Attempts to avoid the divergence difficulties of quantum electrodynamics by multilation of the theory have been uniformly unsuccessful. The lack of convergence does indicate that a revision of electrodynamic concepts at ultrarelativistic energies is indeed necessary, but no appreciable alteration of the theory for moderate relativistic energies can be tolerated. The elementary phenomena in which divergences occur, in consequence of virtual transitions involving particles with unlimited energy, are the polarization of the vacuum and the self-energy of the electron, effects which essentially express the interaction of the electromagnetic and matter fields with their own vacuum fluctuations. The basic result of these fluctuation interactions is to alter the constants characterizing the properties of the individual fields, and their mutual coupling, albeit by infinite factors. The question is naturally posed whether all divergences can be isolated in such unobservable renormalization factors; more specifically, we inquire whether quantum electrodynamics can account unambiguously for the recently observed deviations from the Dirac electron theory, without the introduction of fundamentally new concepts. This paper, the first in a series devoted to the above question, is occupied with the formulation of a completely covariant electrodynamics. Manifest covariance with respect to Lorentz and gauge transformations is essential in a divergent theory since the use of a particular reference system or gauge in the course of calculation can result in a loss of covariance in view of the ambiguities that may be the concomitant of infinities. It is remarked, in the first section, that the customary canonical commutation relations, which fail to exhibit the desired covariance since they refer to field variables at equal times and different points of space, can be put in covariant form by replacing the four-dimensional surface . by a space-like surface. The latter is such that light signals cannot be propagated between any two points on the surface. In this manner, a formulation of quantum electrodynamics is constructed in the Heisenberg representation, which is obviously covariant in all its aspects. It is not entirely suitable, however, as a practical means of treating electrodynamic questions, since commutators of field quantities at points separated by a time-like interval can be constructed only by solving the equations of motion. This situation is to be contrasted with that of the Schrödinger representation, in which all operators refer to the same time, thus providing a distinct separation between kinematical and dynamical aspects. A formulation that retains the evident covariance of the Heisenberg representation, and yet offers something akin to the advantage of the Schrödinger representation can be based on the distinction between the properties of non-interacting fields, and the effects of coupling between fields. In the second section, we construct a canonical transformation that changes the field equations in the Heisenberg representation into those of non-interacting fields, and therefore describes the coupling between fields in terms of a varying state vector. It is then a simple matter to evaluate commutators of field quantities at arbitrary space-time points. One thus obtains an obviously convariant and practical form of quantum electrodynamics, expressed in a mixed Heisenberg-Schrödinger representation, which is called the interaction representation. The third section is devoted to a discussion of the covariant elimination of the longitudinal field, in which the customary distinction between longitudinal and transverse fields is replaced by a suitable covariant definition. The fourth section is concerned with the description of collision processes in terms of an invariant collision operator, which is the unitary operator that determines the over-all change in state of a system as the result of interaction. It is shown that the collision operator is simply related to the Hermitian reaction operator, for which a variational principle is constructed.
- Received 29 July 1948
- Published in the issue dated November 1948
© 1948 The American Physical Society