Foundations of Physics

, Volume 33, Issue 10, pp 1495–1541

Wavefunction Collapse and Random Walk

  • Brian Collett
  • Philip Pearle

DOI: 10.1023/A:1026048530567

Cite this article as:
Collett, B. & Pearle, P. Foundations of Physics (2003) 33: 1495. doi:10.1023/A:1026048530567


Wavefunction collapse models modify Schrödinger's equation so that it describes the rapid evolution of a superposition of macroscopically distinguishable states to one of them. This provides a phenomenological basis for a physical resolution to the so-called “measurement problem.” Such models have experimentally testable differences from standard quantum theory. The most well developed such model at present is the Continuous Spontaneous Localization (CSL) model in which a universal fluctuating classical field interacts with particles to cause collapse. One “side effect” of this interaction is that the field imparts energy to the particles: experimental evidence on this has led to restrictions on the parameters of the model, suggesting that the coupling of the classical field to the particles must be mass-proportional. Another “side effect” is that the field imparts momentum to particles, causing a small blob of matter to undergo random walk. Here we explore this in order to supply predictions which could be experimentally tested. We examine the translational diffusion of a sphere and a disc, and the rotational diffusion of a disc, according to CSL. For example, we find that the rms distance an isolated 10−5 cm radius sphere diffuses is ≈(its diameter, 5 cm) in (20 sec, a day), and that a disc of radius 2 ⋅ 10−5 cm and thickness 0.5 ⋅ 10−5 cm diffuses through 2πrad in about 70 sec (this assumes the “standard” CSL parameter values). The comparable rms diffusions of standard quantum theory are smaller than these by a factor 10−3±1. It is shown that the CSL diffusion in air at STP is much reduced and, indeed, is swamped by the ordinary Brownian motion. It is also shown that the sphere's diffusion in a thermal radiation bath at room temperature is comparable to the CSL diffusion, but is utterly negligible at liquid He temperature. Thus, in order to observe CSL diffusion, the pressure and temperature must be low. At the low reported pressure of 5 ⋅ 10−17 Torr, achieved at 4.2°K, the mean time between air molecule collisions with the (sphere, disc) is ≈(80, 45)min. This is ample time for observation of the putative CSL diffusion with the standard parameters and, it is pointed out, with any parameters in the range over which the theory may be considered viable. This encourages consideration of how such an experiment may actually be performed, and the paper closes with some thoughts on this subject.

wavefunction collapse continuous spontaneous localization Brownian motion random walk diffusion Paul trap 

Copyright information

© Plenum Publishing Corporation 2003

Authors and Affiliations

  • Brian Collett
    • 1
  • Philip Pearle
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PhysicsHamilton CollegeClinton

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