-spin point particle is spanned by a position basis \lbrace |{\mathbf  {x}}\rangle \rbrace , where the label x extends over the set of position vectors. Starting from any ket |\psi \rangle in this Hilbert space, we can define a complex scalar function of x, known as a wavefunction:

\psi ({\mathbf  {x}})\equiv \langle {\mathbf  {x}}|\psi \rangle .

It is then customary to define linear operators acting on wavefunctions in terms of linear operators acting on kets, by

A\psi ({\mathbf  {x}})\equiv \langle {\mathbf  {x}}|A|\psi \rangle .

Although the operator A on the left hand side of this equation is, by convention, labelled in the same way as the operator on the right hand side, it should be borne in mind that the two are conceptually different entities: the first acts on wavefunctions, and the second acts on kets. For instance, the momentum operator p has the following form:

{\mathbf  {p}}\psi ({\mathbf  {x}})\equiv \langle {\mathbf  {x}}|{\mathbf  {p}}|\psi \rangle =-i\hbar \nabla \psi (x).

One occasionally encounters an expression like

-i\hbar \nabla |\psi \rangle .

This is something of an abuse of notation, though a fairly common one. The differential operator must be understood to be an abstract operator, acting on kets, that has the effect of differentiating wavefunctions once the expression is projected into the position basis:

-i\hbar \nabla \langle {\mathbf  {x}}|\psi \rangle .

For further details, see rigged Hilbert space.


es:Notación bra-ket fr:Notation bra-ket ko:브라-켓 표기법 it:Notazione bra-ket he:סימון דיראק pl:Notacja Diraca sl:Diracov zapis