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Wave-Particle Duality – Micro concept with macro implications

The wave-particle duality refers to a contradiction that arises when we try to understand the nature of light.

Girls demonstrating wave-particle duality.

Girls demonstrating wave-particle duality by James Guppy via Flickr

Light can be either a wave (energy) or particle (matter), depending on the way we observe and interpret it. Some even try to combine the concepts of energy and matter to say that light is a “wavicle.”¹

Albert Einstein had this to say:

It seems as though we must use sometimes the one theory and sometimes the other, while at times we may use either. We are faced with a new kind of difficulty. We have two contradictory pictures of reality; separately neither of them fully explains the phenomena of light, but together they do.²

Philosophers of science believe the duality is created by the way we use language. And the apparent conflict might be reconciled if we consider what language is and does.

Language, they say, not only describes but also influences our understanding of things spoken and written about. So with a kind of circularity, the way we describe our world in turns shapes our worldview.

Consider the moon, for instance. To an Apollo astronaut it is something to travel to, orbit and possibly walk on. For an ancient Roman, the moon might be seen as a somewhat mysterious place where the goddess Luna resides or as an aspect of the pagan goddesses Diana or Juno.

In ancient Iran, the moon was believed to be “The Great Man” who periodically incarnates on Earth. And in the recent past, the moon was whimsically said to be made of blue cheese.

In each of these examples, the words and the semantic context within which the occur shape the understanding of the thing described. We have to keep this is mind not only when studying myth and religion but in any aspect of life—ancient or modern. Culture isn’t just created. It also creates.³

We can overcome the wave-particle duality by realizing that it is informed by the way we categorize reality, but this might be a hollow victory because it doesn’t tell us much about the actual essence of light, energy or matter—or even if these phenomena have a true ‘essence.’

At some point language becomes inadequate. And many believe that sciences, which also use symbol systems like mathematics and physics, are equally as imperfect to the task of describing reality.

From this, the holistic thinker Peter Russell argues that we should not confuse the proverbial map (scientific concepts and theories) with the thing mapped (alleged fundamental aspects of creation).

The debate about describing vs the described can get pretty complicated. Some maintain that language is, in fact, adequate and an integral part of reality. Others say this argument falls short when we consider how meanings have changed throughout history.

Is truth always relative or is there something absolute, essential or permanent in our world? These basic questions may seem abstruse. But the way we unconsciously answer them in our daily assumption/decision making process no doubt informs many aspects of life.

So I think it’s better to be aware of our uncertainties and biases. Question everything. That way we don’t put the world – and other people – in an artificially small box. When people try to do that, what we’re really seeing is a picture of their provincial outlook.

¹ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wave%E2%80%93particle_duality#Neither-wave-nor-particle_view

² https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wave%E2%80%93particle_duality Follow this link for a good, brief history » https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wave%E2%80%93particle_duality#Brief_history_of_wave_and_particle_viewpoints

³ That’s why many poststructural social thinkers argue that power is creative, not just repressive.

Related » George Berkeley, Brahman, Albert Einstein, David Hume, Immanuel Kant, John Locke, Poststructuralism, Erwin Schrödinger, Semiology, Tao, Thomas Young


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Erwin Schrödinger

English: Photograph of physicist Erwin Schrödi...

Erwin Schrödinger early in his professional career. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Erwin Schrödinger (1887-1961) was an Austrian physicist who attempted to overcome the apparent particle- wave duality with his now famous wave equation.

Various interpretations of Schrödinger’s wave equation have arisen. For some, particles are seen as wave packets. Others suggest that the particle is similar to a standing wave—a relatively stable energy formation that doesn’t travel through a medium.

While some like to see science as some kind of solid rock that tells us the “truth,” the ambiguity surrounding the interpretation of Schrödinger’s work tells us just the opposite. Science involves speculation, myth and a lot of limitation and uncertainty.

However, to sum up the latest consensus on what the wave equation means to people today, we could say that the whole idea of “matter” is recognized as a construction of the senses, mind and society. Underneath that social construction of reality,¹ we just have energy, for lack of a better term.

English: Wave particle duality p known

Wave particle duality (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

New Age enthusiasts tend to champion this idea, suggesting the entire universe is merely energy. Meanwhile, some old school theologians still talk about the reality of matter and the (supposed) indisputable authority of Aristotle‘s views on that topic. Some even go as far to say that animals do not enjoy an afterlife because they do not have souls and are made entirely of matter.²

A better approach, however, would consider the replacement of the old idea of “matter” with that of “energy” but also look to spiritual experience as somewhat mysterious yet qualitatively different from energy.³

For his outstanding work in quantum mechanics Schrödinger won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1933, sharing it with Paul Dirac.

Image via Wikipedia

¹ I’m alluding to the sociological classic, The Social Construction of Reality by Berger and Luckmann.

² Others say that animals do have souls, but still do not enjoy an afterlife. See these links.

³ What do I mean by this? Well, I recall conversing with someone who liked to work out. He enjoyed his endorphin rushes after vigorous exercise. I used to be a long distance runner, so knew what he was talking about. Since my running days, however, I have experienced what C. G. Jung and others call the numinous. And what Catholics (and other Christians) call the indwelling of The Holy Spirit. In those essentially spiritual experiences I have noticed a range of difference. And all of the spiritual experiences were qualitatively different from an endorphin rush (which we can assume more closely correlates to chemical changes than, say, sitting in a church).

Related » George Berkeley, Philipp Lenard, Particle, Wave, Thomas Young 


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Standing Wave

In physics a standing wave is a uniform and relatively stable wave pattern of energy that doesn’t travel through a medium. Put differently, each point on the standing wave has a constant amplitude.

Standing wave in stationary medium. The red do...

Standing wave in stationary medium. The red dots represent the wave nodes. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

By way of example, imagine a long skipping rope extended on a smooth surface and held by two people at either end. When wiggled left to right by one person at a precise frequency, this particular type of wave differs in that its waveform (the height and shape of the curve) doesn’t move down the rope but remains stable, forming a uniform pattern.

Circular Standing Wave

Circular Standing Wave (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Wikipedia adds:

This phenomenon can occur because the medium is moving in the opposite direction to the wave, or it can arise in a stationary medium as a result of interference between two waves traveling in opposite directions. The most common cause of standing waves is the phenomenon of resonance, in which standing waves occur inside a resonator due to interference between waves reflected back and forth at the resonator’s resonant frequency.

For waves of equal amplitude traveling in opposing directions, there is on average no net propagation of energy

Erwin Schrödinger argued that all particles of matter are in fact standing waves of energy.

The implications of his theory are profound. It suggests that so-called matter within the universe isn’t really solid. We merely perceive it as solid through our senses and minds.

¹ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Standing_wave

Related Posts » George Berkeley, Wave, Thomas Young