Quantum Mechanics and Path Integrals: Emended Edition

This World Wide Web page written by Dan Styer, Oberlin College Physics Department;
http://www.oberlin.edu/physics/dstyer/FeynmanHibbs/;
last updated 15 June 2012.


I can well remember the day thirty years ago when I opened the pages of Feynman-Hibbs, and for the first time saw quantum mechanics as a living piece of nature rather than as a flood of arcane algorithms that, while lovely and mysterious and satisfying, ultimately defy understanding or intuition. It is my hope and my belief that this emended edition will open similar doors for generations to come.


This World Wide Web site is devoted to the emended edition of
Quantum Mechanics and Path Integrals,
by Richard P. Feynman and Albert R. Hibbs
emended by Daniel F. Styer
(first edition: McGraw-Hill, New York, 1965 -- emended edition: Dover Publications, Mineola, New York, 2010)
(ISBN: paperback 978-0-486-47722-0)
(371 plus xii pages)

You may send the emender computer mail at Dan.Styer@oberlin.edu.

The book Quantum Mechanics and Path Integrals was first published in 1965, yet is still exciting, fresh, immediate, and important. It combines qualitative insight and technical brilliance in Feynman's characteristic manner. Although several more recent books treat this topic, these books emphasize the mathematics of path integration rather than the physics of quantum mechanics. All of these books lack Feynman's insight and verve. Indeed, the first sentence of Larry Schulman's book Techniques and Applications of Path Integration is "The best place to find out about path integrals is in Feynman's paper."

The first edition of this book suffered from a grave flaw: It was riddled with typographic errors and infelicities. I described the book as "full of extraordinary insight and excruciating errors" and produced a list of 879 errors that extended to 39 pages.

Uses

This book was written by Feynman and his graduate student Hibbs as a textbook -- it has problems to assign, for example -- but it was written as a textbook in Feynman's iconoclastic style. The book is bursting with insight, most of which will be lost on a first-time reader. Its main role, in my opinion, is to open up the minds of teachers and researchers and students. In that role the emended editions makes a great supplement in undergraduate and graduate level quantum mechanics courses.

Story of the Book

The story of the book's genesis is given on page 399 of Jagdish Mehra, The Beat of a Different Drum: The Life and Science of Richard Feynman (Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1994). Anyone who has battled through he many errors and infelicities of the 1965 edition will agree with Hibbs that "neither of us was dedicated to getting the thing out".

Story of the Emended Edition

Errors in the Emended Edition

I'm upset but not surprised to find that even the emended edition contains errors.

Difficult Points

Here are explications of several difficult points:

Here is a spreadsheet to calculate and plot the sharp-edged slit diffraction results of figure 3-6. To use it you will need Microsoft Excel and the XNUMBERS free open-source add-in package.