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Wightman axioms

Table of contents
1 W0 (assumptions of relativistic quantum mechanics)
2 W1 (assumptions on the domain and continuity of the field)
3 W2 (transformation law of the field)
4 W3 (local commutativity or microscopic causality)
5 Osterwalder-Schrader reconstruction theorem
6 Text-book
7 Local quantum physics

W0 (assumptions of relativistic quantum mechanics)

Quantum mechanics is described according to von Neumann, and the theory of symmetry is described according to Wigner. This is to take advantage of the successful description of relativistic particles by Eugene_Paul_Wigner in his famous paper of 1939. Thus, the pure states are given by the unit rays of some separable complex Hilbert space, in which the scalar product will be denoted by

Recall that in elementary wave mechanics, the overall phase of a wave-function is not observable. In general quantum mechanics, this idea leads to the postulate that given a vector psi in Hilbert space, all vectors differing from by a complex non-zero multiple (=the ray containing should represent the same state of the system. Geometrically, we say that the relevant space is the set of rays, known as the projective Hilbert space. The interpretation of the scalar product in terms of probability means that, by convention, we need consider only rays of unit length, so Wigner starts with the set of unit rays. Note that the rays do not themselves form a linear space. A vector in a given unit ray might be used to represent the physical state more conveniently than itself, but is ambiguous up to a phase (complex multiple of unit modulus). The transition probability between two rays and can be defined in terms of vector representatives and to be

and is independent of which representative vectors, and , are chosen. Wigner postulated that for the transition probability between states to be the same to all observers related by a transformation of special relativity. More generally, he considered the statement that a theory to be invariant under a group G to be expressed in terms of the invariance of the transition probability between any two rays. The statement postulates, of course, that the group acts on the set of rays, that is, on projective space. Let (a,L) be an element of the Poincare group (the inhomogeneous Lorentz group). Thus, a is a real Lorentz four vector representing the change of space-time origin
(x in Lorentz space = )

and L is a Lorentz transformation, which can be defined as a linear transformation of four-dimensional space-time which preserves the Lorentz distance of every vector . Then the theory is invariant under the Poincare group if for every ray Psi of the Hilbert space and every group element (a,L) is given a transformed ray Psi(a,L) and the transition probability is unchanged by the transformation:
Psi(a,L).Phi(a,L) = Psi.Phi
The first theorem of Wigner is that under these conditions, we can express invariance more conveniently in terms of linear or anti-linear operators (indeed, unitary or antiunitary operators); the symmetry operator on the projective space of rays can be lifted to the underlying Hilbert space. This being done for each group element (a,L), we get a family of unitary or antiunitary operatore U(a,L) on our Hilbert space, such that the ray Psi transformed by (a,L) is the same as the ray containing U(a,L)psi. If we restrict attention to elements of the group connected to the identity, then the anti-unitary case does not occur. Let (a,L) and (b,M) be two Poincare transformations, and let us denote their group product by (a,L).(b,M); from the physical interpretation we see that the ray containing U(a,L)[U(b,M)]psi must (for any psi) be the ray containing U((a,L).(b,M))psi. Therefore these two vectors differ by a phase, which can depend on the two group elements (a,L) and (b,M). These two vectors do not need to be equal, however. Indeed, for particles of spin 1/2, they cannot be equal for all group elements. By further use of arbitrary phase-changes, Wigner showed that the product of the representing unitary operators obeys
instead of the group law. For particles of integer spin (pions, photons, gravitons...) one can remove the +/- sign by further phase changes, but for representations of half-odd-spin, we cannot, and that the sign changes discontinuously as we go round any axis by an angle of 2 pi. We can, however, construct a representation of the covering group of the Poincare group, called the inhomogeneous SL(2,C); this has elements (a,A) where as before, a is a four-vector, but now A is a complex 2 times 2 matrix with unit determinant. We denote the unitary operators we get by U(a, A), and these give us a continuous, unitary and true representation in that the collection of U(a,A) obey the group law of the inhomogeneous SL(2,C).

Because of the sign-change under rotations by 2 pi, Hermitian operators transforming as spin 1/2, 3/2 etc cannot be observables. This shows up as the univalence superselection rule: phases between states of spin 0,1,2 etc and those of spin 1/2,3/2 etc., are not observable. This rule is in addition to the non-observability of the overall phase of a state vector. Concerning the observables, and states |v), we get a representation U(a,L) of Poincaré group, on integer spin subspaces, and U(a,A) of the inhomogeneous SL(2,C) on half-odd-integer subspaces, which acts according to the following interpretation:

An ensemble corresponding to U(a,L)|v) is to be interpreted with respect to the coordinates in exactly the same way as an ensemble corresponding to |v) is interpreted with respect to the coordinates x; and similarly for the odd subspaces.

The group of space-time translations is commutative, and so the operators can be simultaneously diagonalised. The generators of these groups give us four self-adjoint operators, , j=1,2,3, which transform under the homogeneous group as a four-vector, called the energy-momentum four-vector.

The second part of the zeroth axiom of Wightman is that the representation U(a,A) fulfills the spectral condition - that the simultaneous spectrum of energy-momentum is contained in the forward cone:

............... .
The third part of the axiom is that there is a unique state, represented by a ray in the Hilbert space, which is invariant under the action of the Poincare group. It is called a vacuum.

W1 (assumptions on the domain and continuity of the field)

For each test function f, there exists a set of operators which, together with their adjoints, are defined on a dense subset of the Hilbert state space, containing the vacuum. The fields A are operator valued tempered distributions. The Hilbert state space is spanned by the field polynomials acting on the vacuum (cyclicity condition).

W2 (transformation law of the field)

The fields are covariant under the action of Poincaré group, and they transform according to some representation S of the Lorentz group, or SL(2,C) if the spin is not integer:

W3 (local commutativity or microscopic causality)

If the supports of two fields are space-like separated, then the fields either commute or anticommute

Cyclicity of a vacuum, and uniqueness of a vacuum are sometimes considered separately. Also, there is property of asymptotic completeness - that hilbert state space is spanned by the asymptotic spaces and , appearing in the collision S matrix. The other important property of field theory is mass gap which is not required by the axioms - that energy-momentum spectrum has a gap between zero and some positive number.

From these axioms, certain general theorems follow:

Arthur Wightman showed that the vacuum expectation value distributions, satisfying certain set of properties which follow from the axioms, are sufficient to reconstruct the field theory - Wightman reconstruction theorem, including the existence of a vacuum state; he did not find the condition on the vacuum expectation values guaranteeing the uniqueness of the vacuum; this condition, the cluster property, was found later by Jost, Hepp, Ruelle and Steinmann.

If the theory has a mass gap, i.e. there are no masses between 0 and some constant greater than zero, then vacuum expectation distributions are asymptotically independent in distant regions.

Haag's theorem says that there can be no interaction picture - that we cannot use the Fock space of noninteracting particles as a Hilbert space - in the sense that we would identify Hilbert spaces via field polynomials acting on a vacuum at a certain time.

Currently, there is no proof that these axioms can be satisfied for gauge theories in dimension 4 - Standard model thus has no strict foundations. There is a million dollar prize for a proof that these axioms can be satisfied for gauge theories, with the additional requirement of a mass gap.

Osterwalder-Schrader reconstruction theorem

Under certain technical assumptions, it has been shown that an Euclidean QFT can be Wick-rotated into a Wightman QFT. See Osterwalder-Schrader.


R. F. Streater and A. S. Wightman, PCT, Spin and Statistics and All That,

Princeton University Press, Landmarks in Mathematics and Physics, 2000.

Local quantum physics

See Local quantum physics.