It is shown that the Helmholtz wave equation follows from a new uncertainty principle: Given, as data, the position of a photon in an unknown diffraction pattern, the estimated position of the centroid of the pattern will suffer minimum precision. This implies a maximally spread out diffraction pattern, obeying a principle of minimum Fisher information. The minimum is constrained by knowledge of the refractive-index function n(x, y, z) of the medium through a requirement that the mean-square spatial phase gradient across the medium should be generally nonzero. Operationally the principle works directly with intensities and not complex amplitudes. As a practical matter the numerical use of the intensity-based principle might permit a widening of the known scope of solutions to diffraction problems.
© 1989 Optical Society of America
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