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Editor's Research Project, a 5-Year Study

Quantum Mechanics

science's greatest mystery:
its history, nature, and meaning 

 


 

“Those who are not shocked when they first come across quantum theory cannot possibly have understood it.” Niels Bohr, Nobel laureate in physics

 

 

"Everything we call real is made of things that cannot be regarded as real." Niels Bohr, Nobel laureate in physics

 

Below you'll find 100+ articles exploring the history, nature, and meaning of quantum mechanics. These writings synthesize the work of many scientists and philosophers.

Nobel laureate Richard Feynman once said that it takes considerable time and effort just to understand the vocabulary and basic concepts of physics. To this purpose, we hope to offer a measure of clarity.

The reader is invited to also review three sister-articles, the Double-Slit Experiment, Theory of Everythingand Einstein's Relativity.

 

 

please click on each link-icon

How to study quantum mechanics

Timeline: the development of quantum mechanics

Quantum Mechanics: brief definitions

In the early 1920s the phrase “quantum mechanics” came into use for the new physics. The historical development of the term helps us to understand what was meant when it was first employed.

The Hollywood version of quantum mechanics is entertaining but not helpful to our understanding of reality.

Dr. Fritjof Capra: From Thales to Descartes: How a Cosmos of Interconnected Energies was misinterpreted as Universe-as-Machine, a Dualism of Mind-Matter, a Fragmentation of Body-Soul

 

 

The pre-socratics, Democritus and Leucippus, 2450 years ago, taught that the world is made of “atoms” and “the void".

Werner Heisenberg, Physics And Philosophy: The ancient Greeks and the origins of atomic science and quantum theory.

Isaac Newton’s clockwork universe: "Nature's laws lay hid in night: God said, Let Newton be! and all was light."

Gary Zukav: the Newtonian view deals with specific events, precisely determined and governed, but the Quantum world speaks of statistical averages and probabilities

Quantum theory signaled the end of an era that began with Galileo and Newton. By the middle 1800s, Newtonian mechanics was at its zenith; all phenomena of nature, it seemed, could now be explained in terms of mechanical models. Even as the celebratory hubris climbed, however, its demise was already fomenting.

 

 

“For centuries, scientists believed that Nature was predictable. If only we knew enough about how the world worked, we could say exactly what would happen in the future.

"It seemed obvious that Nature was deterministic: one thing determines another. But quantum mechanics shattered that certainty.”

from the BBC documentary “The Search For Reality”

 

 

Huygens vs Newton: origin of the "wave-particle" debate.

Thomas Young conducts the first double-slit experiment which convincingly demonstrates that light is a wave.

John Dalton's "solid sphere" atomic model and "law of multiple proportions" refashion chemistry, providing the first scientific evidence that matter is made of tiny atoms.

 

 

“We often discussed his notions on objective reality. During one walk...

"Einstein suddenly stopped, turned to me and asked whether I really believed that the moon exists only when I look at it.”

Abraham Pais, fellow physicist with Einstein at Princeton

 

 

Michael Faraday and the concept of "fields," regions of activity which organize energy, the basis of light as electromagnetic field.

James Clerk Maxwell's famous four equations offer mathematical support for Faraday’s view that light is an electromagnetic wave.

J.J. Thompson discovers the electron. The atom has component parts after all and is not a "solid sphere" as Dalton theorized.

Max Planck sets off the quantum reformation. He's called "the father of modern physics"; a reluctant paternity. He could not accept his own findings that a light wave might also be a particle.

 

 

If a person, such as a mouse, looks at the state of the universe, does that change the state of the universe?

Albert Einstein, in a lecture at Princeton. READ MORE

 

 

J.J. Thompson's "plum pudding" model of the atom

Einstein and the Photoelectric Effect: the "ultra-violet catastrophe" is solved with "the most revolutionary" idea of the 20th century: the light wave can be a particle.

Arthur Compton confirms the Photoelectric Effect: electromagnetic radiation is composed of particles.

Fletcher and Millikan measure the charge of an electron with the famous "oil drop" experiment

Rutherford’s atomic model speaks of a “nucleus.” Unlike the diffused “plum pudding” view, the atom’s positive charge, and almost all of its mass, is concentrated in an extremely small central region.

 

 

The first Solvay Conference, 1911: 18 leading scientists discuss recent massive changes in physics, Newtonianism giving way to Quantum Mechanics.

Bohr’s atomic model puts electrons in fixed orbital shells, energy levels, encircling a nucleus, like planets in a mini solar system.

Gary Zukav: according to Bohr's theory, electrons like to stay as close to the nucleus as possible; but, if energy is added, the electron will jump to one of the outer shells; when it cools off, it will return to a lower shell, but, as it does, it emits a photon as excess energy lost

The 1922 Stern-Gerlach experiment offered the first hint that quantum particles had an unrecognized property of magnetism, which came to be known as “spin,” though the concept has nothing to do with rotation.

The French physicist DeBroglie said, “We learned from Einstein that a wave can be a particle – but what if the reverse is true? What if an electron particle, matter, might also exist as a wave?”

Wolfgang Pauli formulates his Exclusion Principle, which describes the forces preventing all electrons of an atom falling to the lowest energy level.  

Max Born submits his matrix-math paper which places Heisenberg's research on a solid mathematical foundation.  

Bell Labs scientists, Davisson and Germer, accidently confirm DeBroglie’s hypothesis: the electron particle, matter, is also a wave.

The fifth Solvay Conference, 1927: 29 leading scientists discuss "electrons and photons." Debates ensue concerning the meaning and nature of the newly-constructed quantum theory. Albert Einstein and Niels Bohr hold center stage.

Redefining nothingness: Paul Dirac formulates his equation describing behavior of electrons and quarks and predicting the existence of anti-matter as positron

Dr. Fritjof Capra: Before Dirac, matter had been viewed as elementary units, indestructible and unchangeable, or as composite objects to broken up into constituent parts; again and again, until finally arriving at some smallest indivisible units. But, after Dirac’s discovery, it was learned that when two particles collide they break into pieces, but these are not smaller than the original particles. The new particles are of the same kind. We can divide matter again and again, but we never obtain smaller pieces. The subatomic particles are thus destructible and indestructible at the same time.

An overview of the Bohr-Einstein debates: 1927 to 1935

 

in the 1920s, Alfred North Whitehead was among the first to grasp the underlying significance of quantum mechanics

The following is a paraphrase of a portion of Dr. Rupert Sheldrake’s lecture which can be accessed on youtube beginning at 15:45.

In the 1920s, when quantum physics was just getting started, Alfred North Whitehead was one of the first to understand it. Other philosophers didn’t have the math background, but Whitehead was also a mathematician and so he grasped the significance immediately.

Because light and matter are wavelike, and because waves spread out, both in time and area, Whitehead realized that you couldn’t have a wave at an instant; you can’t have a small slice or particle of a wave and say here it is, because it’s spread out. A wave takes both time and space to move about. And so you can’t define it in a particular time or place, and this is the subsuming reason for Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle because fundamental particles are wavelike.

'matter is a process', not made of hard little bee-bees

And so, what Whitehead showed was that matter is not “stuff,” as the nineteenth century Newtonian physicists had insisted. Matter wasn’t like little billiard balls, hard, impenetrable stuff that persisted. Whitehead said that, instead, matter is a process, because it’s like a wave, and if it’s a wave, and if it’s a process, then it takes place in time, and if it takes place in time, then it has a polarity of time, a past and future ‘pole.’ And this completely transforms our view of matter...

READ MORE on the "consciousness" page

 

 

Bohr's complementarity principle: Different factual aspects of truth are not contradictory but complementary, as we need all views to form a complete picture of reality.

The meaning of "superposition"

What did Einstein mean, "God doesn't play dice" with the universe?

Bohr's view of QM echoing Kant's "the thing in itself"

The sixth Solvay Conference, 1930: Einstein presents Bohr with the photon-box thought-experiment.

Bohr-Einstein debate: EPR Paradox: an overview of the famous paper published in 1935

Bohr-Einstein debate: EPR Paradox: Bohr's reply to Einstein

John Wheeler summarizes Bohr's position: 'the central point and lesson of twentieth century physics'

 

a sudden inspiration - 'the most profound insight in the entire history of science'

This is the view of physics Professor Jim Al-Khalili, as offered in the documentary “Atom.” What was this shattering revelation?

In 1926 Werner Heisenberg was working as an assistant to Niels Bohr at his mentor’s institute in Copenhagen.

Almost every night they would enter into fierce debate concerning the nature of the quantum world. Everyone was searching for a model, a guiding matrix, an underlying pattern by which to understand the atom and the new theory.

what Heisenberg saw

Early on it was thought, “When we get better measuring devices, when our instrumentation is more precise, we’ll be able to know both position and momentum.” But Heisenberg finally realized that lack of information was not due to faulty scientific hardware, nor is this elusiveness the result of the atom being quirky or tricky.

In a burst of hot creative moment, Heisenberg understood what no human being had ever perceived. The implications were utterly radical, profoundly upsetting to traditional Newtonian physics.

there is no model: the atom, essentially, is unknowable

There is no model, no familiar picture, no visual aid for the atom. It cannot be tethered and corralled, in terms of arriving at final understanding. The atom, in its core essence, essentially, is unknowable. Reality – at its deepest level – is fundamentally built upon principles of chance and probability and cannot be strictly defined or determined.

READ MORE on the "theory of everything" page

 

 

Bohr-Einstein debate: EPR Paradox: why is it called a paradox?

Bohr-Einstein debate: EPR Paradox: what is "spooky action at a distance"?

Bohr-Einstein debate: EPR Paradox: what is local realism?

Bohr-Einstein debate: EPR Paradox: what is non-locality?

Bohr-Einstein debate: EPR Paradox: what is quantum entanglement?

Erwin Schrödinger coins the term "entanglement"

Bohr-Einstein debate: EPR Paradox: what is particle spin?

Bohr-Einstein debate: EPR Paradox: what are "hidden variables"?

 

Bohr versus Einstein 

Dr. John Bell: Bohr was inconsistent, unclear, willfully obscure, and right. Einstein was consistent, clear, down-to-earth, and wrong.”

 

 

What is measurement?

What is the Copenhagen Interpretation of quantum mechanics?

What is a wave function?

What is Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle?

What is the Schrodinger Equation? 

What is "Schrodinger's Cat"? Part I

Werner Heisenberg, Physics And Philosophy: Heisenberg comments on how Schrodinger's theory differs from that of Copenhagen.

Dr. John Wheeler recalls Einstein's "mouse looks at the universe" comment.

What did physicist David Mermin mean by "shut up and calculate"?

 

'the central point and lesson of twentieth century physics' 

Dr. John Wheeler: “It’s the strangest thing in this strange world, this elementary quantum phenomenon of Niels Bohr, and yet of all the things we’ve learned it is the central point and lesson of twentieth century physics… [It] does not become a definite phenomenon until the end ... by our choice of observing device..."

READ MORE 

 

 

Closing the Einstein-Bohr EPR debate: Northern Ireland physicist John Bell in 1964 proposes a mathematical test for the existence of “hidden variables” via his now-famous inequality theorem

Closing the Einstein-Bohr EPR debate: a 1972 experiment by Clauser and Freedman tests and countermands Bell's inequality, dealing a blow to EPR's "hidden variables"

Closing the Einstein-Bohr EPR debate: French physicist Alain Aspect, and colleagues, in 1982 performs the first quantum mechanics experiment demonstrating a violation of Bell's theorem, an undermining of EPR's "locality"

The psychology behind the use of the word "weird" in describing quantum mechanics.

Kairissi and Elenchus: Summary Statement, Part I

 

'matter is completely mutable, can be created from energy and vanish into energy'

Dr. Fritjof Capra: “We can divide matter again and again, but we never obtain smaller pieces… The high-energy [particle] experiments of the past decades have shown us the dynamic and ever-changing nature of [reality]... Matter has appeared in these experiments as completely mutable. All particles can be transmuted into other particles; they can be created from energy and can vanish into energy… classical concepts like ‘elementary particle’, ‘material substance’ or ‘isolated object’, have lost their meaning; the whole universe appears as a dynamic web of inseparable energy patterns...”

READ MORE

 

 

There are 20+ interpretations of quantum mechanics. Why are there so many?

Scientific American says there is one basic difference between Copenhagen and the other competing QM interpretations

Science News posits an expansion of common definition of "what is". “Real” should not be restricted to “actual” objects in spacetime but include elements of potential reality. When we do, the apparent mysteries of QM melt away. Heisenberg suggested that Nature itself considers these “realities in potentia” as bona fide elements of existence.

The “Many Worlds” theory, which is an interpretation of QM, centers upon the nature of the probability wave-function. What happens to the infinite number of quantum possibilities?

Werner Heisenberg, Physics And Philosophy: Critics of the Copenhagen interpretation fall "into three different groups." However, all dissenters "agree on one point" - a desire to return to Newtonianism.

Dr. David Bohm: "Both quantum mechanics and relativity suggest that the world is not made of broken parts [particles] but is an unbroken whole and flowing movement."

Alain Aspect: The common world that we know cannot provide a model for the quantum atomic world.

 

'a continual popping into existence from the void'

Dr. Jim Al-Khalili: English physicist Paul Dirac in 1928 predicted the existence of the positron and anti-matter. His famous “Dirac Equation” is sometimes called “the most beautiful equation in the world.”

Dirac’s mathematics predicted a continual virtual popping into existence, from the seeming void, matter and anti-matter particles, most of which would almost instantly annihilate each other. However, one in a billion of these particles would not be destroyed but remain. These survivors become the matter of the universe, the material stuff of which all things consist.

READ MORE

 

 

Bohr advocated a consideration of Eastern philosophy for a better understanding of quantum mechanics.

Dr. Fritjof Capra: The mind is capable of two kinds of knowledge, two modes of consciousness, often termed the rational and the intuitive; both are represented in modern physics and Eastern mysticism; each has its own emphasis on observation and experience, the basis of the scientific method.

Dr. Fritjof Capra: a unity of opposites

Dr. Fritjof Capra: Nature reflects an internal regulating self-consistency, which, in itself, a "bootstrap" principle, leads forward cosmic evolutionary development.

 

the universe as mechanical clockwork precision

Editor’s note: In my youth, diligently studying the Bible in hopes of discovering ultimate “truth”, I attended a church which preached “the clockwork of the universe requires a clockmaker.” For a long time, I found this a reasonable proposition. However, I would learn that the universe is not a Great Machine. There is no Cosmic Clockwork. Matter does not constitute the underlying ground of what is. Newtonianism has been superseded by quantum mechanics as fundamental theory of reality. And in that ultra-small world of elemental essence, there is no strict cause-and-effect. Materialistic college history professors, smugly insisting “there is no free will”, and fundamentalist churches, gathering support for their “infallible” doctrines, will be among the last to acknowledge that classical physics became passé over 100 years ago.

READ MORE 

 

 

Dr. Fritjof Capra interview: The Cartesian dualism of mind and body, of unwarrantedly breaking the universe into competing elements, has been incorporated into the policies of the institutions of our world - a crisis-of-perception, on many levels of society, caused by a fragmented, mechanistic, reductionistic metaparadigm.

Einstein and Bohm: revisiting the implications of EPR; as Wolfgang Pauli noted, "What Einstein just said isn't so stupid"

Dr. David Bohm: an overview of his life and work

Dr. David Bohm: "heir to Einstein"

Dozens of quotations from the “quantum fathers” asserting that consciousness, not matter, is the fundamental reality of the universe; consciousness, not matter, is the essence from which all material substance derives.

Werner Heisenberg, Physics And Philosophy: Heisenberg discusses how Bohm's theory differs from Copenhagen, though the two are in substantial agreement.

Dr. David Bohm: a brief Introduction to Krishnamurti's teachings on dualism and oneness

 

'the substratum of everything is of mental character'

Sir James Jeans (1877-1946)
Cambridge professor of mathematics and physics

"The stream of knowledge is heading toward a non-mechanical reality; the universe begins to look more like a great thought than like a great machine… If the universe is a universe of thought, then its creation must have been an act of thought.”

 

Sir Arthur Eddington (1882-1944), FRS
Cambridge astronomer, physicist, and mathematician

 

He popularized relativity theory, with Einstein
suggesting his discourses to be "the finest
presentation of the subject in any language."

"Physics is the study of the structure of consciousness. The 'stuff' of the world is mindstuff."

The universe is of the nature of a thought or sensation in a universal MindIt is difficult for the matter-of-fact physicist to accept the view that the substratum of everything is of mental character.”

READ MORE

 

 

Freeman Dyson: suggests that relativity and quantum theories should not be unified, that they're meant to be separate

Gary Zukav: can we see atoms and subatomic particles with a microscope?

Gary Zukav: Is quantum physics the study of consciousness?

Gary Zukav: Newtonianism asserted that, with enough information, we could predict the movement and fate of any object in the universe. QM says, no, this is not possible, not because measuring devices might be insufficient, but that determinism, at the core of reality, does not exist.

Redefining "truth": traditionally, "truth" has been viewed as a "one to one correspondence" of things in the world with our thoughts about them. But QM changes this.

Dr. Dean Radin: Can one's intentions affect the quantum world and create reality?

Dr. Nick Lucid: What is energy? Textbooks speak of many different kinds of energy but they all reduce to only two: potential energy, of position, and kinetic energy, of motion.

Dr. Nick Lucid: What is mass? The classic definition says its the amount of stuff inside something. But when we go looking for the "stuff" there's nothing there but energy.

Dr. Matt O'Dowd: What is mass? "Mass is an emergent property of the interaction of particles."

 

Schrodinger's Moon

In this thought-experiment, instead of a cat we have the Moon as subject. Instead of a hidden cat in a box, we can avert our eyes from the Moon so as to not see it. Instead of a possible release of poison gas for the cat, we postulate a cache of nuclear explosives on the Moon, large enough to shatter it. Now, like the glass vial of poison, the nuclear explosives are also potentially activated by the half-life of atoms.

So, what do we have? If we turn our backs to the Moon, we can no longer see it; the cat is now placed in the box, and we no longer see it. In one hour, the potentially decaying atoms will have activated a destructive device; which is to say, in one hour, the fate of both the cat and the Moon will be decided.

Decided by what?

READ MORE

 

 

Dr. Rupert Sheldrake: Consciousness is a quantum field containing all manner of possibility

Werner Heisenberg, Physics And Philosophy: Offering a brief history of the development of QM, he then summarizes: “We have to remember that what we observe is not nature in itself but nature exposed to our method of questioning; as Bohr put it, when searching for harmony in life one must never forget that in the drama of existence we are ourselves both players and spectators.”

Werner Heisenberg, Physics And Philosophy: He draws distinction between  the 'physical' and 'psychical' act of observation concerning the question 'What happens really in an atomic event?'

Does QM, in effect, devolve to a study of consciousness?

The view of consciousness, not matter, as primary element of the universe is gaining traction, with some deference now by materialistic science. However, beware the half-hearted repentance. They acknowledge only to marginalize, and then to dismiss.

Werner Heisenberg, Physics And Philosophy: Heisenberg offers his views on the need for objectivity, "intellectual honesty," by those who call themselves scientists.

Peter Russell: Planck's Constant and the Quantum Of Action: these are not quantities of energy per se, but a rate or process of a manifestation of energy. What does this mean?

What is "Schrodinger's Cat"? Part II

Elon Musk, along with Tom Campbell and others, suggests that we are living in a virtual reality: He says there’s a ‘one in billions’ chance reality is not a simulation.

Physicist Tom Campbell: “The next big cultural and scientific paradigm shift is virtual reality.”

Tom Campbell: attributes of virtual reality

The Double Slit Experiment: "interference" versus "clumping" pattern is affected by knowledge of the “which way” data of the particles.

John Wheeler invented the terms and phrases "black hole", "wormhole", "there is no out there out there", but also "it from bit"; that is, the universe ("it") derives from an underlying computer-like information source ("bit").

John Wheeler quotations

A discussion concerning the resemblance between physical reality and a computer simulation.

What is the central mystery of QM?

Virtual Reality: ‘collapse of the wave function’ - consciousness as mediator, as though the universe were a display-screen to the user

Virtual Reality: uncertainty and complementary properties - as though variables were being redefined and results calculated and recalculated according to an underlying formula

Virtual Reality: the identical, interchangeable nature of "particles" and measured properties;  as though the "particles" were merely pictures of particles, like computer icons.

Virtual Reality: continuity and discontinuity in observed behaviors

Virtual Reality: non-locality: as though all calculations were in the CPU, regardless of the location of the pixels on the screen

Virtual Reality: the relationship of observed phenomena to the mathematical formalism: as though physical manifestations themselves were being produced by a mathematical formula.

Virtual Reality: What if all of physical reality, including space and time, not just energy and matter, is quantized?

Virtual Reality: Edward Fredkin, physicist/computer scientist, was the first to put forward the idea that reality is a computer simulation.

Is there such a thing as retro-causality or precognition for particles? Can a particle go back in time, or know beforehand, concerning its ‘which way’ path?

What happens to photons when absorbed? Can they ever come to rest and inactivity?

Paul Dirac perceived a link between two seemingly disparate theories, special relativity and quantum mechanics.

 

 

Newtonianism sees the world, including human beings, as deterministic, predictable, mechanical; but quantum uncertainty allows for creative impulse, change, evolving sentience

God as geometer

The ancient Greeks taught that geometry not merely describes but is built into the very structure of nature. An inscription at the entrance of Plato’s Academy declared, ‘You are not allowed to enter here unless you know geometry’, denoting that geometry represents eternal precept. This is why Plato posited, ‘God is a geometer’, that mathematics constitutes divine revelation. Euclid’s Elements devolved to more than math textbook but veritable religious treatise. This spirit of unyielding exactitude heavily influenced Western thought, producing the "laws" of the great Newton, deemed to echo God's own voice. It would take an iconoclast Einstein, with his relativity and quantum theories, to liberate the world from rigid concepts of a quasi-religious geometry. There is no inherent geometrical structure, no commanding certainty, no immovable precision, embedded within nature, rather, such view is imposed upon reality by the errant mind.

Interviewer: “What’s wrong with the old worldview?”

Dr. Amit Goswami: “The old worldview was Newtonian. In that worldview, everything is deterministic, we are machines, and cannot change.”

 

 

 

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