Quantum inequalities in quantum mechanics

Simon P. Eveson, Christopher J. Fewster, Rainer Verch
December 17, 2003
We study a phenomenon occuring in various areas of quantum physics, in which an observable density (such as an energy density) which is classically pointwise nonnegative may assume arbitrarily negative expectation values after quantisation, even though the spatially integrated density remains nonnegative. Two prominent examples which have previously been studied are the energy density (in quantum field theory) and the probability flux of rightwards-moving particles (in quantum mechanics). However, in the quantum field context, it has been shown that the magnitude and space-time extension of negative energy densities are not arbitrary, but restricted by relations which have come to be known as `quantum inequalities'. In the present work, we explore the extent to which such quantum inequalities hold for typical quantum mechanical systems. We derive quantum inequalities of two types. The first are `kinematical' quantum inequalities where spatially averaged densities are shown to be bounded below. Such quantum inequalities are directly related to Garding inequalities. The second type are `dynamical' quantum inequalities where one obtains bounds from below on temporally averaged densities. We derive such quantum inequalities in the case of the energy density in general quantum mechanical systems having suitable decay properties on the negative spectral axis of the total energy. Furthermore, we obtain explicit numerical values for the quantum inequalities on the one-dimensional current density, using various spatial averaging weight functions. We also improve the numerical value of the related `backflow constant' previously investigated by Bracken and Melloy. In many cases our numerical results are controlled by rigorous error estimates.