Son et Lumiére 2

Son et Lumiére 2 (see also:

Suppose for a minute that you were born deaf. That is, you had all the necessary nerves and brain regions that  facilitate hearing, but the mechanical parts of the system, the  part in your ears necessary to receive the sense, are, from some genetic accident,  non-existent. Now suppose that a new technology is developed that enables your first sensation of sound, just last week, whatever your present age, and your brain has just begun to make the linkage between sense and knowledge. Your question is; “What is this new thing? How does it work? How does this sensation reach me from you at a distance.? What is this mechanism?’

And you are told, “Well, there are  these tiny entities, we call them phonons, that are given off by  my vocal cords, and they are organized by passing through my vocal apparatus, the mouth, teeth and tongue, and are thus shaped into organized, coherent assemblages, which stay together in that form until the new device we have installed in your brain receives them and deconstructs them into what you now sense as speech.”

Your inquisitive mind then asks, But what are these “phonons” made of? They must be too tiny to see, how do we know about them? are the all the same, or are some different? How do they hold together? Is there some medium between you and me that they are carried on across otherwise empty space? How is it that the others in the room hear them at the same time as me? Do they go in all directions?”

Well, we don’t know the answer to all those questions, we just know that phonons must exist. How else could this work? We just  agree that the phonon is the smallest measurable unit of quantum sound. Some have suggested that they are really just waves, not particles. How else could they take on so many forms? Some say they are both, particles when they are created, that change into waves while traveling between us, then changed back into particles when they reach your phonon detecting device. The wonderful thing is that the discovery of phonons made it possible for us to do impressive mathematical calculations and develop many new theoretical concepts. Otherwise, we’d have been just guessing. The best scientific minds have worked this out. It’s called “the standard model of sound transmission.” Granted, no one has ever seen a phonon, but they must exist. Wouldn’t you agree?”

So, how would you receive this explanation? Does it make sense to you? Or does it seem too half-baked by far? My guess is the latter, but then you’ve already been soaked with the notion that sound is just a set of organized, coherent disturbances of its medium, which is the air we live in, breathe, and which carries the sound(waves) as distortions of itself. This just makes more sense, doesn’t it? It explains more, fits best with our observations and is just as calculable. It also depends only on what we can observe, a clear structure, why it travels at particular speeds depending on differences in its medium, how it can be reinforced or damped by other sounds because of its wave structure. All in all a complete, understandable theory. Common sense confirms that. You say as much to your “expert.”

Yes, you are told, but the phonon theory is more consistent with another broader theory, called “quantum mechanics,” Which underlays all other physical systems. Hundreds od Ph.D degrees are awarded each year in phonon theory, none in wave theory alternatives. The math is beautiful. It must be correct.

With just a few different details, this is where we stand today in regard to light, and other forms of electromagnetic radiation. Massless particles, called photons, are given off when certain objects or fields are  raised above a certain energy density. These travel in all directions from their source, pass undisturbed through the empty  space of the cosmos, although even with no mass, they can be deflected by gravity, until they are detected by detectors, the human eye or other mechanical device, where they give up their energy and are absorbed. They  have momentum (energy) but no mass. They affect human senses but have no mass. Their paths are  affected by gravity but they have no mass.  Why, then, is this the accepted  theory? Well, it allows them to be counted (quantized). They fit better into equations. They require no perceptible medium for their transmission. They fit quantum theory. All contradictions aside, particle theory fits better in the grand scheme of things. And, because of its contradictions,  it retains an aura of mystery. (Who has seen a photon?)

Hearing sounds is important. Since my own hearing has begun to fail (age, I have felt thy sting.) I’ve become painfully aware of just how important. I’ve just read how a distinguishing feature of the human animal is that some 80% of its knowledge of the world is gained through sight and sound, while other animals depend more of smell or touch, or, lastly, taste. I’ve also found that our sense organs operate basically as difference detectors. Their detections are then passed on to the brain, an organ with the prime function of pattern recognition. (Details later.) In any case, we build our model of the world primarily through sight and sound.  We know how sound works. It is not a “thing” in and of itself, traveling through a medium. Its is simply, in all its complexity, just an organized disturbance, a distortion, if you will, of that medium itself. So it is with light and all other EM radiation. A simpler structure, a simpler explanation. It requires no invention of undetectable particles, no mysterious transformation from particle to wave and back again. (Besides which, while it’s a wave, it’s a wave of what?)

Sound can create complex structures, real physical impacts. I remember being lifted from my second balcony seat by the Philadelphia Orchestra’s rendition of Mussorgsky’s “Great gate of Kiev”  and the whole body massage I received from sitting too close to the speaker of a rock band.

If light is a complex distortion of an energy field, then why can it not generate complex structures in the real world, just as sound in its simpler form does with a symphony orchestra? But what about physical objects, how do they arise? A simple equation tells us that mass equals energy times the speed of light, all terms of which are measurable. We have the means, only the algorithms remain to be uncovered. For a start at this, see my book, “imagine darkness.”


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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