Displacement Operators

The situation is not so clear with state kets. The final state of the system only determines the direction of the displaced state ket. Even if we adopt the convention that all state kets have unit norms, the final ket is still not completely determined, because it can be multiplied by a constant phase-factor. However, we know that the superposition relations between states remain invariant under the displacement. This follows because the superposition relations have a physical significance that is unaffected by a displacement of the system. Thus, if

in the undisplaced system, and the displacement causes ket to transform to ket , et cetera, then in the displaced system we have

Incidentally, this determines the displaced kets to within a single arbitrary phase-factor to be multiplied into all of them. The displaced kets cannot be multiplied by individual phase-factors, because this would wreck the superposition relations.

Given that Equation (2.104) holds in the displaced system whenever Equation (2.103) holds in the undisplaced system, it follows that the displaced ket must be the result of some linear operator acting on the undisplaced ket . In other words,

(2.105) |

where is an operator that depends only on the nature of the displacement. The arbitrary phase-factor by which all displaced kets may be multiplied results in being undetermined to an arbitrary multiplicative constant of modulus unity.

We now adopt the ansatz that any combination of bras, kets, and dynamical variables that possesses a physical significance is invariant under a displacement of the system. The normalization condition

(2.106) |

for a state ket certainly has a physical significance. Thus, we must have

(2.107) |

Now, and , so

(2.108) |

Because this must hold for any state ket , it follows that

Hence, the operator is unitary. Note that the previous relation implies that

(2.110) |

The equation

(2.111) |

where the operator represents a dynamical variable, has physical significance. Thus, we require that

(2.112) |

where is the displaced operator. It follows that

(2.113) |

Because this is true for any ket , we have

Note that the arbitrary multiplicative factor in does not affect either of the results (2.109) or (2.114).

Suppose, now, that the system is displaced an infinitesimal distance along the -axis. Let be the operator that accomplishes this displacement. We expect that the displaced ket should approach the undisplaced ket in the limit as . Thus, we expect the limit

(2.115) |

to exist. Let

(2.116) |

where is denoted the

(2.117) |

where is the limit of . We have assumed, as seems reasonable, that tends to zero as . It is clear that the displacement operator is undetermined to an arbitrary imaginary additive constant.

For small , we have

It follows from Equation (2.109) that

(2.119) |

Neglecting order , we obtain

(2.120) |

Thus, the displacement operator is anti-Hermitian. Substituting into Equation (2.114), and again neglecting order , we find that

(2.121) |

which implies that

Let us consider a specific example. Suppose that a state has a wavefunction . If the system is displaced a distance along the -axis then the new wavefunction is (i.e., the same function shifted in the -direction by a distance ). Actually, the new wavefunction can be multiplied by an arbitrary number of modulus unity. It can be seen that the new wavefunction is obtained from the old wavefunction according to the prescription . Thus,

(2.123) |

A comparison with Equation (2.122), using , yields

(2.124) |

It follows that obeys the same commutation relation with that , the momentum conjugate to , does. [See Equation (2.25).] The most general conclusion we can draw from this observation is that

(2.125) |

where is Hermitian (because is Hermitian). However, the fact that is undetermined to an arbitrary additive imaginary constant (which could be a function of ) enables us to transform the function out of the previous equation, leaving

Thus, the displacement operator in the -direction is proportional to the momentum conjugate to . We say that is the

A finite displacement along the -axis can be constructed from a series of very many infinitesimal displacements. Thus, the operator , which displaces the system a finite distance along the -axis, is written [1]

(2.127) |

where use has been made of Equations (2.118) and (2.126). It follows that

The unitary nature of the operator is now clearly apparent. (See Exercise 15.)

We can also construct operators that displace the system along the - and -axes. For instance, the operator that displaces the system a finite distance along the -axis is

(2.129) |

Note that a displacement a distance along the -axis commutes with a displacement a distance along the -axis. In other words, if a physical system is moved along the -axis, and then along the -axis, then it ends up in the same state as if it were moved along the -axis, and then along the -axis. The fact that finite translations in independent directions commute implies that the associated displacement operators also commute. For instance, . This property of displacement operators is clearly associated with the fact that the corresponding momentum operators also commute. In this case, . [See Equations (2.24), (2.128), and Exercise 3.]