What is a Wavefunction?

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Myrvold, Wayne C.
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preprint description
Much of the the discussion of the metaphysics of quantum mechanics focusses on the status of wavefunctions. This paper is about how to think about wavefunctions, when we bear in mind that quantum mechanics—that is, the nonrelativistic quantum theory of systems of a fixed, finite number of degrees of freedom—is not a fundamental theory, but arises, in a certain approximation, valid in a limited regime, from a relativistic quantum field theory. We will explicitly show how the wavefunctions of quantum mechanics, and the configuration spaces on which they are defined, are constructed from a relativistic quantum field theory. Two lessons will be drawn from this. The first is that configuration spaces are not fundamental, but rather are derivative of structures defined on ordinary spacetime. The second is that wavefunctions are not as much like classical fields as might first appear, in that, on the most natural way of constructing wavefunctions from quantum-field theoretic quantities, the value assigned to a point in configuration space is not a local fact about that point, but rather, depends on the global state.