Is it a wave or a particle?

While attended freshman physics class (1970) the world that I thought I knew became radically skewed.  It turns out that every day events that can easily be explained by the laws of classical physics, fall down when trying to understand our atomic and sub-atomic world.

We’re all familiar with Newton’s laws of motion and the principle of gravity.  How the story of a falling apple inspired his imagination and led to the discovery of gravity and even deeper truths.  Newton invented the mathematics of calculus to help prove his theory.  That same knowledge helped us to successfully put men on the moon in 1969.

Galileo tried to measure the speed of light but was unsuccessful.  However, his genius led to a multitude of other discoveries that also shook our world view.  When Galileo observed (using the first real telescope) four satellites revolving around Jupiter in apparent orbit, the concept that the earth was the center of the universe suddenly dissolved.

With the discovery of the subatomic electron by J. J. Thompson, the introduction of Quantum Mechanics (as coined by Max Born in 1924) and the revolutionary work of Albert Einstein (and others), our understanding of the laws of nature took a giant leap.

Particle Discovery Comment
Electron 1897 by JJ Thompson Subatomic particle with an electric charge of -1
It is 1/1836 the mass of a proton.
Proton 1919 by Ernest Rutherford Subatomic particle with an electric charge of +1
Composed of two up-quarks and one down quark
Neutron 1932 by James Chadwick Subatomic particle with no net charge. 
Mass slightly larger than that of a proton.

Think of the surprise in Thomas Young’s mind when in (1801-1805) he discovered that by passing a beam of light over a thin object (slip of card, or hair) a wave diffraction pattern was created.  Light appeared to have wave properties, but …  

… at the screen the light is always found to be absorbed, as though it were made of discrete particles, which we have later come to call photons.

So we can say that light exhibits particle/wave duality.  The empirical properties of light can best be explained only if we think of light as being both a wave and a particle. 

Are you confounded yet? 

But most eye opening of all (in my humble opinion) is the paradox presented to us by Quantum Mechanics.  Here are some examples of how this science has rocked our view:

* We have the enigma posed by Schrodinger’s cat.  In this thought experiment (not real) a cat is put into a box that has equipment to release poisonous gas when electrons are detected.  After an hour we don’t know if the cat is dead or alive.  We can only know this for sure if we look inside the box.  But according to quantum theory, it is better to say the cat is half dead or half alive, until we check on it.  That’s because the answer is based on probability, rather than on actual fact.  Quantum mechanics teaches that events are best described as probabilities, rather than certainties.  

Schrodinger's Cat

* Energy seems to come in bundles which we call quanta, or small packets (re: photo electric effect).  The Planck–Einstein equation for the energy of a photon is E = hv, planks constant * frequency (v).

* Physical matter has a wavelength (inversely proportional to the momentum of a particle and the frequency is directly proportional to the particle’s kinetic energy) as demonstrated by Louis de Broglie in 1924. 

Louis de Broglie

* Moving objects don’t have a well defined position. We can just graphically represent the probability of the existence of that object with respect to time.

* The more precisely the energy of an object is known, the less certain its position in time/space is known.  And the more precisely an objects position in time/space is known, the less certain its momentum is known.  The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle is derived from three elements: the wave-particle duality, the indivisibility of energy and momentum transfers, and the lack of complete determinism.  The rest mass energy of a particle is E = mc2, mass times the speed of light squared.

* Two quantum particles can interact at a distance on each other, in a way that seems almost telepathic.  This non-locality aspect of quantum mechanics has been demonstrated; objects that are far apart in space have connections and can affect each other. This does not violate the “faster than light” edict of Special Relativity.

* Even in the complete vacuum of empty space, there is still a vast amount of energy bubbling into and out of existence.

In a more modern version of the same experiment (Thomas Young’s as described above) light is passed through a double slit.  The wave nature of light causes the light waves passing through both slits to interfere, creating an interference pattern of bright and dark bands on the screen.  In 1961 the same experiment was performed with electrons, and in 1974 using one electron at a time; each demonstrating the electron’s particle/wave duality. 

Quantum mechanics demonstrates that we cannot observe the wave of the electron; we can only observe the probability to find the electron.  The electron is a wave, wave length (momentum) and frequency (energy).

Quantum mechanics explains why the machinery of the universe isn’t perfectly predictable, even in theory. 

Is this nature’s way of giving rise to “free will?” 

Has physics encountered consciousness?  Putting your attention on an event influences its outcome.  This has prompted us to reevaluate the concepts of particles, waves, location, and movement in space/time from one place to another.

Einstein showed that Energy and matter are two aspects (views) of the same thing.  Matter can be considered solidified/ localized /potential energy.     

Just as physical matter (atoms) is an expression of energy which interacts with the vacuum state (absolute), so to the human body (composed of atoms) is an expression of energy (prana, ethric, thought/mind forms) anchored in the absolute (bliss consciousness).

Meditation is that key which unfolds bliss consciousness in our personal awareness.

Over time a whole soup of other particles have been discovered, with many more theoretically predicted …

Bubble Chamber - scattered subatomic particles

Leptons  Bosons  Quarks Hypothetical particles
Electron  Photon  Up Neutralino – a leading candidate for dark matter
Electron neutrino W boson Down Photino
Muon Z boson Charm  
Muon neutrino Gluon Strange  
Tau Higgs boson
existence unconfirmed
Top Higgsino
Tau neutrino Graviton
existence unconfirmed
Bottom Gravitino

The Higgs boson is postulated by electroweak theory primarily to explain the origin of particle masses.  Research into finding (or not) this elusive particle is one of the primary endeavors taking place at The Large Hadron Collider near Geneva (Switzerland).  

What is the nature of energy and physical matter?  We can sit on a chair, but it is mostly empty space, so how is it that we do not fall through? 

The world is not as it seems.  Before enlightenment dawns in our awareness perception/evaluation of the world is extremely limited.  Our personal faculties are vastly underdeveloped.  Through continued practice of meditation our true identity comes into clear view – we are timeless and absolute, and the world is an expression of our SELF.  The play of creativity sprouts from the absolute (vacuum state) as waves of consciousness – which solidify as energy and matter.  The time/space continuum comes into being because the absolute (inherently) wants to experience itself.  The play of consciousness upon the stage of relative existence is for the expansion of happiness, and for life.

Meditate every day to better illuminate the purpose of life, and our central place in that scheme.

This entry was posted on Sunday, October 3rd, 2010 at 2:49 pm and is filed under Our apparent world. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.


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