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# Classical and Quantum Probabilities

Abhishek Gupta
H.B.C.S.E Mumbai

Abstract
We discuss a method for calculating the classical probability density and use this to calculate the classical expectation and uncertainty
values for simple cases like the particle in a box, the harmonic oscillator
and the constant force field. We then show that quantum mechanical
and classical expectation values as well as uncertainties match for large
quantum numbers as stated by the Bohr correspondence principle.

Introduction

Since the inception of quantum mechanics there have been attempts to explore its connections with classical mechanics and obtaining classical mechanics from quantum mechanics as a special case. There are methods which
work in particular examples but none of them is universal, for example, the
Ehrenfest theorem says that quantum mechanical expectation values obey
classical equations, which although holds for a large number of cases but is
not true in general. As far as obtaining classical mechanics from quantum
mechanics is concerned, methods like taking the limit h
(Plancks
Correspondence Principle) or taking the limit of large quantum numbers
(Bohrs corresponding principle) work in several problems but again do not
answer the classical-quantum question to full satisfaction . Here we discuss another important case where the Bohr correspondence principle holds
true.
The (Bohr) correspondence principle states that the behaviour of systems
described by quantum mechanics reproduces classical physics in the limit of
large quantum numbers. In what follows, we show that quantum mechanical expectation values and uncertainties for quantum number n do reduce
to corresponding classical values in the limit of large quantum number n. In
this section we discuss a procedure to find out classical probabilities, expectation values and uncertainties. We then calculate the expectation values
and uncertainties xn and pn for a few quantum mechanical problems and
confirm that these are equal to the corresponding classical values (calculated
by the discussed method) in the limit of large quantum numbers.
1

## The classical probability to find a particle in an interval x which is

Pcl (x)x, Pcl (x) being the probability density, is proportional to the time
t it spends in that interval x, thus classical probability density Pcl (x) is
calculated in the following manner:
Pcl (x)x = kt =

kx
v(x)

(1)

## where k is a proportionality constant to be determined by normalization.

From this the expectation value hxicl can be found out as:
hxicl =

xPcl (x)dx

(2)

which is the same as the quantum mechanical expression for hxi with the
normalized quantum mechanical probability density |(x)|2 replaced by the
normalized classical probability density Pcl (x). Similarly hx2 icl can be found
by replacing x by x2 in the above integral. From these the uncertaintyxcl
can be calculated by the usual definition:
xcl =

## hx2 icl hxi2cl

(3)

For calculating hpicl and hp2 icl it is convenient to have the probability density
as a function of p. Pcl (p) may be calculated as:
|Pcl (p)p| = |Pcl (x)x|

(4)

or,

dx

dp

(5)

## where |dx/dp| is found by differentiating the relation:

V (x) +

p2
=E
2m

(6)

hpicl , hp2 icl and pcl can be found from Pcl (p) by a procedure similar to
above.

Results

## Having described a general method we now demonstrate its application in

verification of the correspondence principle in specific cases.

2.1

Particle in a box

## Let a particle of mass m be in a box of length L extending from 0 to L. The

classical probability density for this case is a constant which comes out to
be 1/L by normalization as is depicted in figure 1.

## Figure 1: Pcl (x) vs. x for a particle in a box

Using this value for Pcl (x) classical expectation values are:

hx icl =

xPcl (x)dx =

L
2

(7)

x2 Pcl (x)dx =

L2
3

(8)

hxicl =

which yields
xcl =

L
hx2 icl hxi2cl =
2 3

(9)

hpicl = 0

(10)

(11)

## E being the total energy, thus implying

pcl = 2mE

(12)

and

Quantum mechanically, for the particle in a box the normalized wave functions are
r

n (x) =

nx
2
sin
L
L

(n = 1, 2, 3, . . .)

(13)

## and the probability density is Pn (x) = |n (x)|2 , straightforward integration

using (2) after replacing Pcl (x) by Pn (x) yields:
hxin =
3

L
2

(14)

hx2 in =

L2
L2
2 2
3
2n

(15)

and,
hpin = 0
hp2 in =

nh
L

(16)

2

= 2mEn

(17)

## therefore the uncertainties are:

s

xn =

L2
L2
2 2
12 2n

pn =

2mEn

(18)
(19)

where E is the total energy. Each of the above expectation value and uncertainty value can be checked to be equal to the corresponding classical values
in the limit of large n thus verifying the correspondence principle for this
case.

2.2

Harmonic Oscillator

## Consider a particle of mass m with potential energy 21 m 2 x2 , total energy

E and amplitude A. Using the prescription given by equation (1) and normalizing we obtain:
1
(20)
Pcl (x) =
A2 x2
which is graphically shown in figure 2. In this case we see an unusual behaviour of the classical probability density as it blows up at A. The singularity of the classical probability density at the two extremes is not surprising
as the particle spends most of its time there, moreover it is normalizable and
hence physically acceptable.

Figure 2: Pcl (x) vs. x for the simple harmonic oscillator with amplitude A
4

## The obtained value for Pcl (x) gives:

hxicl =
hx2 icl =
and

xPcl (x)dx = 0

x2 Pcl (x)dx =

dx
Pcl (p) = Pcl (x) =
dp

A2
E
=
2
m 2

1
(mA)2 p2

(21)
(22)

(23)

pPcl (p)dp = 0

(24)

which implies,
hpicl =
2

hp icl =

p2 Pcl (p)dp =

thus
A
xcl = =
2
and

pcl =

(mA)2
= mE
2

E
m 2

(25)

(26)

(mA)2
= mE
2

(27)

## Quantum mechanically, using the ladder operators the x and p operators

can be written as(refer  for the details of the following calculations):
s

x=

2h
m

2hm

p=

a + a
2

a a
2i

(28)
!

(29)

hxin = hpin = 0

(30)

h
(n + 1/2)
m

(31)

## hp2 in = mh(n + 1/2)

(32)

hx2 in =

which yields
s

xn =
pn =

h
(n + 1/2) =
m

mh(n + 1/2) =

En
m 2
mEn

(33)
(34)

all of which are exactly same as the classical uncertainties even without
taking the limit of large quantum numbers. Hence, the quantum-classical
correspondence for the harmonic oscillator can be clearly seen in this case.
Also the product of the last two equations above gives:


xn pn = n +

1
h
2


(35)

h.

2.3

## Figure 3: Particle of mass m falling under gravity

Consider a particle of mass m falling under acceleration g from a height h0
on an impenetrable ground. Its total mechanical energy is E = mgh0 . Its
collision with the floor is assumed to be elastic. The classical probability
density for this, once again using equation (1) is:
1
Pcl (x) = p
2 h0 (h0 x)

(36)

## Note that the probability blows up as x h0 (see figure 4) like in the

previous case. This result can be similarly argued by observing that the
particle spends a relatively longer time near x ' h0 and hence Pcl (x '
h0 ) must be large. Like in the case of the harmonic oscillator Pcl (x) is
normalizable, hence physically acceptable.

## Figure 4: Pcl (x) vs. x for a particle falling under gravity

This expression for Pcl (x), using equation (2), yields:
hxicl =
2

hx icl =

2 E
2
xPcl (x)dx = h0 =
3
3 mg

8
8
x Pcl (x)dx = h20 =
15
15
2

thus

xcl =

4 h0
1
=
5 3
3

E
mg

(37)
2

4 E
5 mg

(38)

(39)

dx
= 1
dp m 2gh0

## Pcl (p) = Pcl (x)

(40)

Unlike the previous cases, the expression for Pcl (p) obtained above is not
normalized, hence we normalize it:
Z 2m2 gh0
k
1

(41)
dp = 1 k =

2
2
m
2gh
2m gh0 dz
0
The above value for the normalization constant k implies:
1
Pcl (p) = p 2
2 2m gh0

(42)

which gives,
hpicl =
2

hp icl =

pPcl (p)dp = 0

(43)

2
2
p2 Pcl (p)dp = m2 gh0 = mE
3
3

(44)

thus,
r

2
2
pcl = m
gh0 =
mE
3
3
Quantum mechanically, the Schrodinger equation for the particle is:

h2 d2 (x)
+ mgx(x) = E(x)
2m dx2

(45)

(46)

the substitution
z = c(mgx E)

(47)



c=

2
mg 2 h2

1
3

(48)

## yields the Airy equation:

d2 (z)
= z(z)
(49)
dz 2
which has the Airy functions, Ai(z) and Bi(z) as its linearly independent
solutions. Thus the general solution of the Airy equation is :
(z) = aAi(z) + bBi(z)

(50)

## Figure 5: The Airy Functions Ai(z) and Bi(z)

The wave function should be normalizable, thus b = 0 as Bi(z) diverges
as z as can be seen in figure 5; and the wavefunction is
(z) = aAi(z)

(51)

## where a is a normalization constant. The ground is impenetrable, hence for

the wavefunction to be continuous it must be zero at x = 0. This condition
implies:
Ai(cEn ) = 0
(52)
8

or,
cEn = n

(53)

where n s are the zeros of the airy function Ai(z). Thus the energy eigenvalues are given by(refer ):
En =

n
c

(54)

where c is defined in equation (48) and n are the zeros of the Airy function
Ai(z). Thus the energy eigenfunctions are:
n (x) = aAi (c(mgx En ))

(55)

## where En is given by (54). The expectation values are calculated as:

R

hxin =

x|n (x)|2 dx

0
R

(56)
|n

(x)|2 dx

Now writing the integrals in terms of z (or changing the variable to z) using
equation (47) we get:
R

z/c+En
Ai(z)2 dz
mg
R
2
cEn Ai(z) dz

cEn

hxin =

En
1 cEn zAi(z)2 dz
R
=
+
mg mgc cEn Ai(z)2 dz

(57)

The integrals are now evaluated by using the following property of Ai(z)
(mathematica has been used to evaluate the indefnite integrals involving
Z

1
zAi(z)2 dz = (z 2 Ai(z)2 + Ai(z)Ai0 (z) zAi0 (z)2 )
3

(58)

## The substitution of limits in the above expression yields:

Z

1
zAi(z)2 dz = (c2 En2 Ai(cEn )2 +Ai(cEn )Ai0 (cEn )+cEn Ai0 (cEn )2 )
3
cEn
(59)
as on substituting infinity in any of Ais derivatives or Ai or these multiplied
by a polynomial in z gives zero because the airy function Ai(z) decreases
exponentially for positive argument which can be seen in the asymptotic
form(see ):
2 3/2
1
Ai(z) = 1/4 e 3 z
2 z

1
2

sin
(z)3/2 +
1/4
3
4
(z)


Ai(z) =

(f or z  0)

(60)

(f or 0  z)

(61)

From now on we will use this fact whenever we substitute infinity without
stating it explicitly every time. The denominator is evaluated using the
relation:
Z
Ai(z)2 dz = zAi(z)2 Ai0 (z)2
(62)
which yields:
Z
cEn

## Ai(z)2 dz = cEn Ai(cEn )2 + Ai0 (cEn )2

(63)

thus implying:
R

zAi(z)2 dz
1 c2 E 2 Ai(cEn )2 + Ai(cEn )Ai0 (cEn ) + cEn Ai0 (cEn )2
=

2
3
cEn Ai(cEn )2 + Ai0 (cEn )2
cEn Ai(z) dz
(64)
which on simplifying becomes:
n
RcE

1
Ai(cEn )Ai0 (cEn )
cEn +
3
cEn Ai(cEn )2 + Ai0 (cEn )2


1
= cEn
3

(65)

## In fractional term of the expression above the numerator is zero by equation

(52) while the denominator is nonzero as it has Ai0 (cEn ) which is nonzero
at the zeros of the Airy function Ai(z) and hence, it vanishes. Therefore on
its substitution in equation (57) we get:

En
1 cEn zAi(z)2 dz
En
R
hxin =
+
=
mg mgc cEn Ai(z)2 dz
mg

2
3

 

(66)

hxin =

2 En
3 mg

(67)

R 2
x |(x)|2 dx

hx2 in = 0 R


z/c+En 2
Ai(z)2 dz
mg
R
2
cEn Ai(z) dz


cEn

|(x)|2 dx

(68)

## expanding the term in the brackets we get:

2

hx in =

1
mgc

R
2 R


2
2
En cEn zAi(z)2 dz
En 2
cEn z Ai(z) dz
R
R
+
2
+
2
m2 g 2 c cEn Ai(z)2 dz
mg
cEn Ai(z) dz

(69)
now for the first integral we use the relation (calculated using mathematica):
Z

1
z 2 Ai(z)2 dz = ((z 3 1)Ai(z)2 + 2zAi0 (z)Ai(z) z 2 Ai0 (z)2 )
5
10

(70)

## thus by the above equation and equation (63):

R

2
2
cEn z Ai(z) dz
R
2
cEn Ai(z) dz

1 (c3 En3 + 1)Ai(cEn )2 + 2cEn Ai0 (cEn )Ai(cEn ) + c2 En2 Ai0 (cEn )2
5
cEn Ai(cEn )2 + Ai0 (cEn )2
(71)
which on simplification gives the expression
=

## 1 2 2 2cEn Ai0 (cEn )Ai(cEn ) + Ai(cEn )2

c En +
5
cEn Ai(cEn )2 + Ai0 (cEn )2

(72)

In the above expression too the numerator of the fractional term vanishes
by equation (52) and the denominator is nonzero due to presence of Ai0
which is nonzero at the zeros of the Airy function Ai(z) thus making that
term zero. Thus hx2 in , after substituting the above value and previously
calculated value in equation (6465) into equation (69), is:
hx2 in =

1
5

En
mg

2

En
1
cEn +
m2 g 2 c
3


+2

En
mg

2

8
15

En
mg

(73)

which is again same as the classical expectation value. Now for hpin :
R

d
(x) dx
(x)dx
R
= ihmgc
2
0 |(x)| dx

0
cEn Ai(z)Ai (z)dz
R
2
cEn Ai(z) dz

ihmgcAi(cEn )2
cEn Ai(cEn )2 + Ai0 (cEn )2
(74)
where equation (77) has been used. Arguing like in the previous cases, the
numerator of the fraction is zero by equation (52) but the denominator is
nonzero due to the term of the derivative Ai0 (cEn ), hence it is zero:

hpin = ih

hpin = 0

(75)

For hp2 in :
2

hp in =

h2

R
0
R

d
dx
2 (x)dx

(76)

|(x)|2 dx

z = c(mgx E)

d
d
= mgc
dx
dz

(77)

which implies:
2

hp in =

R
Ai(z)Ai00 (z)dz
2 cE
n
R
(hmgc)
2
cEn Ai(z) dz

(78)

Z

00

cEn

(z)]
cEn

11

Z
cEn

Ai0 (z)2 dz

(79)



## Ai(cEn )Ai0 (cEn )

1
(z 2 Ai(z)2 + 2Ai(z)Ai0 (z) + zAi0 (z)2 )
3


cEn

1
= Ai(cEn )Ai (cEn )+ (c2 E 2 Ai(cEn )2 + 2Ai(cEn )Ai0 (cEn ) cEn Ai0 (cEn )2 )
3
0

(hmgc)2
hp in =
3
2

## c2 En2 Ai(cEn )2 + Ai(cEn )Ai0 (cEn ) + cEn Ai0 (cEn )2

cEn Ai(cEn )2 + Ai0 (cEn )2
(80)

or,
(hmgc)2
Ai(cEn )Ai0 (cEn )
hp in =
cEn 1 +
3
cEn (cEn Ai(cEn )2 + Ai0 (cEn )2 )
2

(81)

Like in the previous cases, in the above expression the numerator of the fractional term vanishes but the denominator doesnt. Thus hp2 in simplification
is:
(
hmgc)2
2
hp2 in =
cEn = mEn
(82)
3
3
which is again same as the classical expectation value, thus demonstrating
a perfect agreement with the correspondence principle. In the above case
the uncertainties are:
r
2 1 En
xn =
(83)
3 5 mg
r

2
mEn
3
Multiplying these we get the product of uncertainties as:
pn =

2
xn pn =
3

(84)

3/2

2 En
p
15 mg 2

(85)

## Substituting the value of En in th above equation from the equations (48)

and (54) we get:
r
2 1
xn pn =
(n3/2 )h
(86)
3 15
where n is a zero of the Airy function Ai(z). For the ground state, substituting the value of n as -2.33810 (see ) we get:
x0 p0 = 0.61
h > 0.5h
which satisfies the uncertainty principle.

12

(87)

Conclusion

The quantum mechanical expectation values reduce to the classical expectation values for large quantum numbers in all the above cases thus verifying
the Bohr correspondence principle.

References
 C. Cohen-Tannoudji,B. Diu,F. Laloe, Quantum Mechanics, John Wiley
& Sons, Paris, 2nd Edition, 1977
 B. Gao, Breakdown of Bohrs Correspondence Principle, Phys. Rev. Lett.
83, pp.4225, 1999
 J.J.Sakurai, Modern Quantum Mechanics, Addison Weasly Publishing
Company, 1993
 M. Abramowitz, I.Stegun Handbook of Mathematical Functions with Formulas, Graphs, and Mathematical Tables, Dover Publications, 1964
 http://functions.wolfram.com/Bessel-TypeFunctions/AiryAi/
21/ShowAll.html

Acknowledgements
This work was supported by the National Initiative on Undergraduate Science (NIUS) undertaken by the Homi Bhabha Centre for Science Education
Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (HBCSETIFR), Mumbai, India.

Appendix

In the above approach for the particle falling in gravity even if equation (52)
is not used, the same results can be obtained but only for large En as the
limits for the fractional expressions in the equations (65), (72), (74) and (81)
for large En can be explicitly computed using the asymptotic form for the
Airy function. Thus we get the same results as the limits of all the fractions
is zero, but this approach gives us the classical answer only for large En
values and not for small n values.

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