The Myth of Wave / Particle Duality

This posting describes some of the History, which many people may be bypassing, in their appreciation of Quantum Mechanics.

About until the 1920s, ‘light’ was largely thought to consist of waves. But a problem with that was, how to explain, why light can travel through apparently empty space. After all, the light that reaches us from distant stars is not fundamentally different, from light that originates on Planet Earth. And until the 1920s, it was believed that there exists a mysterious “Aether“, which transmitted light through space.

A basic premise of wave-propagation, such as in the case of sound-waves, is that there must first be some sort of medium, to conduct the waves, which in the case of sound may be air. But the need for the existence of a medium, also explains why there is no sound in space.

But during the 1920s, the existence of an aether was disproved. Decisively. And so another explanation was needed, of what constitutes light. And the thought seemed more logical, that particles can easily travel through empty space – hence, photons. Even though this was not actually the first form in which photons were theorized.

But then obviously, this raises questions, about how these particles are supposed to relate to waves, where waves were at first easier to observe.

I think that the way many people today are presented, what Quantum-Mechanics consists of, is just, “Wave / Particle Duality”. But then what many students believe – and what I once believed myself – is, that Quantum Mechanics holds some sort of secret key, as to how Matter and Energy might simultaneously consist of particles and waves. And in reality, QM holds no such decisive, secret answers. The only real secret which QM may hold, is a detail that could be embarrassing to the present way in which QM works.

Continue reading The Myth of Wave / Particle Duality

About Why the output of a Laser is so Wavelike

The subject of wave-particle duality continues to mystify commoners, while the ultimate explanation given by experts, who need to be schooled in Quantum-Mechanics for years, before they are exposed to these secrets, seem to defy some common-sense reasoning. More specifically, the way in which Quantum-Mechanics mainly explains it, is that the wave-phenomena, specifically those that take place in a vacuum, only exist as being secondary to the existence of particles. We think we can see many examples in our practical world, where waves ‘seem real’.

One such example is the beam of light output by a Laser, that is both monochromatic and coherent, that is highly parallel, and that only seems to make its wave-nature obvious. It is this ultra-high consistency of the wave-nature of a Laser-beam, that also makes it useful for creating holograms – aside from the fact that the beams output from these devices have many more uses today.

But in a way that might disappoint some skeptical thinkers, this nature of the light output from a Laser is actually predicted by Quantum-Mechanics, and fails to provide a contradiction to it. And I will explain why.

Quantum Mechanics is largely built around the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, although Heisenberg did not dare to assign complex numbers to his probability clouds yet. Those probability clouds are supposed to represent the superposed states of a particle, with the additional detail that they can be phase-shifted according to understanding today, which means that they seem to conserve a two-component number – i.e. a complex number.

What the uncertainty principle seems to state, is that the precision with which the position of a particle can be known, is inversely proportional to the precision with which its momentum-vector can be known, and vice-versa.

Photons are understood to have momentum vectors, even though when the photon-energy is low, such as for visible light, that momentum-vector also has low magnitudes. But the momentum-vector of a photon is supposed to follow entirely from the direction-vector it is traveling with, as well as being inversely proportional in magnitude, to its wavelength. The energy of the photon is also inversely proportional to its wavelength.

Because of the nature of the light output by a Laser, all the variables needed to know the momentum-vector of its photons are known – and are exactly equal. So the precision of their momentum-vectors is actually zero – i.e. their momentum vectors should have a variance of zero, based on the fact that they are parallel and fully monochromatic.

And so it would only seem to follow from the Uncertainty Principle, that the variance with which their position-vectors should be knowable, should be off-the-scale. By that logic, the position-vector of any one photon in the beam, cannot be knowable.

And so we seem to obtain a beam of light, only the wave-nature of which is knowable.

Dirk