Black Holes: Part I

I realize it’s been a couple months since my last post on Gravitational Waves, where I said that I would be posting about black holes next. I had a lot happen in the past couple months that I had to deal with before I could start focusing on blogging again. Today, I will give a brief introduction to black holes, and the next post will go into further detail. Stay tuned, and stay patient ūüôā


There are only three things you need to know to understand a black hole and that is it’s 1) mass, 2) spin, and 3) electric charge.

By definition a black hole is ¬†an object whose¬†escape speed¬†is the speed of light. Escape speed is the speed it takes for an object to escape gravity (the curvature of spacetime). In order for an object to escape a black hole, it must reach the speed of light. Therefore, light itself cannot escape a black hole. The speed of light can be thought as the “speed limit” of the universe.

It is known that an object that comes into contact with a black hole gets sucked in by it’s gravity and cannot escape. Once the object is sucked in, it is no longer visible and all of it’s information is believed to be lost forever, as if it never existed.

Although a black hole’s gravity is a very strong force, an object that enters into it’s orbit is able to escape as long as it does not cross the¬†event horizon¬†of the black hole. Before reaching the event horizon, gravity is weak. Thus, a slight push would allow for an object to escape the black hole. Once that object reaches the event horizon, it has reached a point of no return. Gravity becomes so strong, that the object would have to have that much stronger of a push in order to get out. Once the object reaches the singularity of the black hole- the small, dense skeleton of the dead star and the source of strong gravity, that is when the object needs a push faster than the speed of light to escape, and that cannot happen. This is why we remain oblivious as to what goes on inside of a black hole, because an object that falls past the event horizon is said to never leave, giving us zero information about what’s inside.

event horizon

Picture from¬†¬†Shane Larson’s blog;¬†who provides a lucid, and entertaining explanation of everything science!

That’s it for now, stay tuned for more ūüôā

This post is part of a series, for links to other posts, click here!

Waves of Spacetime- GW150914

On February 11th, 2016 the world was exposed to a shocking discovery that scientist’s have been questioning since the 1910’s. The idea of Gravitational Waves had been tossed around but never confirmed. This was mostly due to the fact that the detection of a GW seemed impossible because the technology simply did not exist. However, nothing is impossible in the scientific community. The first encounter with GW was with the Hulse-Taylor Pulsar, in which they observed the pulsar’s orbital decay which matched Einstein’s predictions of energy loss by gravitational radiation. This discovery would win them the Nobel Prize in 1993.

Not too many people are familiar with gravitational waves, so I will take this opportunity to clear things up. By the way, the name of the GW detected in the title of this post is the date that it was found! Fun fact for the day.

What is a GW? A gravitational wave is formed by a mass in motion. Think of a stone tossed into a lake. The stone creates ripples, or waves that propagate throughout the lake. The¬†same idea can be applied in space. However,¬†stones in a waternot all masses in space are strong enough to¬†send ripples through spacetime. Only the large, energetic ones like a rotating binary system, supernova’s, black holes, etc. These massive objects are so strong that the space around them will “ripple” as they spin or explode while they are losing energy in the form of gravitational waves. This is why the detection of GW is huge. Only massive violent events in space cause them, therefore, we can study¬†GW to learn more about the events that produced them, like mysterious black holes and possibly the big bang itself.

How do we detect gravitational waves? As previously stated, GW are nearly impossible to detect. As they pass through, they cause distances to change and periodic deformations. Their effect, however, is so small which makes it difficult to detect them. This is because gravity is a weak force and the period of the wave is extremely small. For example, a mass with a diameter of 1 meter would only be deformed by 10^-21 meters. This is why it is very difficult to detect GW. Nevertheless, physicist Albert Michelson came along to show us how we could measure such a small motion. Using the wavelength of light as a measuring device we are able to detect precise movements for exquisitely small distances, or periods.

How is light used as a measuring device?¬†If you’ve ever taken a physics class then you’veinter probably learned about Young’s two slit experiment that allowed us to “see” the wavelengths of light. A single light beam that is shined through two slits can be seen on a blank¬†screen some distance away as a pattern of light and dark “fringes.” This is known as interference. The distance between fringes is directly related to wavelength.


Laser Interferometer’s
LIGO (Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory) is a collaboration between multiple physics institutes and research groups dedicated to the search for GW’s, which began in August 2002. Because the wavelength of a GW is directly related to the size of the cosmic event, detectors must be about the size of the cosmic event. Thus, we have two types of man-made devices: Ground Interferometer’s, designed for small cosmic sites w/ GW of a few thousand kilometers, and Space Interferometer’s, designed for large cosmic sites with wavelengths tens of millions of kilometers. The ground interferometers are located in Hanford, Washington and Livingston, Louisana.

Basically, an interferometer sends out a laser beam that hits a beam splitter, splits the light in two where the light is directed toward mirrors that finally send the light back to the beam splitter to form an interference pattern. The arms of the interferometer are the trajectory of the beams, so the pattern depends on the distance between the arms.


If a GW goes through, the distance between the arms changes, leaving the interference pattern changing periodically!
In theory, LIGO could also detect hypothetical phenomena of GW caused by oscillating cosmic strings, and domain walls

Lisa is the first space interferometer that was successfully launched on December 3, 2015. The mission is to map out the technical difficulties that may be experienced by eLisa, which will be launched with three satellites positioned 5 million km away from each other with laser beams connecting the three satellites. Any change in the distance of laser light will suggest a GW passing through.

To watch and learn more about this fascinating historic event, see the video below!


Are we really able to learn about the creation of the universe by studying a GW?
Because gravity is such a weak force, gravitational waves interact weakly with their environment. In fact, the effect is so small that they don’t change much because of their weak interactions. This makes them the perfect little “messengers” of distant cosmic events, providing us more information on gravity and how the universe works as gravity is turned into waves.

Side note- an interesting comment was made in the discussion post on GW so I thought I would share:
“gravitational waves, to me, would better explain some kind of d√©j√† v√Ļ, because space time is being curved, it would be a variation on the time that maybe allows someone to look into the past or future for a few milliseconds (or the time it takes to the wave to¬†pass)” -M.A
Something to think about!

That about sums up the discussion on gravitational waves, next time I will talk about black holes- their mysterious nature, escaping them and how GW will provide us with information we would never be able to gather otherwise!

This post is part of a series, for links to other posts, click here!

The Implications of Gravity in Spacetime

The theories in which modern science rest heavily upon were presented hundreds of years ago by the scientists we have grown to learn about and love. Their theories have yet to be disproved, and that is why those theories are the platform on which modern science now rests. It is a strong platform, but as it ages, we must fill in the cracks. That’s where we are at in this day and age, filling in the cracks of an old foundation. Gravity is the most fundamental force in the universe, yet it is a very weak force. The series of posts I am about to share rely heavily on our concept of Gravity, so it’s important to get the basics down first.

We will start with Galileo. In a uniform gravitational field, Galileo believed¬†that all Galileoobjects fall identically-irrespective to their mass. To prove his theory, he climbed up the Leaning Tower of Pisa where he dropped various masses. In doing so, he proved that when an object is in free fall, it will not experience a force in relation to it’s mass and that all objects, regardless of their mass will move in the same direction, at the same time. Think of an elevator- your head and shoes will “fall” at the same time, even though your head is heavier than your shoes. Galileo gave us the understanding of inertia; where an object that is set into motion stays in motion until it is acted upon by some external force.

Aristotle believed that the Earth did not move because if you threw a ball straight up in the air it would come straight back down, instead of going to the left/right etc. Galileo argued this idea giving an example of the cabin of a ship. Inside the cabin, if there are no windows, there is no way to tell if the ship is moving or not. Galileo concluded that the laws of physics are identical in all Galilean (intertial) reference frames, providing us with our first encounter with relativity.


Next, Sir Isaac Newton comes along to explain the force that acts upon all objects. Newton’s first law of motion is essentially Galileo’s concept of intertia. The second law of motion tells us that the force needed to act upon an object depends on it’s mass and acceleration. If you have a large mass with a large acceleration, you will need a large force to act upon it and so on. Finally, Newton’s third law of motion state’s that for every action, there is an equal but opposite reaction.

Newton’s laws gave us a better understanding of the physical world around us. Einstein decided to apply his idea’s to the entire universe. On November 25th, 1915 Einstein
published his Theory of Special Relativity. This theory has Einsteinprovided us a profound understanding of our universe, and much of what we know has been found using Einstein’s theories. Special Relativity tells us that the¬†speed of light is the same in all constantly moving frames and that¬†Time slows down the faster you travel and vice versa.

To better understand the idea of special relativity, I will provide an analogy from the book “Hyperspace” by Michio Kaku: Continue reading “The Implications of Gravity in Spacetime”


I randomly signed up for an online physics course that would last six weeks. Little did I know, I would become so intrigued by the end that I am now spending every spare second reading science blogs, science books, and re-watching the lectures of the course. I plan to share with whomever takes the time to read this, the exciting new things that I learned from the course.

Let me start with an introduction about the course.

The title of the course was “Gravity! From the big bang to black holes.” So, as you may assume, the topics ranged from¬†Einstein’s general relativity, the big bang, inflation, dark matter, dark energy, gravitational waves, and black holes. Some old concepts, some new (to me). The best thing about the course was that you did not need to have any background in physics. Just an appetite for learning, and maybe some extra research on your own time if interested.

The course was taught by Professor Pierre Binetruy of Paris Diderot University. Pierre was the first director of the AstroParticle and Cosmology laboratory in Paris upon it’s creation. His main interests, according to a bio online,¬†include¬†cosmology and gravitation; connecting the theories of the early universe and fundamental interactions. He’s highly knowledgeable about inflation models, dark energy, and cosmological background of gravitational waves. Due to these areas of interest, he is highly involved in the eLisa mission- which I will go into more detail about later on.

I would just like to express¬†how happy I am about taking this class. The course provided such¬†lucid, comprehensible¬†explanations on theories and concepts of physics. There was hardly any math involved, which was nice. The detailed explanations and demonstration’s made these unfamiliar concepts easy to grasp. Finally, Pierre arranged live hangouts where we were introduced to prestigious¬†scientists, and we were able to ask questions during a live chat. George Smoot was one scientist that was present during the hangouts, and also recorded a lecture himself to explain the concept that won him the Nobel Prize in 2006. We were also able to meet key scientists that were actively involved in the LISAPathfinder mission, which was launched 12/03/2015. This mission will (hopefully) uncover another corner of the veil on the universe. I¬†now anxiously await the discoveries that will be made from this mission. The series of blog posts that follow should explain why.

Here I will post the links to the series of posts I will be writing:

  1. The Implications of Gravity in Spacetime
  2. Waves of Spacetime- GW150914
  3. Black Holes: Part I

Quantum Enigma part 4 (review)- “reality,” separability, and entanglement.

What Einstein once called “spooky actions” were proven to actually exist after Bell’s theorem demonstrated them in the laboratory. These “spooky actions” are now called entanglement, and this is when one object influences another without any physical force connecting the two.

Bell’s Theorem: suppose our world has physically real properties that are¬†not¬†created by their observation (this would be, ‘reality’). Also, suppose that objects can be separated from each other so that what happens to one cannot instantaneously affect the other (and the term that refers to this would be ‘separability’). Using only these to premises, Bell assumed that certain observable quantities could not be larger than certain other observable quantities. Now we have “Bell’s inequality” where this must be true in any world with reality and separability. If Bell’s inequality is violated in¬†any¬†situation, one or both premises logically leading to it (reality and separability) must be false. In other words, if Bell’s inequality is¬†ever¬†violated, no objects with reality and separability can exist in our actual world. Bell expected the inequality to be violated, as quantum theory predicts.

Intentionally ridiculous story to explain “twin-state” photons being polarized (experiment used to demonstrate the results of Bell’s Theorem)- Imagine that a photon is steered by a little “photon pilot” and the polarizer is just a traffic sign indicating an “orientation” with an arrow. The photon pilot carries a travel document instructing him how to steer his photon on path 1 or path 2 depending on the traffic sign. His sister, piloting the photon’s twin, follows her identical instructions at the traffic sign she encounters with no regard for the behavior of her brother.

When the experiments were done, Bell’s inequality was, in fact, violated. Our real world therefore, does not have both reality and separability. But what¬†is¬†reality?

John Clauser was intrigued by Bell’s theorem and quantum theory. He decided to test Bell’s inequality himself. His experiments showed that properties of our world either have only an observation-created reality, or, that there exists a connectedness beyond that diminished by ordinary physical forces, or both.¬†“My own. . . vain hopes of overthrowing quantum mechanics were shattered by the data.” – John Clauser. Clauser’s experiment produced strong confirmation that Bell’s inequality was violated in the way quantum theory predicted.

So what does the violation of Bell’s inequality tell us?

“Reality”- term used for the existence of physically real properties not created by their observation.

Definition of physical reality in EPR: If a property of an object can be known without any observation of it, that property was not created by observation. It thus existed as a physical reality.

Quantum theory denies this “reality.” After experimentation, it is ruled out that we cannot have¬†both¬†reality and separability. The experiments rule out separability in our actual world.

Separability- the ability to separate objects so that what happens to one in¬†no way¬†affects what happens to others. Without separability, what happens at one place¬†can¬†instantaneously affect what happens far away- even though no physical force connects the objects. This is what Einstein referred to as “spooky action” but Bohr referred to it as an “influence.” Considering our actual world does not have separability, which has generally been accepted,¬†“Any objects that have ever interacted are forever entangled, and therefore what happens to one influences the other.. and the behavior of everything entangled with it….. Quantum theory has this connectedness extending over the entire universe….In a sense, since everything¬†has at least indirectly interacted, there is thus, in principle, a universal connectedness.”

Inductive reasoning- the assumption that because one thing is the way it is, all things alike must be the same. Inductive reasoning entered the box-pairs experiment when we assumed we could have chosen to do the experiment opposite to what was actually done (look in the box instead of interference pattern..). “The enigma arose because we assumed we could have¬†chosen¬†to do other than what we in fact did,” assuming we had free will and our choice was not predetermined by what was “actually” in each set of box pairs. Denial of free will goes beyond the notion that what we choose to do is determined by the electrochemistry of our brain. This denial would imply a completely deterministic and conspiratorial world in which our supposedly free choices are programmed to coincide with an external physical situation. Inductive reasoning assumes that what we¬†chose¬†to observe represents everything related, and that we could have chosen to look at the opposite. Induction and free will are closely related.

So it has been claimed that you are quantum mechanically entangled with anyone you have ever encountered, presumably more so for more intense encounters. This is a stretch vastly beyond anything demonstrable, therefore beyond anything meaningful. Complex entanglement essentially becomes no entanglement.¬†“Since truly macroscopic objects are almost impossible to isolate, they rapidly become entangled with everything else in their environment. The effect of such complex entanglement generally becomes undetectable. Nevertheless, there is, in principle, a universal connectedness whose meaning we have yet to understand. We can indeed ‘see the world in a grain of sand.’ ”

Interpreting the quantum enigma– there are many interpretations. The book presents ten of them. We have already discussed the Copenhagen interpretation, but just to refresh our memories- observation essentially creates the physical reality of the microscopic world, but the “observer” can, for all practical purposes, be considered to be a macroscopic measuring device, a Geiger counter, for example. Also, since we supposedly never see the microscopic world directly, we can ignore it’s weirdness and ignore physics encounter with consciousness. It’s suggested that we create the reality of the microscopic world by looking at it. However, big things (that are made up of the microscopic objects) are impossible to completely isolate, therefore, they are always being “observed” and are real enough. So big things are the only thing that matters for all practical purposes. This interpretation allows physicists to ignore the philosophical aspects of quantum theory, and get back to the practicality.

Decoherence– The term “collapse” was used to describe the process of observation by which a superposition state wavefunction becomes an observed single reality. Instead of collapse, a physicist today might use the word “decoherence.” This term refers to the now, well studied process by which a wavefunction of a microscopic object interacts with the macroscopic environment to produce the result we actually observe.

Many Worlds– there is no “collapse.” This interpretation refers to the cosmological idea that there are parallel worlds in which the reality of one world may be the opposite reality in another. In one world, Shrodinger’s cat is alive, in another it is dead. With this interpretation, you are part of the universal wavefunction. With the box pairs- when looking into one of the boxes, you entangle with the atom’s superposition state. You go into a superposition state both of having seen the atom in the box you looked in and also of having seen that box empty. There are now two of you, one in each of two parallel worlds. The consciousness of each one of you is unaware of the other “you.” Bell’s theorem suggests that our actual world cannot have reality and certainly cannot have separability (the ability to separate objects so that what happens to one in no way affects what happens to others. Without separability, what happens at one place can instantaneously affect what happens far away- even though no physical force connects the objects). In the Many Worlds interpretation there is no separability. ¬†“Not only are we removed from the center of the cosmos to a tiny spot in a limitless universe, but the world we experience is just a minute fraction of all worlds. However, “we” exist in many of them. Many Worlds, the most bizarre description of reality ever seriously proposed provides a fascinating base for speculation, and for science fiction.”

Transactional– allows the wavefunction to evolve backward, as well as forward in time. In other words, the future affects the past. “When we stand in the dark and look at a star a hundred light years away, not only have the retarded light waves from the stars been traveling for a hundred years to reach our eyes, but the advanced waves generated by absorption processes within our eyes have reached a hundred years into the past, completing the transaction that permitted the star to shine in our direction” – John Cramer.

I have presented a handful of the interpretations that are in the book. Quantum mechanics shows that our reasonable, everyday worldview is fundamentally flawed. Interpretations of the theory offer different worldviews, but every one of them involves the mystery of consciousness. No interpretation can ever avoid the encounter with consciousness because the encounter arises directly from theory-neutral experimental demonstration. They can only offer a way to avoid dealing with consciousness.

We have learned that an object far away¬†can¬†influence the behavior of another without any physical force connecting the two, and our conscious perception of free will is hindered by this result. Was it our choice to observe the outcome of a particular experiment, or was our ‘choice’ predetermined by an influence beyond our knowing? Keep in mind, our perception of free will arises only from our¬†conscious¬†experience¬†of it as being free. We know that we have free will because we experience it everyday. We believe we are conscious human beings because of our awareness of our surroundings and our subjective, inner experiences. I can be certain that I am a conscious individual because of my own internal experience. I cannot be certain, however, that my peers are nothing more than highly intelligent robots. We¬†will next be looking into the mystery of consciousness, it’s encounter with the enigma, and conclude with what it all might mean.

This post is part of a series, for links to other topics click here!

Quantum Enigma part 3 (review)- What constitutes an observation, and Schr√∂dinger’s controversial cat

Now that we have dove deep into the abyss of the quantum enigma through discussing the details of the theory-neutral experiments performed in which the enigma came about, we will now discuss what those experiments encountered- the observer.

Niels Bohr recognized that physics had encountered the observer and came up with the “Copenhagen interpretation” at his institute in Copenhagen. There is no “official” interpretation, but each version asserts that an observation produces the property observed.

What is meant by observation? Think of an observation taking place whenever a macroscopic object interacts with a microscopic object. Example- when a piece of photographic film is hit by a photon and records where the photon landed, the film “observes” the photon. Considering the fact that we never deal directly with microscopic objects such as atoms, it is only necessary to consider the response they have on our macroscopic objects to be real, since this is the only behavior we report.

The Copenhagen interpretation rests on three ideas- The Three Pillars of Copenhagen.

The probability interpretation of the wavefunction-¬†the probability interpretation of waviness- probability of an object being found in certain region, is central to the Copenhagen interpretation. Quantum mechanics displays nature’s intrinsic randomness (on the atomic level). Probability in quantum mechanics implies more than randomness. Quantum probability is not where the atom¬†is.¬†It is the objective probability of where you, or anybody who looks, will find it. The atom wasn’t someplace until someone observed it to be there. “Observations not only disturb what is to be measured, they produce it.” – Pascual Jordan. So, only the observed properties of microscopic objects exist. “No microscopic property is a property until it is an observed property.” – John Wheeler. In other words, the microscopic objects are not themselves real. They are just possibilities, they are abstract, not physical. So how do we account for big things that are made up of the small things? Basically, the small things that are not dealt with don’t actually exist. So they are just used to describe the bigger things. The idea here is not to figure out how nature¬†is,¬†but what we can¬†say¬†about nature. How we can explain the actual world.

The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle:¬†Heisenberg was Bohr’s colleague who is known for his contributions in explaining the quantum enigma in his belief that everything is quantum mechanical and therefore subject to the enigma. Basically, with this principle- “The more accurately you measure an object’s position, the more uncertain you will be about it’s speed. And the more accurately you measure an objects speed, the more uncertain you will be about it’s position.” This principle can be derived directly from the¬†Schr√∂dinger equation. “In fact, the observation of any property makes a ‘complementary’ quantity uncertain.” Example- position and speed are complimentary quantities, same for energy and time, etc. So basically, observation of any property disturbs what will be observed, preventing refutation of quantum theory’s assertion that observation¬†creates¬†the property observed.

Complementarity:¬†This is the third pillar of the Copenhagen interpretation and it is what disturbed Einstein the most, not randomness- it is the hard one to accept). Think back to our box-pairs experiment. When opening one box at a time, you find an atom to be wholly in the first or second box opened. Supposed you do this with 1,000 box-pairs. You throw out the half in which you saw, and therefore, disturbed the atom. You are left with 500 box-pairs whose atoms are not physically disturbed. But for these boxes you¬†know¬†which box each atom is in; the box you did not look in (the 500 boxes you still have). Suppose you do an interference experiment with these boxes and the supposedly undisturbed atoms do not produce an interference pattern. Although these atoms were not physically disturbed, you determined which box the atoms were in. “Apparently, your acquisition of that knowledge¬†was sufficient enough to concentrate each atom totally within a single box.” Bohr asserts that the two aspects of a microscopic object, it’s particle aspect, and it’s wave aspect are “complimentary.”

“Altough physicists talk of atoms and other microscopic entities as if they were actual physical things, microscopic things are only concepts we use to describe the behavior of our measuring instruments.”

As I was talking about this book with a coworker, he stated the exact words that this book points out all of us will likely think- “But I could have chosen to do the opposite, therefore I have free will” and we usually leave it at that. We could have done the opposite and produced the opposite outcome. However, the Copenhagen interpretation would suggest not to think about experiments that you¬†might¬†have done but did not in¬†fact¬†do. It is our perception that we could have chosen to do the opposite that give rise to the quantum enigma. “Not done experiments have no results!” Although we have the knowledge that one experiment produces an outcome that is different to the other experiment, we cannot actually display a logical contradiction using the same boxes, and the same atoms. This assumption- that we could have done other than what we actually did is called “counterfactual definiteness.” One example- believing that if you did not eat lunch, you’d be hungry is counterfactual definiteness. Denying counterfactual definiteness, the copenhagen interpretation would seem to deny free will. So is free will an illusion?

Psychology analogy on behavior– “The¬†physical¬†behavior itself presents no paradox. The person’s physical movements make sense in that they accord with Newton’s law of motion. A person’s¬†motives,¬†however, are¬†theories¬†that should explain the person’s behavior. But the motives themselves need not, and often do not, make sense. We pragmatically accept this stance in dealing with people. The Copenhagen interpretation asks us to accept this stance in dealing with microscopic physical phenomena- that the microscopic objects should explain that behavior of our macroscopic objects, but the microscopic objects themselves need not ‘make sense’.”

Although quantum mechanics doesn’t completely make sense (to anyone- including scientists), not a single prediction has ever been proven wrong. It works perfectly. Observation-creation reality suggests that the small things are only real when they are being observed, this may seem absurd. But, the small things are only models, they do not need to make sense, they just need to work. Large things are real enough, so everything is fine. For all practical purposes, big things are always being looked at, so you never see any craziness with them. “Science provides no meanings. Science just tells us what will happen. It just predicts what will be observed… Science can reveal no real world beyond what is observed. Anything else is merely philosophy.”

Schr√∂dinger’s Controversial Cat– After realizing how absurd quantum theory seemed, Schr√∂dinger took back his claim and came up with a story to prove why quantum theory couldn’t work. This story involved a cat being placed in a box with a radioactive atom that had a 50% probability of decaying and firing a Geiger counter to pop the cork and open a bottle of cyanide, killing the cat, so when you opened the box, you would find that cat dead or alive. However, it is emphasized by Rosenblum and Kuttner that whether the cat is seen as dead or alive is completely random, and cannot be influenced by the observer (or anything else). This example explicitly displays that quantum theory not only has observation creating the reality observed, but the appropriate history to go with it. Example- suppose you wait 8 hours to look into the box and see whether the cat is dead or alive. If you find the cat alive, you assume the cat is hungry since it has gone 8 hours without eating. If you find the cat dead, an examination by a veterinary forensic pathologist would determine that the cat died eight hours ago. – “Your observation not only creates a current reality, it also creates the history appropriate to that reality.”

“Somewhere something incredible is waiting to happen….” John Wheeler

This post is part of a series, for links to other topics click here!

Quantum Enigma Part 1 (review)- Setting the platform for science

quantum enig“Classical physics explains the world quite well; it’s just the details it can’t handle. Quantum physics handles the “details” perfectly; it’s just the world it can’t explain. You can see why Einstein was troubled.”

I’ve mentioned the book that I’ve been reading entitled “Quantum Enigma.” So far, I’ve only read background information on classical physics- the first seven chapters, but it’s valuable information in understanding the quantum enigma. That is why I will attempt to summarize what I am reading in order to understand things more clearly and to hopefully provide insight to others simultaneously.

Back in the day, classical physics was referred to as “Natural Philosophy.” It all¬†sort of started with Aristotle- who claimed “everything that happens is essentially the motion of matter,” ¬†that “an object sought rest with respect to the cosmic center, which clearly was the Earth.” Since objects desired to be at the cosmic center, a heavy object, with greater desire, would fall faster than a light object. On the other hand, celestial objects moved in the most perfect of figures- the circle, and fell toward the Earth, as the cosmic center. This became the official dogma of the Church in the late Middle Ages, thanks to Thomas Aquinas. Aquinas furthered this theory in believing¬†that– because Earth was the cosmic center, where things fell- it was also the realm of morally “fallen” man. Furthermore, “Heaven, where things moved in perfect circles, was the realm of God and His angels.” The center of the Earth was Hell- the lowest point in the universe. We are now well aware that Earth is¬†not the center of the universe.

Galileo was one to refute Aristotle’s theory. He spent the last years of his life under house arrest because of his belief¬†that the earth moved, and the church did not appreciate that independent thought. Although he was shown the torture chambers he still adhered¬†to his¬†claim of a sun-orbiting Earth, and was found guilty of heresy. It wasn’t until¬†Sir Isaac Newton came along- the year Galileo died, when someone understood Galileo. Eventually Newton came up with the laws of nature we are taught today. Interestingly, while¬†Newton was a very respected man in the West for his intelligence, “Paradoxically, Newton was also a mystic, immersing himself in supernatural alchemy and the interpretation of Biblical prophecies.”

What I find particularly intriguing about the background provided is that there were so many criticisms against these revolutionary scientists theories at first. People refused to believe in the new discoveries being made in this time because it often contradicted their perfect worldview they already had. There was nothing left to be discovered in their eyes.

Many respected physicists in this time derided their- (Newton, Faraday, Planck, Einstein, etc) theories and basically called them idiots. The scientists we now boast to be genius’ suffered harsh criticism which contributed to their¬†reluctance on¬†publishing more theories. They were mocked, laughed at, and simply not taken serious. It wasn’t until many years later that people began to¬†give the slightest consideration to their revelations. Some of them died¬†before their ideas were recognized and widely accepted.

Michael Faraday is one example of facing such criticism. After the acceptance of Benjamin Franklin’s knowledge of electric charges, Faraday had a hard time grasping the concept. He wondered how a body could cause a force on another through empty space. This is when he suggested that an electric charge creates and electric “field” in the space around itself and this physical field is the force that is exerted on other charges. Instead of accepting his field concept, it was instead ridiculed as ‘Faraday’s mental crutch’ because his thinking was believed to be too abstract. “Today, the fundamental theories of physics are all formulated in terms of field’s. Faraday’s “mental crutch” is a pillar upon which all of physics now rests.”

While their discoveries are very important to our understanding of the universe and exactly why we are here/where we came from, they are still just assumptions and approximations that conveniently explain the functioning of the universe. However, the fact is that these scientists who laid down the foundation to our carefully paved road of education learned this in a primitive time. They used lanterns to determine the speed of light, an apple falling from a tree to explain gravity, etc. They simply observed, and although remarkably accurate, there is still more to be discovered. That is why it is important that we have a better understanding of Quantum physics and that we take this knowledge in with an open-mind, as it is a very difficult pill to swallow.

The book explains quantum theory¬†as the skeleton in physics closet. Although the theory is successful- as in, “not a single one of it’s theory’s predictions has ever been shown wrong,” many people have a hard time accepting- or even understanding, quantum theory. This is because most people will agree that a single object can’t be in two far-apart places at once, and the actions we make here do not instantly affect what happens someplace far away. Also, we share a common belief that there is a real world “out there” whether or not we are looking at it.

Quantum theory came about as a way to describe the behavior of atoms, or very small particles- the “details.” The authors of this book¬†mention¬†our “Darwinian worldview,” and how such a view can corrupt our ability to take in new information that seems illogical because it contradicts common-sense, and much of our foundation of science- or basically everything we know. Darwin’s theory of evolution seems somewhat logical, and therefore is widely accepted. On the other hand, when trying to summarize quantum theory in a few sentences, it only sounds mystical and is often dismissed. Here is the summary Rosenblum and Kuttner came up up with:

“We risk a rough summary anyway. Quantum theory tells that the observation of an object can instantaneously influence the behavior of another greatly distant object- even if no physical force connects the two. These are the influences Einstein rejected as “spooky actions– (now called ‘entanglement’),” but they have now been demonstrated to exist. Quantum theory also tells us that an object can be in two places at the same time. Its existence at the particular place where it happens to be found becomes an actuality only upon its observation.”

Then they proceed to talk about determinism, idealism, and solipsism. I found their statements on determinism particularly interesting so I will share-

Determinism:¬†think of¬†the classic example in physics using billiard balls. If the position and velocity are known, with Newton’s physics you can predict the position and velocity after they collide arbitrarily far into the future. When thinking about this in a divine sense, think about the “all-seeing eye’ that knew the position and velocity of each atom in the universe at a given moment- the entire universe would be apparent. The future of such a Newtonian universe is, in principle, determined.” In light of this thought, think about whether or not your seemingly free choices are actually predetermined. Well, Max Planck rules this issue out when he has electrons behaving randomly.

We now¬†have “Maxwell’s equations” which validated the existence of electric and magnetic fields: electromagnetic waves. After Maxwell died it was demonstrated that light could be thought of as an electromagnetic wave. Finally, we know that the frequency of motion of the charge is the frequency of the wave produced.. (higher frequencies= ultraviolet, x-rays, lower f’s= infrared, radio waves..). Planck first brought up quantum mechanics through his “Quantum Jumping” theory- suggesting energy loss/change in energy of a charged particle was the result of quantum jumps, which can’t be seen as they are very small. However, this theory violated laws of electromagnetism and Newton’s universal equation of motion. Therefore, the theory resulted in much criticism and¬†Planck discontinued¬†his work on this theory.

Then one day, along came Einstein- whose younger years were quite the struggle that I was not completely aware of. His¬†parents worried about mental retardation when he was young because he was slow to start talking. Then, he struggled to finish school because he simply lacked interest. When asked to suggest a profession Albert might follow, his Headmaster confidently stated: “It doesn’t matter; he’ll never make a success of anything.”

After much searching for work, Einstein finally got a job in Swiss patent office writing summaries of patent applications to decide whether an idea warranted a patent. This job was suitable for Einstein as he was able to work on his own projects behind closed doors. One day, while experimenting with atoms, he noticed a mathematical similarity between the equation for the motion of atoms and Planck’s radiation law. This led him to wonder if light was similar to atoms not only mathematically, but physically as well? In other words, “like matter, might light come in compact lumps? Atoms of light as well as atoms of matter?” Thus, Einstein came up with photons, where he believed that light¬†is a stream of compact lumps.

Each photon would have an energy equal to Planck’s constant- the number Maxwell Planck struggled to find when coming up with his equations. In order to corroborate his speculation, Einstein looked to photoelectric effect. Basically, Einsteins photon hypothesis supported Planck’s theory, in the fact that “the ejection of electrons by light has to do with radiation emitted by hot bodies- it was discovered that the quantum was universal.” When Einstein was awarded the Nobel prize in 1922 for the photoelectric effect, a statement was made that he was “Almost the only one to take the light-quantum seriously…… In a single year,1905, Einstein discovered the quantum nature of light, firmly established the atomic nature of matter, and formulated the theory of relativity.” If only we could hear what his headmaster had to say now..

The reaction to Einstein’s photons, however, was rejection.. surprise! This is because Einstein’s theory was contradicted with Young’s two-slit experiment where¬†light could be thought of¬†as a spread-out wave. In the two slit experiment, a monochromatic light is shined through two slits. Once the light passes through the slits and hits the screen ahead, a pattern of bright and dark fringes appear which is known as the interference pattern. Particles could not do that. The dark spots indicate that wave crests from one slit arrive with the wave troughs from the other and the waves cancel (destructive interference). The bright spots indicated that the waves combine, resulting in constructive interference. Therefore, the interference pattern from this experiment indicates that lights is a spread out wave.¬†But with the photoelectric experiment, light could not be a spread out wave, it has to be a stream of tiny compact particles. We have a paradox indeed! And because this paradox is yet to be explained, this is the quantum enigma.

Physicists had accepted that electrons, and other matter as well as light could be demonstrated as either compact lumps or widely spread-out waves.

Recognition of the wave-particle paradox came with¬†Schr√∂dinger’s¬†equation. Eventually, Schr√∂dinger¬†came up with an initial interpretation of “waviness”- the absolute square of a wavefunction. His initial interpretation was that an object’s waviness was the smeared out object itself. The reason this initial interpretation is wrong is because “although an object’s waviness may be spread over a wide region, when one looks at a particular spot, one immediately finds either a whole object there, or no object in that spot.” In order for a “physical object to be smeared over the extent of it’s waviness, it’s remote parts would have to instantaneously coalesce to the place where the object was found.” Thus, “physical mater would have to move at speeds greater than light- that’s impossible.”

The accepted interpretation of waviness- one that is hard to believe.. the quantum enigma: “The waviness in a region is the probability of finding¬†the object in a particular place.” NOT the object¬†being¬†in a particular place. Somehow, your looking¬†caused¬†it to be in a particular place (think of the photoelectric effect and the two-slit experiment).

“Waviness is probability.” The authors give this example to try and explain this concept:

Think of a carni demonstrating the game where he places a pea under a shell and you watch his hands shuffle the shells around and you determine which shell the pea is under. After rapid shuffling, your eyes lose track of the shell that holds the pea. There is equal probability for the pea to be in either of the two places. It’s 50/50. 50 + 50 = 100. Therefore, the sum of probabilities is certain that the pea is surely under one of the two shells. Once the carni lifts the shell on the right, suppose you see the pea. Instantaneously, it becomes certain that the pea was under the right-hand shell. The probability collapses to zero for the left shell and 100 for the right shell. Even if the shell on the left had moved across town before the shell on the right was lifted, the collapse of probability would still be instantaneous. Great distance does not affect how fast probability can change.

This is where things start to get tricky, as there is a crucial difference between classical probability, and quantum probability. Classical probability is subjective. It is a statement of someone’s knowledge. Not knowing which shell the pea was under, the probability is 1/2, but the probability may be different for the carni, who is in control. Therefore, someone’s knowledge of the situation is not the whole story. On the other hand, quantum probability is objective. It is the same for everyone. The wavefunction is the whole story. For example, “if someone looked in a particular spot and happened to see the atom there, that look ‘collapsed’ the spread out waviness of that atom to be wholly in that particular spot. The atom would be in that spot for everyone (if he looked and found the atom not there, it would not be there for everyone)… someone looking in a different spot would surely not find the atom at that particular spot. But, the waviness of that atom existed at that different spot immediately before the first observer collapsed it.”

A¬†theory in classical physics predicts what you will see in an experiment. For a tossed ball, classical physics tells the position of the ball at any time, even if it’s not being observed. The ball is assumed to actually exist at some particular place.

Quantum mechanics is intrinsically probabilistic. Probability is all there is. Quantum mechanics does not tell the probability of where an object¬†is¬†but rather, if you look, you will observe the object at a particular place. The position of the object is not independent of it’s observation, the observed cannot be separated from the observer.

In conclusion, if you’re accepting of this quantum theory, you can conclude that waviness is the probability of what you will observe- but it depends how you look. You can look directly at the object and demonstrate it to be a compact thing in a particular place (photoelectric effect). Or you can do an interference experiment and demonstrate it had been a widely spread out thing (two-slit experiment).

On the other hand, if you don’t quite understand you may think the theory only gives waviness. This is what disturbed Einstein,¬†Schr√∂dinger, and many experts today- the apparent denial of physical reality that quantum theory suggests. “According to this theory, there was¬†not¬†an actual atom in a particular place before we looked, or “collapsed the wavefunction,” and¬†found¬†an atom there. But there¬†are¬†actual atoms, and actual things made of atoms. Aren’t there?”

The authors of this book admit that this information is confusing, but there will be examples provided in the next chapter to hopefully clear things up and explain how the quantum enigma came about through experimentation, and finally, we can ponder what it all might mean. There was a LOT of information in this first post, because I didn’t think to summarize what I’ve read until I was seven chapters in. I will make another post after I read the next couple chapters so there is not so much to read in one post. Hopefully the information presented so far has given insight to some, and sparked an interest in learning more. It’s only going to get more interesting from here!

This post is part of a series, for links to other topics click here!