Physics Question #199

Stephen Ross, a 33 year old male from Hong Kong asks on October 11, 2001,

1) Which of the following two options is more widely accepted by the scientific community? a) Elementary particles actually exist in quantum states prior to observation. If so what experiments have validated this theory. b)Elementary particles have unknowable states prior to observation, yet the states are thought to be fully determined. 2)In the Standard Model the electromagnetic force, nuclear forces and gravity are the result of exchanged Force Carrier Particles such as gluons, photons, W particles, Z particles, and the as yet undiscovered graviton. How does one particle know in advance where the other particle is before it fires a FCP at it? Is one of the particles more likely to fire the FCP than the other? What would happen if they both fired an FCP at the same time, would the FCPs collide, annihilate or tunnel through each other? 3) Has there been any research into a theory that considers space-time and matter to be different aspects of the same phenomena. For example, has any theory been researched that considers matter and photons to be ‘pressure wave packet oscillations’ in an elastic space fabric or an elastic space-time fabric? A sort of potential energy field where empty space is regions of uniform potential but matter and photons are localised regions in the field that contain wave packets in simple harmonic motion similar to water balloons in zero gravity. Would the ‘elasticity’ of such a space-time fabric determine the speed of light? Could matter, antimatter, and photon nature be the result of each wave packets shape, symmetry, or other wave properties? 4) In Young’s double slit diffraction using individual photons or electrons the particles seem to ‘know’ about the existence of ‘the other slit’. If many individual particles are fired at the grating they build up the same two slit diffraction pattern as would a constant stream of particles. If the particles are actually waves as described in 3) could the various phases of the individual wave packets as they interact with the slits give rise to the different, diffracted result positions, or could the lateral displacement of the wave packet relative to the double slits give rise to its final resulting position, or, could it be a combination of both? 5) If the answer to question 1) were b), wouldn’t this reduce the nature of reality to being just a static pattern of matter/energy in a space-time matrix. How could consciousness arise out of such a model, even if you accept that the pattern as viewed from the time domain would give rise to particles that form structures that exhibit automata behaviour. 6) Do the superstring theories not include quantum states of particles (ie Q1, a)? If so doesn’t the same problem as Q5 apply? 7) If the static-pattern-in-potential-energy-spacetime-field-matrix concept is considered correct, and consciousness can be shown to arise from it, would it be considered fractal in nature? Has research been done along the lines of this idea? If so what was found? 8) I heard once that Feyman commented that if particles didn’t exist and everything was considered waves then most of the major problem in Physics would be removed. Is this correct? If so when/where did he say it, what did he mean and has any research been directed along these lines? If it is too much trouble for you to answer all these questions in detail could you please point me in the right direction to look for answers on the web, ie experiment names, key scientists, web sites or subject titles.

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The answer

Jess Brewer answered on October 11, 2001

Whew! These are not the sort of questions one can rattle off tidy answers for; more like, "Take the following courses for a start...." But the questions do seem to be serious and non-"crackpot" so I am inviting Mark Halpern (who teaches 2nd year quantum mechanics at UBC) to take a shot. Many of the answers may be found in my Skeptic's Guide to Physics which I hope you will read. Some of the questions are of the "Come now, common sense dictates..." variety and have no answer that will satisfy anyone who believes that quantum mechanics should ultimately validate common sense. It doesn't. Common sense is wrong, because we and what we can see are too big and too slow to behave the way electrons do. Anyway most of those questions are too hard to answer in a reasonable time; major coursework may be required... In the meantime here are Mark Halpern's answers:

1. B is certainly NOT a description of the world we live in. This sort of hidden complete description comes under the heading "hidden variable theories", and gives predictions for simple experiments which do not occur.

2. I picture these exchange particles spreading out in all directions at once. Their density therefore drops with distance. That is why force strength typically drops off as the inverse of the square of the distance.

3. There are a number of efforts of this sort, but nothing with any real success. At this point, whether this approach might work is anyone's guess.

4. I am not sure I understand the question, but I think that single photons are distributed waves which travel through both slits. In fact they travel all over the apparatus. Any attempt to trace their path disturbs the phase of the part of the path which was checked and removes interference from that part of the pattern.

5. The answer to 1 is not b).

6. But question 5 does not apply to standard quantum mechanical systems.

7. No answer.

8. I never heard this remark, but it is certainly an interesting and important fact that the universe is composed of particles. I remember seeing the films of lectures Feynman gave at Cornell in which he pounds on the board and says, more or less: there you have it. Stuff acts like waves and comes in lumps, and that is the mystery of quantum mechanics.

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