Chapter 15: The Wave-Particle Duality

PhotonIdentityCartoon etresoi

Ode to a Photon

Little photon, flying blind
How do you experience time?
Is it slow or is it fast,
And do you ever see the past?

You come in colors, waves we see
And gave you that identity
We tested you and thought we’d found
That you used waves to get around

The double-slit experiment shows
Your interference pattern grows
You go through cracks and show diffraction
Which made us think of wave-like action.

And then dear Max and Albert said
Some things that stood us on our head
You have inertia, oh yes it’s true
And you can make electrons move

So which be ye, oh spot of light;
And which of these two views is right?
You can’t be both at once you see,
‘Cause that would mean duality.
Are you a ‘thing’ or can you be
Ephemeral for eternity?

Please tell me dear, end my confusion
Release this veil of grand illusion
And lead me to the right conclusion.

Oh little photon, quantum of light
Which one of these two views is right?

Light is a particle. Dr. Einstein and Max Planck proved it. They got a Nobel Prize for that conclusion, after all. Yet there exists a large body of experimental evidence that proves conclusively that it is also a wave. How can this be? Each has different properties and characteristics. Each is, shall we say, mutually exclusive of the other.

It is to the credit of the Quantum mechanical movement that they simply accept that both must exist. Realism is a good thing, and the empirical evidence supports this conclusion. To their shame, they proposed that light ‘decides’ which properties to exhibit, based on the observer and his or her expectations. A sort of anthropomorphism on an energetic particulate level. Schrodinger managed to express this in a famous thought experiment, as we shall see in the next chapter.

But count this as one of the great unresolved mysteries of modern physics. How can a photon carry the characteristics of both a particle and a wave simultaneously? And yet when forced, exhibit only one characteristic or the other? There is a surprising answer to this quandary in the later chapters, but first, we must discuss Erwin Schrodinger, his cat, and an extremely brief history of the current state of physics.

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