In the mathematically rigorous formulation of quantum mechanics developed by Paul Dirac, David Hilbert, John von Neumann, and Hermann Weyl, the possible states of a quantum mechanical system are symbolized as unit vectors (called state vectors). Formally, these vectors are elements of a complex separable Hilbert space – variously called the state space or the associated Hilbert space of the system – that is well defined up to a complex number of norm 1 (the phase factor). In other words, the possible states are points in the projective space of a Hilbert space, usually called the complex projective space. The exact nature of this Hilbert space is dependent on the system – for example, the state space for position and momentum states is the space of square-integrable functions, while the state space for the spin of a single proton is just the product of two complex planes. Each observable is represented by a maximally Hermitian (precisely: by a self-adjoint) linear operator acting on the state space. Each eigenstate of an observable corresponds to an eigenvector of the operator, and the associated eigenvalue corresponds to the value of the observable in that eigenstate. If the operator's spectrum is discrete, the observable can attain only those discrete eigenvalues.

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