Men shout for joy; demons shout for joy.
Heaven demands one year.
The following explores Richard Feynman's books The Character of Physical Law and Q.E.D. seeking implications which relate to the preceding discussion. I chose Feynman's works because they answered questions I had about Quantum Physics as clearly and concisely as any other materials I could find on the subject. Also, I was certainly impressed by this colorful character who discovered the 0-ring problem which caused the Challenger accident:
Reflections on Reflections: Some Implications of Quantum Electrodynamics
I would now like to explore how some knowledge of Quantum Electrodynamics, particularly through what is known about light reflection, could affect the way one sees and evaluates his/her world. It is generally thought that the relativism of post-modern culture has some relationship to Einstein's General Theory of Relativity. For example, in post-modern art and performance the artist seldom strives for a product which seems to reflect a perfect ideal but is more interested in bringing out information through the juxtaposition of ideas. Today, it is debatable whether there can be a post-modern tragedy because social values are considered subjective and relative. Somehow the loss of an absolute reference in space/time as been translated in our culture as a loss of the absolute in general although Einstein himself believed in a perfect order of the universe created by God. Of course, there may be many reasons for such cultural changes; i.e. cross-cultural influences from a world-wide media, drugs, art, and literature. I would not suggest that science and scientists are immune from cultural influences. However, these days, new ideas in science that become the basis from which come new discoveries and ideas seem to go further to change people's opinions about the world and their relationships to that world than philosophy or religion. This may reflect a blind faith in scientists' use of scientific method, meaning that their ideas, at least the ones we know about or can understand, are confirmed by experiment and are, therefore, fact. We still believe what Galileo stated in his Dialogue Concerning Two Chief World Systems that science can only improve. Relativism has not reached a point where science itself is considered "merely" subjective and/or what society as a whole may think about nature for the moment. Therefore, science can be seen to have a "trickle-down" effect on culture and it is not unreasonable to think that the latest ideas of quantum physics will affect our culture in the future. Are there implications which arise from observing the behavior of matter on the quantum level? Is there any support from quantum physics for some of our mystical intuitions about the world? How might quantum theory affect the arts?
Self stand in awe;
No further transgressions or mishap.
In order to discuss the implications of quantum physics it is first necessary to outline some of its features. I have chosen to use the explanation of the properties of light, as described by Richard Feynman in QED1 and The Character of Physical Law2 , as the means to get an understanding of quantum physics for myself and then pick out some features that may be contrary to our normal way of thinking. Next, I will consider how these changes in thinking could be interpreted in the lay community and how that might affect society as whole.
Joy from one extreme of the universe to the other.
What is light? It is a form of energy which travels at a constant speed, the fastest possible, yet it has different frequencies which effect how we experience it. Radio waves, heat (infrared) waves, red light, ultraviolet light, x-rays, and microwaves are various subspecies of what may generally be considered "light" at different frequencies. The frequencies seem to change as the body emitting it moves towards or away from us at a very high speed causing a Doppler effect similar to the way the pitch of a train whistle seems to change as it goes by us. Although light has wave behavior similar to sound, it comes in indivisible units called photons each with its own frequency. So far, physics has not been able to determine how each photon participates in the wave behavior of light but can predict the behavior of the whole by calculating probabilities of tendencies towards moving in one direction or another.
But a day of grief:
The consequence: weeping and silently sobbing;
Sighs over the means of livelihood.
The characteristic of having both particle and wave behavior is what Feynman says in The Character of Physical Law "takes a great deal of imagination to appreciate . . . something which is different from anything you know about." He goes on to describe what he calls "the experiment with the two holes" which is analogous to other situations in quantum mechanics as well as the behavior of photons. In fact, for the sake of illustration, he describes the experiment with electrons saying that photons behave exactly the same way. In order to compare particle behavior with wave behavior, Feynman uses analogies of bullets (ones that are indestructible, shot one at a time, in random directions, and ricocheting every which way) and waves (like ripples in a quiet pool) to describe how particles and waves behave differently. In both situations a source of activity is placed in front of a small hole surrounded by a shield followed at some distance by another shield with two holes equidistant from the first hole then followed by a detector. In the case of the bullets/particles, the detector is recording the number of particles that reach it while, in the case of waves, the detector is recording the amount of energy of the waves that reach it. The information in both cases is used to determine the "probability of arrival" at various points along the detector which extends beyond the distance between the two holes (see illustrations).
Neither leaning to one side, nor leaning to the other.
This element is concerned with contention,
Litigation; all the honors in ritual ceremonial.
Contention is not contention;
The Way is untrodden.
Figure one illustrates the pattern on a grid of two curves representing the probability of arrival of the particles coming from each hole. Figure two shows how waves behave differently. The wave energy recorded along the detector is similar, in the overall pattern, to the probability of arrival in figure one, however, with an important difference. The waves coming from the two holes interfere with each other causing patterns within the patterns.
Bright and glorious river;
Photons and electrons will activate the detector one at a time, indicating that they are coming in individual uniform units but the detector records a probability of arrival with the same interference patterns as would be produced by waves. However, when detectors are placed close to the two holes, the interference patterns do not appear. When the two detectors are working inconsistently then the interference appears and disappears relative to when the detectors do not work or do work.
Contention is snarling, snarling.
Two features of this experiment already have been used by many people to help support their philosophies in fields other than science. The idea that randomness is "an intrinsic part of nature" has been used in support of various art forms which utilize chance as an integral part of their composition. An interpretation of the other feature of this experiment which has seemed to have the greatest influence on the way people think is the fact that, by merely trying to see further into the experiment, the results of the experiment are changed. The interference patterns are lost. This has perhaps been misinterpreted to support "New Age" ideas concerning the power of visualization, or using one's imagination or perception to affect his/her physical world. Visualization may work, but I do not believe that quantum physics has the explanation for it. In fact, Feynman states that there is no physical evidence for ESP.
The knight yields to his neighbors.
Another perhaps more startling revelation from quantum physics is that light does not really reflect off of objects in the sense that we know of sound waves, that is, by bouncing off the objects. Electrons always and continually exchange photons with the nuclei of the atoms that they are a part of. In fact, this exchange is what keeps the electrons close to its nucleus. When a photon comes in contact with the electron, the electron absorbs the photon and another is then emitted from it and a photon scatters from the group of photons that are being exchanged with the nucleus. These exchanges can occur in a variety of ways and, again, require probabilistic techniques for predicting their behavior.
Do not cut off the principal path
If it be dusk.
Electrons will also exchange photons among themselves in a large variety of ways. It seems very probable that photons, which individually move around the conventional speed of light (sometimes faster and sometimes slower), can be emitted from an electron before one has been absorbed by the electron, therefore requiring the process to go backwards in time. According to Feynman, the physicists are indifferent to this because, on the quantum level, the physical laws work just as well in any direction in time and space.
Contention at the crossroads
Advantage lacking direction.
Three points have been brought up in the two preceding paragraphs that require a radically new way of thinking. One is that what we see when light reflects off objects is a combination of photons emitted from the objects themselves (something like what Lucretius described3 ). The photons that reach them are the cause of their releasing photons, so it only seems to be the same "light" that came from the original source. Secondly, individual photons move at variable speeds, sometimes faster than C, the conventional speed of light. And thirdly, which is for me the most amazing idea, it seems really is possible for something to travel backwards in time.
Ferociousness fills the mouth;
The arrow rests afterwards.
All phenomena concerning light can only have their fullest explanation from quantum physics. Light's habit of reflecting at angles equal to the angle of incidence is explained by patterns associated with the phase of the light which cancel out each other in every direction but one, in which a sort of "resonance" is established. Iridescence, or colors of an object which seem to change when looked at from different directions, is explained by the surface of the object having different thicknesses, causing light to travel through it at different rates and, therefore having different probabilities of reflections for different frequencies. White light is composed of a mixture of light at different frequencies. Mirages occur because light travels more quickly through the hot air than cooler air and light that takes the quickest route will most likely reach our eyes making the sky seem to reflect off the hot desert or pavement. Water changes the speed which the light travels, as does various thicknesses of glass, and causes the light to seem to bend. A focusing lens causes the light that enters it to travel all at the same rate, but for different distances, thus eliminating cancellations and making the light seem extremely bright on the other side. Light does not travel in straight lines but in a very random and scattered sort of way. The impression of straight movement comes from that same idea of "resonating" wave patterns along the quickest route which even gives it a uniform speed over long distances in a vacuum and air.
Two tigers bare their teeth at each other;
Then they withdraw, knowing this perfection.
All of these phenomena are determined through probability. These briefest of all possible explanations do not begin to explain how the probabilities are calculated. Feynman describes a method of determining probabilities by using arrows at an arbitrary unit length getting larger or smaller according to the square root of the probability of a particular type of behavior; i.e. reflection. The probabilities of the ways that the events can happen are added by putting the arrows together, one after another, without changing the direction of the arrow. The arrow's direction is determined by the time required for the event to happen from when the light left its source as the arrow moves around like the hand of a clock as a function of the frequency of the light and the time of the event. After the arrows have been added, an arrow is drawn between the first and last arrow. This indicates the probability of the whole event. For convenience, probabilities are said to be multiplied when the events are dependent upon each other for the end result, such as, when light travels through several sheets of glass, the probability for it passing through each sheet has to be multiplied in order to determine the probability of it reflecting off the back sheet. That is represented visually by shrinking the arrow according to the decreased probability and turning the arrow according to the increased time required for the final event. If there is a possibility of more than one thing happening at the same time, the probabilities are multiplied and the arrow does not turn.
Clearly scrutinizing the element thoroughly.
Conforming with the heart,
And also all material things, and their transactions.
So, probability is our only means to predict how light will behave in nature. We are reduced to this because we cannot "follow a photon" as it "travels" the way we thought we could a classical "particle." We can figure out the way the crowd will go without knowing anything about how each individual will go. As Feynman said, probability (or randomness) is somehow intrinsic in nature. This idea makes me much more in awe of my senses' ability to sort through all this complexity to determine what is predictable and turn that into the information that is useful to me, as well as, to understand Feynman's explanation of how light behaves. Quantum physics is used now in practically every field of science, as, for example, the theory behind chemistry. How does this change how we think about the world?
Renewing the Self in fresh attire;
Bright is the Seal.
Do not grasp, neither hinder the heart
Lest the reasoning be destroyed.
Although the explanation of quantum physics seems very abstract in a mathematical sense, I am more struck by the idea presented in its very name, quantum, which seems to refer to that which can be counted. Contrary to what New Age metaphysicists would like to think, quantum physics describes a world that is only made up of "stuff" that we can find or will be able to find. The idea of an imperceptible ether has been lost. Some mystics have said that it is from this ether that yogis were able to materialize objects. Quantum physics furthers the case that this cannot happen because its reality is limited to that which can be observed through experiment. It is much more likely that quantum physics will be used to support ideas which argue against the existence of spiritual entities outside of our internal "psychological" world which is made of a very complex interaction of matter/energy. Can we have as much faith in our gods if we see them only as part of how our bodies work?
To see the arrow rise itself;
Advantage in wings.
We seem to need these anthropomorphic forms, which we have used to explain our world, but maybe not so much to be merely explanations but to add a richness to our lives knowing that there is something much greater and intelligent than we could possibly be, transcendental to the physical world. Quantum physics could force a complete separation from the material and spiritual so that the sense of magic in objects is lost. Or, we could go to the other extreme and consider every little particle and sub-particle as conscious beings with wills of their own. That's not likely although physicists, like Feynman, often describe their particles in anthropomorphic terms. We as humans tend to understand things as human.
One thing seems to have to change or we may not be able to accept this complex world in which we live. Randomness/chaos has to be seen as at least necessary and possibly even beautiful. As we grow up with the knowledge that our existence depends on mostly randomness with some predictable limitations, our cultural fear of chaos may gradually disappear. Does this mean that instead of worrying about our messes that we will see our messes as beautiful and complex? Probably not. These questions only indicate that new whole philosophies and aesthetics could develop from a cultural awareness of quantum physics and the "unscientific" may simply polarize themselves even further from science. (I know of someone who is the daughter of a scientist who believes that the world was created only about six thousand years ago.) Maybe scientists just will become more and more isolated from the rest of the world. I doubt that because they are so necessary for exploiting the environment and might even be instrumental in preserving it for our future use.
Cover the load, the carriage is loaded.
It has been proposed that the new thinking required for quantum physics requires a return to Eastern philosophies, particularly Taoism or Buddhism, which deemphasize the role of the individual personality with its desires and emotions in order to arrive at an awareness of an interconnected whole. Atomic particles and even light then become models for explanations of our own roles in the fabric of the universe. A whole new modern myth could be established with quarks and strong forces becoming the new gods replacing the old ones.
The spider's threads when scrutinized
Are not the silkworm's threads.
How quantum theory will influence the way our society thinks is certainly much more difficult to predict than the behavior of the particles themselves.
Mourning is the fragrance
Lost in the departure.
Feynman predicts that the rate of discovery in quantum physics will decrease either due to our finding out all the fundamental laws or that each new problem will be harder and harder to solve because of the need for new technologies for getting at them. In either case, he says, that as the rate of discovery decreases the philosophers will have their turn at trying to explain and make inferences from this aspect of nature. He compares them to tourists who come after a land is newly discovered. I am not a physicist and I would not even consider myself a philosopher. I am an artist, which seems another step removed from those who Feynman would consider who could fully appreciate nature in its fullest sense; Mathematically. Feynman's god is a mathematician which seems similar to Galileo's "Great Architect of the Universe." Feynman's task as a human is to try to understand how this mechanism works. My god is an artist which allows me to look at the world a little more subjectively.
Scrutinizing the completion of Self-destruction.
Obstructing the completion of Self-decline.
Although Feynman seems to have a very different perspective from my own, I think that I share with him an appreciation for the unexpected in nature as is best represented by how particles behave at a sub-atomic level. Randomness is my muse. It has always seemed to me a complexity which goes beyond my ability to analyze it to the point that I know what to expect from it. The structures that I create without it seem unbearably simple, but when juxtaposed against some randomness, I discover new complex yet elegant structures. My mind will always try to make sense out of any chaos and grow in its efforts. Feynman has taught me that the essential quality of nature is a sort of active flux from which forms arise from the most probable tendencies of the smallest particles. As an artist, I can anthropomorphize and mythologize anything as a part of my artistic expression. My myths can be temporary, not permanent like in religion, though they can be temporarily eternal. If science has produced the metaphor that I am using and then changes, then I can change the metaphor. When things behave in a way that is complex enough to be unpredictable they seem to have a will of their own. I can now see light as crowds of weightless fairy-like beings which sing their own single notes harmonizing to the ones that are flying closest together. We can only see the effects of the ones that are in harmony. Their song is visual and composed of everything that we can see, and then some. Gravity is caused by "angels wings." That still has not changed much since Kepler's day.