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Chapter 17:
The Significance of Phase and Information
Many years ago, a paper by Emil Wolf inspired one of us (MAF) to look more closely at the analytic properties of propagating and scattered optical fields. In 1962, Wolf discussed how Michelson’s interferometer could provide information about the energy distribution in the spectrum of a light beam from measurements of the visibility of interference fringes. A simple relationship exists between the visibility function V(τ) and the modulus of the complex degree of coherence, γ(τ). The methods of Hanbury Brown, and Twiss showed that |γ(τ)| could be determined in various ways, and the important question arose as to how one might recover spectral information, g(ν) from |γ(τ)|. Since V(τ) is proportional to the Fourier transform of g(ν), one might think that only the autocorrelation function of g(ν) might be found, without explicitly knowing the phase of γ(τ). How does one determine the missing phase? The deep insight used to address this question was to take into account the analytic properties from which a complete recovery of g(ν) became possible. It is the underlying analytic properties of the functions that we so routinely employ in modeling optical processes that can provide a deeper understanding of relationships between field parameters and information; this is what we address here.
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