Regular Article - Theoretical Physics
Obtaining the non-relativistic quantum mechanics from quantum field theory: issues, folklores and facts
What happens to the antiparticles when you take the non-relativistic limit of QFT?
IUCAA, Post Bag 4, Ganeshkhind, Pune, 411007, India
* e-mail: email@example.com
Accepted: 2 July 2018
Published online: 9 July 2018
Given the classical dynamics of a non-relativistic particle in terms of a Hamiltonian or an action, it is relatively straightforward to obtain the non-relativistic quantum mechanics (NRQM) of the system. These standard procedures, based on either the Hamiltonian or the path integral, however, do not work in the case of a relativistic particle. As a result we do not have a single-particle description of relativistic quantum mechanics (RQM). Instead, the correct approach requires a transmutation of dynamical variables from the position and momentum of a single particle to a field and its canonical momentum. Particles, along with antiparticles, reappear in a very nontrivial manner as the excitations of the field. The fact that one needs to adopt completely different languages to describe a relativistic and non-relativistic free particle implies that obtaining the NRQM limit of QFT is conceptually nontrivial. I examine this limit in several approaches (like, for e.g., Hamiltonian dynamics, Lagrangian and Hamiltonian path integrals, field theoretic description etc.) and identify the precise issues which arise when one attempts to obtain the NRQM from QFT in each of these approaches. The dichotomy of NRQM and QFT does not originate just from the square root in the Hamiltonian or from the demand of Lorentz invariance, as is sometimes claimed. The real difficulty has its origin in the necessary existence of antiparticles to ensure a particular notion of relativistic causality. Because of these conceptual issues, it turns out that one cannot, in fact, obtain some of the popular descriptions of NRQM by any sensible limiting procedure applied to QFT. To obtain NRQM from QFT in a seamless manner, it is necessary to work with NRQM expressed in a language closer to that of QFT. This fact has several implications, especially for the operational notion of space coordinates in quantum theory. A close examination of these issues, which arise when quantum theory is combined with special relativity, could offer insights in the context of attempts to combine quantum theory with general relativity.
© The Author(s), 2018