What do we think we know that might (or might not) be so? No. 3

Wave/particle duality

First, thanks to Ulla Mattfolk (of the Facebook group I’m part of) for digging up two related articles on this subject that made me think I might have something to say about it.

In Wave Particle Duality, a piece published  on HubPages (http://lgsims96.hubpages.com/hub/Wave-Particle-Duality), lgsims96 (a user name), opens his discussion this way:

Waves can exhibit particle-like characteristics and particles can exhibit wave-like characteristics. Is it possible that waves alone could behave as particles? What if the universe is composed of a single medium capable of supporting vibrations? And if all that we perceive as matter and energy is only vibrations (electromagnetic waves) within this medium? This is all there is and nothing else. 

The John Gowan piece on de Broglie (http://vixra.org/pdf/1101.0056v1.pdf) suggests a plausible justification of duality as a concept but makes it seem an almost continuous transition from wave-like qualities to matter-like. If this is how one would like to consider the question, OK, but retaining “particles” as the label for the smallest bits of matter, and with a rather blurry distinction between the two states leads to some difficulty in both definition and conceptual understanding. So here’s my take on these questions.

First, I come down strongly on the side that all of the universe is wavelike, as lgsims96 suggests is plausible and defends well. This seems to make both the conceptual and mathematical models easier to resolve with perceived reality. This is the argument i have put forth in my book “the picnic at the edge of the universe” and in several pieces on this blog, particularly those on a simpler universe, on time, the speed of light, dark matter, and the like. And lgsims96’s explanation of how quantum-like perceptions may be easily derived from wave phenomena is logical and convincing.

My own model of the universe differs from his in that I am convinced that the wave-filled ether/cosmos exists both outside of our finite universe and within it, and that within the universe’s boundaries, certain regions of that ether have been raised to a higher level of energy (by a phase transition) because of the influence of the very high energy hot spots of stars and galaxies. It seems to me probable that those regions will turn out to be what some of the more mystical among us enjoy calling “dark matter.” In the end, barring some inconceivable event we will never be able to see, hear, touch, taste or smell the phenomena we think we perceive out there in the great distance, so we use what we think we know and build models, mostly in our heads. We use metaphorical languages we have invented, including mathematics. (It was not “discovered”, you know, but was invented in some Arab traders head in a marketplace in the middle east, so he could keep track of how many goats he had left. What later mathematicians did discover was that it could be used for other things. Bless Newton.) We need to remember not to let the metaphor become the reality.

One thing we stumble over still is the difficulty we have in creating graphic metaphors of these constantly moving random or periodic fluctuations that we call waves. The only place you actually see sine waves is in the ocean and then only clearly as a cross section through the two-dimensional surface. The waves we try to describe, either linguistically or mathematically in the ether/cosmos might be more like pressure differentials in turbulent waters or atmospheric media, temperature differences in bodies of water, energy frequencies and/or amplitudes in electromagnetic fields – they will never be sine curves on a sheet of paper or a cathode ray tube – but those are the only graphical metaphors we seem able to produce, and the ubiquity of those in publications makes us ultimately think of them as real.

We know from cognitive science that our brains work metaphorically, particularly but not solely when we are creating conceptual models (see Lakoff and Johnson, Philosophy in the Flesh, Basic Books New York, 1999), and that after long use, the metaphors often end up being substituted in our heads for the realities we used them to describe. But the one thing I have taken from Bertrand Russell’s work on logic, along with that of Korzybski, is that we can only communicate meaningfully if we are comparing the same logical types, not using different levels of metaphorical speech or abstractions from reality. So you may see my problem with assertions that hadrons are dimensionless but still have mass, and that mass is expressed in energy values, but still we call them “particles.” Am I being too persnickety?

One other variable here is what we mean by “perception”. I am tied to reality, as I believe Einstein was in his long debate with Bohr. And if, as I do, you accept an Experientialist Philosophy (Lakoff, op. cit. p.508), you must agree that our neural and cognitive mechanisms make up not only our conceptual systems but our very experience.Examples Lakoff gives are:

• We experience objects as colored within themselves, even though it is now known that they are not. The neural system responsible for the internal structure of our color categories also creates for us the experience of color

• We experience space as structured by image schemas (as having bounded regions, paths, centers and peripheries, objects with fronts and backs, regions above, below and beside things). Yet we know that space itself has no such structure. The topographic maps of the visual field, the orientation sensitive cells, and other highly structured neural systems in our brains not only create image schematic concepts for us but also create the experience of space as structured according to those image schemas.

• We experience time in terms of motion and resources, even though neither of those is inherent in time itself. Our metaphors for conceptualizing time in terms of motion not only create a way to comprehend and reason about time in terms of motion but also lead us to to experience time as flowing by or ourselves as moving with respect to time.

My only quibble is with the statement that includes the phrase “is inherent in time itself”. The problem is that there is no “it” there.

Our perceptual history from birth to the moment we create some conceptual model of “what something is” or “how something works” is what provides the metaphorical raw material we use to conceive of and to communicate the particulars of that model. It’s hard work.

About Charles Scurlock

Charles is a recently retired architect/planner and generalist problem-solver with a lifelong interest in science, physics, and cosmology, and the workings of the human mind. He has started this blog in the interest of sharing his ideas with others of like-(or not so like) minds.
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3 Responses to What do we think we know that might (or might not) be so? No. 3

  1. pallsopp42 says:

    Your mst recent posting May20, 2012 speaks to the issue of particles and electromagnetic waves.
    My logic may be off, but if everything we perceive as matter is in fact “clouds” or concentrations of of localized disturbances in the electromagnetic ocean in which we appear to bathe, then the dual slit experiment should hold no real surprises. If we ” shoot” photons (tiny bundled electromagnetic disturbances) through two slits isn’t it “normal” that they would strike the wall behind according to their carrier wave’s underlying behavior?

    Is the wave-particle duality an artifact of our thinking about matter? The duality evaporates when you think about particles as infinitesimally small disturbances to the underlying carrier waves of electromagnetism comprising the cosmos in which the universe we perceive bathes.


  2. Phil
    If you go here you will see a very clear image of how the double-sslit experiment might be visualized as you describe (http://lgsims96.hubpages.com/hub/Double-Slit-Experment). In the last image in this article is a field surrounding the electron that illustrates how this might happen.

    • pallsopp42 says:

      Thanks, Chuck
      Very helpful. Great visualizations!
      I have an idea for why it is we can’t go faster than light. More on this in awhile.

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