2  Trouble with Physics                                                  Table of Contents     Previous      Next


                                                                               

Some background on the Trouble with Physics


When photographs of objects were made with visible light the limitation in resolving details was thought to be the wave nature of light and the inability to resolve below the light wavelength. Improvements were made in the ability to produce short wavelengths of light to where x-rays were available to look at matter. This was an improvement and finer details in matter could be photographed and explored. Not long after x-rays became readily available it was realized that matter (in the form of particles like electrons) had a wave nature that could be exploited to image things, as demonstrated by the electron microscope. Eventually, it became known that the objects being imaged also had some wave properties that prevented the making of high quality, highly magnified images of objects. Physics was at a limit, it could not get highly magnified images of objects because the objects themselves were “fuzzy” like light was fuzzy. 

     The fuzziness of light did not bother physicists too much because light was known to be a wave phenomena and waves were fuzzy indistinct things. However, particles being fuzzy was a problem because everyone knew including physicists that particles were things. Things had definite locations and the properties of velocity and mass. Things could be directed thru holes in walls. This newly discovered wave like nature of things that produced an un-thing like fuzziness in position and velocity needed an explanation. The person to give the explanation was Werner Heisenberg. His explanation of particle fuzziness was the uncertainty principle (ΔxΔp≥ħ/2). The fuzziness was built into nature. Nature prohibits us from making precise measurements of position and velocity simultaneously. The uncertainty principle left the particle standing as a continuous thing explainable via a continuous differential equation (the Schrodinger wave equation).
    This viewpoint of quantum mechanical particles as things that are uncertain is challenged in this presentation. Its not that the uncertainty principle is not useful, but it is not an accurate description of what is going on in the divide between objects as particles or waves.

To see a more developed history that is quite fascinating see the following web sites:

    http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/qt-uncertainty

    http://www.aip.org/history/heisenberg/p08.htm

Here is an excerpt (edited a little):

Bohr’s long struggle with wave-particle duality had prepared him for a radical step when the dispute between matrix and wave mechanics broke out in 1926-27. For the main contestants, Heisenberg (matrix mechanics) and Schrödinger (wave mechanics), the issue at stake was which view could claim to provide a single coherent and universal framework for the description of the observational data. The choice was, essentially between a description in terms of continuously evolving waves, or else one of particles undergoing discontinuous quantum jumps. By contrast, Bohr insisted that elements from both views were equally valid and equally needed for an exhaustive description of the data. His way out of the contradiction was to renounce the idea that the pictures refer, in a literal one-to-one correspondence, to physical reality. Instead, the applicability of these pictures was to become dependent on the experimental context. This is the gist of the viewpoint he called ‘complementarity’.

It is interesting that Heisenberg’s initial matrix mechanics had particles undergoing discontinuous quantum jumps very much in agreement with DWT.  DWT is not matrix mechanics in that it does not attempt to explain all the experimental observations of quantum phenomena. DWT concentrates mostly on how particles move in isolation.


Here is some more history of the break between the continuous and the discontinuous viewpoints. Click on picture to get to the source.

(scroll down to the middle of the page)


Most physicists were slow to accept "matrix mechanics" because of its abstract nature and its unfamiliar mathematics. They gladly welcomed Schrödinger's alternative wave mechanics when it appeared in early 1926, since it entailed more familiar concepts and equations, and it seemed to do away with quantum jumps and discontinuities. French physicist Louis de Broglie had suggested that not only light but also matter might behave like a wave. Drawing on this idea, to which Einstein had lent his support, Schrödinger attributed the quantum energies of the electron orbits in the old quantum theory of the atom to the vibration frequencies of electron "matter waves" around the atom's nucleus. Just as a piano string has a fixed tone, so an electron-wave would have a fixed quantum of energy. This led to much easier calculations and more familiar visualizations of atomic events than did Heisenberg's matrix mechanics, where the energy was found in an abstruse calculation.

                                                                                       Table of Contents     Previous      Next