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Mapping states to operators and other pull request changes

This week has been a very busy and very productive week. I submitted my first big pull requests for the changes to representations that this blog describes, and have had many discussions with Brian about issues and changes to that code. The pull request is here. This post will try to summarize some of the issues that were raised and point to the commits that address those issues.

Originally, I had written an API in StateBase for retrieving the operator associated with that state, and a corresponding API in operator for retrieving the ket associated with that Operator. Brian quickly realized, however, that this is not the best design for the sorts of things we’ll be working with, because many kets (particularly when you get to 2D or 3D systems) will actually be simultaneous eigenkets of multiple operators. So, instead of the previous API, I wrote a new file,, which contains operator_to_state and state_to_operator mapping functions. This is nice, because in making the file we define a global dictionary with all of the appropriate mappings of classes, so that in one place there’s a complete record of these correspondences. In place of the _get_basis_kets function, which was important for trying to form inner products or expectations values, I added an enumerate_states method to with essentially the same functionality.

This seemed to be working quite well, but I soon stumbled upon an issue related to passing Bra states into the state_to_operator global function. The dictionary for mapping states to operators simply has ket classes and their corresponding operators. So, to map a bra state to an operator, we need to know its dual_class. If someone passes a Bra instance, this is fine, because dual_class is a property. However, if they instead pass a Bra class, we can’t call dual_class because its a property! So, one task in this pull request was to actually change dual_class to a classmethod throughout sympy.physics.quantum, which worked perfectly.

Some other concerns were raised as well. To see the full set of commits, you can look at the PR, but some other ones included:

  • Commutativity of Wavefunctions and DifferentialOperators: If we represent an expression in terms of Wavefunctions and DifferentialOperators, then we want that expression to preserve its order so that we can call qapply on it. DifferentialOperators are already set to be non-commutative, but Wavefunctions inherit from Function, which has its own rules for commutativity. So, one simple fix was to override Function’s is_commutative in Wavefunction. Related to that, DifferentialOperator was changed to return a Wavefunction rather than an expression when applied to a Wavefunction. If we have two consecutive derivatives, this is very important for that to actually work, since we have an _apply_operator_Wavefunction defined in DifferentialOperator.
  • default_label changed to default_args: The default_label functionality was changed to default_args, which now returns a tuple rather than a simple string. If no args are passed, the QExpr constructor will try to call default_args for that object to create a default instance. Another notable change is that, previously, I had a default_label defined in StateBase which would try, by default, to simply lowercase the default labels of its corresponding operator. It turns out that this is not at all general, so we instead opt for having each Ket and Operator define its own default_args. This will be the most flexible framework for being able to handle all kinds of complicated states. Some examples using this API are in
  • default_args added to many base classes: Once the default_args API was well defined, I added default_args for Operator, Ket, and TimeDependentKet, with some tests. In Bra, I put a default_args which simply returns the default_args of its dual_class. This can be overridden for special cases, but  I think it is a good default case. It is probably redundant to have to define default_args in both a Bra and Ket class.

Many changes have been made, and I think the PR is almost ready to be merged. Brian also raised some concerns about being able to handle more general DifferentialOperators, like Laplacians. This will require some more thinking on my part, and will probably be a task for next week.


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