Saturday, December 20, 2014

nothing but a wave is a wave

© Joselito Briones
so... i was watching a bbc show a few days ago, about quantum mechanics (only because i've watched everything else vaguely interesting - thanks, hola!) and when the show's host/narrator (the charming jim al-khalili) got to the experiment where he showed a particle or something something being fired on two gaps between 3 cards (table menus?) which i saw for the very first time, and heard his declaration of love to the interpretation of some man named bohr, i couldn't help but object, vocally, to mr. al-khalili  - who of course ignored me and continued rattling on and on about all the "weirdness" (he seems to love the word).  as anyone mildly interested in something but isn't concerned enough to try to know much about it,  i was convinced i knew all the answers to his questions.

a week later, the second installment of the show came.  i watched it, of course, and decided i have had it.  enough weirdness. or enough of mr. al-khalili saying the word "weird", grateful as i am to him for explaining things in ways easily understood.  i googled for youtube videos and found more explanations of quantum mechanics, tailor-made for ass-wipes like me who couldn't be bothered to learn the science and can't even comprehend how to do the math, let alone actually do it.  findings:  they all love the word "weird".  verdict: i'm sorry bohr fanbois, but i'm definitely team einstein on this one.  nobody cares, i'm sure. nevertheless,  thinking about it cost me my sleep last night.  when i woke up this morning, just to make sure i understood the experiment, i looked up the double-slit experiement in  wikipedia.

let's do some experiment in our own backyard.  if you drop a ball from a height - it falls straight to the ground.  classical physics describes it perfectly, and can predict how long it will take for the ball to hit the ground if you have enough information about the ball, the distance from the ground from which you're dropping it, and knowledge of the laws of classical physics. you can describe in simple terms where the ball is at any point from its dropping point to where it hits the ground.  this is our basic sense of reality.  it's simple enough because except for gravity, it disregards everything else that's between the ball and the ground.  and why not? even if there are things there, or events, they don't affect the predictability of how the ball falls to the ground.  practical science at work. now do the same with something very light - a feather maybe?  will it fall straight to the ground?  i think it will show that whatever is between the feather and the ground that was negligible with the weight of the ball now matters into consideration because of the lightness of the feather.  in this case we can only know simply where the feather is at its dropping point, and where it touches the ground. as with the double-slit experiment. but, just because we don't know - or at least we can't, easily, technically describe where the feather is at any point between the dropping point and where it hits the ground - doesn't mean it ceases to exist between those two points.  we're just too dumb to know.  if maybe we have enough computing power to consider into the equation everything between the dropping point and the touchpoint - altitude, weather pattern, wind direction, magnetic fields, atmospheric density, etc., etc., then we wouldn't even question reality.  the problem with classical physics is that it limits the parameters so that it's easier to determine practical answers to everyday problems. the problem with the bohr interpretation of the double-slit experiment is that, while it doesn't take into consideration all the possible (not even all the plausible) parameters - after all, we can only take into account things that we know of either physically or by mathematical equations - it proposes to give the starting point to a unified answer to everything. 

so... you think all these ramblings and all i'm saying is that we should abandon everything because we can't know everything.  no, this is not a cop out. 

classical physics at least knows its limitations.  if you can only do your computations using information that you know, at least take the initiative to block everything else in the experiment so they don't affect the outcome.  you have the ball/feather, you have gravity and at least with the ball, which you already know will travel more or less a straight path, you have the distance between start and end. i vaguely remember a high school teacher saying that some scientists did the dropping of thing experiment in a vacuum and found that without any matter obstructing the objects between the two points of travel, the objects tested, ball or feather, behaved the same.  of course high school was a long way ago and it could've been just a conjecture ("if you drop a ball and a feather in a vacuum... then...") but i have no problem believing it.  now, what if what you're dropping is even lighter than a feather, so much so that whatever else existed between the two points that was negligible with the weight of the ball or the feather now matters into consideration?  what if you drop just a particle?  will it behave like an object which are also made of particles? my bet is, as with the matter between the ball/feather removed by doing the experiment in a vacuum to see a unified answer, whatever else in that space that would affect the single particle but not the ball/feather should also be eliminated.  how? by doing the experiment in a void?  this is where my disclaimer of not being knowledgeable in the field of physics comes in handy.  because i have no idea if a complete void is even possible.  and even if it is, possible, would the particle or the ball/feather even "drop"?  and no, this is still not a cop out.  not about to stop here yet.

i must admit that the only reason why i'm brave enough to write the theory i arrived at last night is because, after looking up "double-slit experiment" this morning to see it in more detail, i came across this from qanta magazine, an article that basically explains exactly what i thought.  had i not read it, of course, i wouldn't even be writing this blog.  instead, i would've been writing this secretly and somehow putting it in record that this theory is something i thought of, while as with others who doesn't know enough, spending all my idle moments thinking "what if", thinking of every scenario on how to put it out there. but, alas.  it's been done. so here goes:

what if - nothing but a wave is a wave?

what if, say, you have a wave going through a double slit experiment.  a simple enough wave, like that on a surface of water even.  it's easy enough to imagine that a feather resting nicely at any point on a trough of this wave will eventually hit the experiment's wall at a point that's a part of a wave pattern. simply put, what if the particle shot through a double-slit experiment can't be a wave? then the only other possibility is to say that the particle is carried by a wave.  can you imagine my disappointment when i read the qanta magazine article that shattered my illusion of originality of thought on the matter?  ok, you can stop laughing now.

einstein is also to blame, of course.  if he hadn't set a precedence that a particle can be a particle and still be wave (light), bohr wouldn't even think of questioning reality (i think).  imagine if, instead of coming into the conclusion that a light particle is both a particle and a wave, he considered the possibility that it is simply a particle carried by a wave. 

and what is a wave after all?  all my life i've always thought that a wave is just a pattern of movement.  it was so easy for me to dismiss the copenhagen interpretation because it was just as easy for me to to dismiss the possibility of a light particle-wave.  for me a wave will always be just a pattern of movement, and light particle is not a wave - it moves along a wave pattern, either on its own or is carried by something that moves with a wave pattern. just as the particle in a the double slit experiment is either moving on a wave pattern or is carried by something that moves on a wave pattern. is that too simplistic?  sure, but i find it easier to digest than the idea of the moon not being there when we're not looking.


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