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Wave-Particle Duality

Wave-Particle Duality is perhaps the most notable concept of the quantum world, and by extension, the philosophical basis of modern thought.  It is the defining characteristic of elementary physical entities, such as electrons, protons, neutrons, atoms, and molecules, which exist on the one hand in states which evolve like waves when they are not observed, and evolve like particles when observed.  The key is the observation.  In its wave-like state the physical entity is typically extended in space, but then contracts abruptly to localized events or point-like particles when an observation is made.   

The emphasis on the abruptly is to emphasize that there is no evolvement from one state to another, but an instantaneous manifestation of a wave that also has particle properties.  As waves extending through space -- similar to electromagnetic and mechanical waves, but known as quantum waves -- these waves do not collide or interact with each other as particles, but superimpose upon each other, adding constructively or destructively, and creating interference patterns. These interference patterns are eliminating when the path is known!  This is a phenomena known as Quantum Knowing.  

Wave-Particle Duality was first encountered in Young’s Diffraction Experiment.  Thomas Young (1773-1829) discovered in a series of experiments the wave-particle duality of light.  He was also one of the first successful workers at deciphering Egyptian hieroglyphic inscriptions.  [Whether the latter had any influence on the former is very speculative, but in a connected universe, anything is possible.]                                                                                             

Young’s experiment, conducted in 1801, utilized two or more slits upon which a beam was directed.  If the beam was of macroscopic particles such as BBs, then when each BB passed through one or the other slit, the total intensity of the accumulated BBs on the target was the simple sum of individual intensities through each slit.  This resulted in two or more summations of the BBs passing though each of the two or more slits.  Think of it as a pile of BBs as in the adjacent figure.


The absolutely extraordinary thing is that with light, the intensity of the composite wave is not the simple sum of the intensities of its component waves, but the sum of the squares of the wave amplitudes.  [See below figure.]  When the light wave-particles are not observed as they proceed from Source to Target -- i.e. when it is not known which slit is used in the trajectory -- the light on the target creates a pattern whose only known means of production is via the interference of waves.  These diffraction patterns cannot be formed by such isolated mass points as the BBs above, nor by one tracking an object along the classical trajectory through a single slit. 

To create the diffraction pattern classically the object would have had to somehow split up and travel through all of the available openings, and interfering with itself in order to create the pattern.  The key is that a single electron in passing through a system of slits still engenders an interference pattern.  “It is as though a single electron can interfere with itself, acting like something that is extended through the entire apparatus and dividing into numerous wavelets.”  If not observed, the particle acts like it takes all possible paths open to it.” [1]                                              


“When an electron passes through this device somehow it must know, as it were, how many slits are open and how many are closed.  Something must be spread out through the entire apparatus to explore the status of its parts and collect the information that determines the intensity pattern that is observed.  This is in seeming contrast to the fact that, when the electron on its passage is being watched, it is always found in just one of the slits.” [1]  The electron and the experimental apparatus are thus connected as well, making the case for Connective Physics even stronger!  

The profound inferences which one can draw from this phenomena, is that “When an electron appears to be passing at the same time, through all the open slits of a diffraction device, it surrenders the right of owning a definite position in space.  Acting like it is everywhere, it is nowhere.  From this consideration arose the notion that the position of an elementary particle is not an intrinsic attribute -- not a property that it owns, but one created [only] by observation.  In other words, “reality is created by observation.” [1]

Philosophically, Socrates has said that, “The unexamined life is not worth living.”  This makes more than perfect sense in that when electrons are unexamined -- unobserved, that is -- they not quite real, not part of reality.  Aristotle believed that matter without form was not quite real.  Form brings matter into reality.  This idea explains why in many ancient practices (e.g. Wicca), a fundamental part of the ritual is to draw or layout a geometry as a means of Creating Reality in a manner particularly desired.  

Physically, electrons outside an atomic nucleus are wave patterns -- standing waves that do not propagate in space but are bound to the nuclei.  These standing waves are not some kind of waving circles, as in an epicyclic motion of Ptolematic planets, but rather, the electron is more akin to a probability information state -- a very different state of being than that of ordinary things.  

When unobserved, physical quantum systems evolve in wave-like states that only represent tendencies for actual events -- a continuous and wholly deterministic state wherein mathematical formalism can divide the wave function of the system -- including probabilities for each possible outcome of a measurement -- and predict new superpositions of tendencies.  This might be similar to a form of Multiple Universes, or simply a deterministic nature which is analogous to the determinism of classical mechanical systems which strictly obey Newton’s equations of motions.  

On the other hand, when an observation is made, the wave-like state changes abruptly, discontinuously, and unpredictably in a “quantum jump”.  At the macro level, the process is seemingly ruled by chance alone, and thus there is the potential for a true choice being made.  Furthermore, no predictions are possible as to how the electron will actually transform from the possible to the actual.  For example, in radioactive decay of nuclei, all samples will decay deterministically with a half-life (the time for half the sample to have decayed from one isotope/element to another), but it is never known if a particular, single atom will decay at a particular time.  Thus, all atoms in the sample must be aware of the other atoms, and which ones will be decaying when!  Talk about Connective Physics!  

In a “Heisenberg event (an observation or interaction of the electron with matter in a state of ordinary reality) the wave function of the electron will abruptly contract at an unpredictable but specific location to a single spot, or a localized event -- producing, for example, a flash on a particular fluorescent screen, or a click in a particular Geiger counter.  At the same instant the probabilities for this event at all other detectors in the universe must drop to zero.”  In this way the quantum processes contain an inherently non-local element, involving faster-than-light phenomena.  As a result of something we do here now (making an observation) an instantaneous effect (a change in a local probability) occurs somewhere else.  “If the universe is non-local, something that happens in its depths right now may have an immediate effect on earth.”  There are faster-than-light influences which are unattenuated by distance.” [1]  

This demonstrated universal connection of everything is the height of influence of the Wave-Particle Duality, of quantum physics in general, and of The Fifth Element and its extension of Classical physics.  Other demonstrations include:  

·        Photon interference experiments (such as the Rochester Experiment) demonstrate that interference patterns can be destroyed by obtaining information on the paths taken by photons without any way perturbing them.

·        Quantum-coherence experiments involving Bell’s Theorem, show that information on one particle -- obtained by a measurement -- can affect the state of a second particle a long distance away.

·        Electron diffraction experiments imply that single electrons seem to know the state of the entire apparatus and adjust their behavior accordingly.  Also, when it is known which slit an electron goes through, the interference pattern observed is different from that when nothing is known.

·        The Pauli Exclusion Principle, which states that no two electrons in the same system may be in the same quantum state -- can be said to be responsible for much of the order in the universe.  The implication is that, when two electrons combine to join the same system, each of the electrons must somehow know the quantum state of the other electron, and act accordingly in order to avoid being in the same quantum state.  

For example, in the Rochester Experiment, it has been strongly evidenced that a quantum systems may respond in an observable way to changes in information, even when that information is obtained without physical intrusion.      


The experiment consists of a laser incident upon a beam splitter, along with two sets of mirrors, and down converters.  The down converters are special crystals that split a single photon into two, such that the laser beam passing a down converter is split into a signal beam and an idler beam (which in turn corresponds to signal photons and idler photons).  Thus, whenever, one of the idler beams is blocked off, we know which way a given signal photon traveled, without ever having directly affected the signal proton.  And yet, the diffraction pattern of the signal beams breaks down.  



Note that, there is no physical disturbance of the signal beams itself, nor some physical intrusion that caused this change in the outcome of the experiments.  The diffraction pattern involves only the signal photons.  The intrusion involves only the idler photons.  Signal photons and idler photons never meet again after they leave their down converters and yet, by blocking off the latter, the former are affected.  The distinct change in a macroscopic observable phenomenon is seemingly brought about by nothing but the change in information about the system.” [1]  Information implies mind-like, and thus we encounter in the quantum world, a form of Consciousness.  


Connective Physics         Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle         Exact Uncertainty

Forward to:

Quantum Knowing         Superstrings         Chaos Theory



[1]  Lothar Schafer, In Search of Divine Reality, Science as a Source of Inspiration, University of Arkansas Press, Fayetteville, 1997.  



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