Quantum physics is cargo cult science

Ethan Siegel wrote a blog post this week called This Is Why Quantum Field Theory Is More Fundamental Than Quantum Mechanics. I read it and sighed, because so much of it is misleading. This sort of thing has been in the air recently, because Lee Smolin gave a lecture on Einstein’s unfinished revolution. Smolin said quantum mechanics was incomplete, then doubled down and said it was wrong. I think he’s right, only more than he knows. So I thought I’d use Siegel’s post to show just how wrong quantum mechanics is, and quantum field theory. I’ll go through it step by step, giving his text in blue. He starts with a gif depicting virtual particles popping in and out of existence. Note the caption:

Visualization of a quantum field theory calculation showing virtual particles in the quantum vacuum. (Specifically, for the strong interactions.) Even in empty space, this vacuum energy is non-zero. As particle-antiparticle pairs pop in-and-out of existence, they can interact with real particles like the electron, providing corrections to its self-energy that are vitally important. On Quantum Field Theory offers the ability to calculate properties like this. (DEREK LEINWEBER)

The trouble with this is that virtual particles are not short-lived real particles. They are virtual. As in not real. They aren’t the same thing as vacuum fluctuations. The electron is not some point-particle with an infinite self-energy that’s corrected by particle-antiparticle pairs popping in and out of existence. Renormalization is a kludge. It was needed because Heisenberg and Pauli adopted Frenkel’s point-particle electron instead of Schrödinger’s wave in a closed path. Because Schrödinger was the enemy. Anyway, Siegel starts proper with something about what’s truly fundamental:

If you wanted to answer the question of what’s truly fundamental in this Universe, you’d need to investigate matter and energy on the smallest possible scales. If you attempted to split particles apart into smaller and smaller constituents, you’d start to notice some extremely funny things once you went smaller than distances of a few nanometers, where the classical rules of physics still apply.

No, you don’t start to notice some funny things. Especially since the electron’s field is what it is, so the electron isn’t actually small. Nor is the photon. It takes many paths just like a seismic wave takes many paths. Siegel carries on by saying reality becomes strange and counter-intuitive:

On even smaller scales, reality starts behaving in strange, counterintuitive ways. We can no longer describe reality as being made of individual particles with well-defined properties like position and momentum.

However it isn’t strange or counter-intuitive when you appreciate that particles are waves. They aren’t billiard balls. The Heisenberg uncertainty principle is inherent in the properties of all wave-like systems”, and “arises in quantum mechanics simply due to the matter wave nature of all quantum objects”. Next comes the quantum realm:

Instead, we enter the realm of the quantum: where fundamental indeterminism rules, and we need an entirely new description of how nature works. But even quantum mechanics itself has its failures here. They doomed Einstein’s greatest dream — of a complete, deterministic description of reality – right from the start. Here’s why.

No, they didn’t doom Einstein’s greatest dream of a complete, deterministic description of reality right from the start. Like Lee Smolin said, the Copenhagen school were anti-realists. They rejected all attempts to understand or describe what was really going on in subatomic physics. For example, they rejected electron spin, despite the evidence of electron and positrons tracing opposite curves in a magnetic field. Despite the evidence of the Stern-Gerlach effect. Despite Schrödinger. They won the day, they doomed Einstein’s dream, and here we are to this day. Moving on:

If we lived in an entirely classical, non-quantum Universe, making sense of things would be easy. As we divided matter into smaller and smaller chunks, we would never reach a limit. There would be no fundamental, indivisible building blocks of the Universe. Instead, our cosmos would be made of continuous material, where if we build a proverbial sharper knife, we’d always be able to cut something into smaller and smaller chunks.

That’s what we can do. Our cosmos is made of a continuous material called space, and like Einstein said, the contrast between space and matter would fade away. Space is not made out of chunks. A photon is a wave in space, and it doesn’t approach you in steps.

That dream went the way of the dinosaurs in the early 20th century. Experiments by Planck, Einstein, Rutherford and others showed that matter and energy could not be made of a continuous substance, but rather was divisible into discrete chunks, known as quanta today. The original idea of quantum theory had too much experimental support: the Universe was not fundamentally classical after all.

That’s wrong. Planck came up with the quantum nature of light. His constant of action is the h in photon energy E = hc/λ. It doesn’t mean light is made of discrete chunks. A photon has a wavelength, and it can have any energy you like. See Leonard Susskind talking about Planck’s constant in demystifying the Higgs boson. At 2 minutes 50 seconds he rolls his whiteboard marker round saying angular momentum is quantized. Think like this: ”roll your marker round fast or slow, but roll it round the same circumference, because Planck’s constant of action h is common to all photons regardless of wavelength”. The dimensionality of action can be expressed as momentum times distance. It’s like all photons have the same amplitude, that’s all. Take a look at some pictures of the electromagnetic spectrum. Note how the wave height is always the same regardless of wavelength. That’s Planck’s constant, hiding in plain sight. What’s next?

For perhaps the first three decades of the 20th century, physicists struggled to develop and understand the nature of the Universe on these small, puzzling scales. New rules were needed, and to describe them, new and counterintuitive equations and descriptions. The idea of an objective reality went out the window, replaced with notions like: probability distributions rather than predictable outcomes, wavefunctions rather than positions and momenta, Heisenberg uncertainty relations rather than individual properties.

Yes, reality went out of the window, because people like Niels Bohr willfully rejected any attempt to describe what a photon was, how pair production worked, and what an electron was. The wave nature of light and matter somehow morphed into some kind of probability wave for point-particles. It still thought of in such terms today, 8 years after work by the Lundeen lab that showed that wavefunction was real.

The particles describing reality could no longer be described solely as particle-like. Instead, they had elements of both waves and particles, and behaved according to a novel set of rules.

Not true. Pascual Jordan solved the issue of wave-particle duality in 1925. Particles are waves. That’s why we can diffract photons, electrons, neutrons, and other particles. See Pascual Jordan’s resolution of the conundrum of the wave-particle duality of light by Anthony Duncan and Michel Janssen dating from 2007. Read up on the double slit experiment. There’s no mystery to it once you know that detection involves something akin to a Fourier transform.

Initially, these descriptions troubled physicists a great deal. These troubles didn’t simply arise because of the philosophical difficulties associated with accepting a non-deterministic Universe or an altered definition of reality, although certainly many were bothered by those aspects.

They didn’t trouble physicists for long. The matter was settled by 1925. But in 1926 Heisenberg and Pauli adopted Frenkel’s point-particle electron, and it was downhill all the way after that.

Instead, the difficulties were more robust. The theory of special relativity was well-understood, and yet quantum mechanics, as originally developed, only worked for non-relativistic systems. By transforming quantities such as position and momentum from physical properties into quantum mechanical operators — a specific class of mathematical function – these bizarre aspects of reality could be incorporated into our equations.

There’s nothing bizarre about waves. What’s bizarre is turning your back on understanding and forgetting that the Schrödinger equation is a wave equation. Siegel then gives a gif of a particle in a box. The particle looks like a red billiard ball. That’s the wrong picture. Because the particle is a wave. Standing wave, standing field:

Trajectories of a particle in a box (also called an infinite square well) in classical mechanics (A) and quantum mechanics (B-F). In (A), the particle moves at constant velocity, bouncing back and forth. In (B-F), wavefunction solutions to the Time-Dependent Schrodinger Equation are shown for the same geometry and potential. The horizontal axis is position, the vertical axis is the real part (blue) or imaginary part (red) of the wavefunction. (B,C,D) are stationary states (energy eigenstates), which come from solutions to the Time-Independent Schrodinger Equation. (E,F) are non-stationary states, solutions to the Time-Dependent Schrodinger equation. Note that these solutions are not invariant under relativistic transformations; they are only valid in one particular frame of reference. (STEVE BYRNES / SBYRNES321 OF WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)

Then we have a little rewriting of history. Siegel suggests quantum mechanics faced some kind of existential threat because it wasn’t initially relativistic. That really wasn’t a big deal. I know this, because I’ve investigated the history of quantum mechanics, and the nature of time:

But the way you allowed your system to evolve depended on time, and the notion of time is different for different observers. This was the first existential crisis to face quantum physics.

It wasn’t an existential crisis, special relativity is straightforward. The real existential crisis was the problem of infinities. Again, that occurred because Heisenberg and Pauli were determined to adopt Frenkel’s point-particle electron instead of Schrödinger’s wave in a closed path. Because Schrödinger was the enemy. What’s next?

We say that a theory is relativistically invariant if its laws don’t change for different observers: for two people moving at different speeds or in different directions. Formulating a relativistically invariant version of quantum mechanics was a challenge that took the greatest minds in physics many years to overcome, and was finally achieved by Paul Dirac in the late 1920s.

Greatest minds in physics? Have you ever actually read any of Dirac’s papers? They are absolutely awful. In Dirac’s beautiful mathematical world, light doesn’t interact with light, light moving in a straight line is stationary, stationary waves have no energy, and there’s an infinite number of non-existent zero-state photons waiting to jump into existence. Sadly all of this nonsense sidelined Charles Galton Darwin’s 1927 paper on the electron as a vector wave. Siegel then gives some hyperbole on the Dirac equation:

The result of his efforts yielded what’s now known as the Dirac equation, which describes realistic particles like the electron, and also accounts for: antimatter, intrinsic angular momentum (a.k.a., spin), magnetic moments, the fine structure properties of matter, and the behavior of charged particles in the presence of electric and magnetic fields.

The Dirac equation explains nothing. Dirac really didn’t have a clue what an electron was. He still though of it as a point-particle in 1938, and in 1962 he thought it was a charged shell. In 1930 he came up with a theory of electrons and protons. That’s where space consists of an infinite number of negative-energy electrons per unit volume, some of which have infinite negative energy. All these negative-energy electrons are of course completely unobservable, just like the angels on the head of the pin. As for antimatter, Graham Farmelo talked about that in his 2010 article did Dirac predict the positron? He says Dirac’s “close friend Patrick Blackett, one of the leading players in the story’s denouement, denied it”. And that “very few physicists took Dirac’s hole theory seriously”. He also says “Victor Weisskopf later recalled the idea ‘seemed incredible and unnatural to everybody’”.

This was a great leap forward, and the Dirac equation did an excellent job of describing many of the earliest known fundamental particles, including the electron, positron, muon, and even (to some extent) the proton, neutron, and neutrino.

The Dirac equation doesn’t describe the electron at all. Or any other particle. If you beg to differ, describe the electron to me. And it definitely doesn’t apply to the neutron. Or to photons. But to his credit, Siegel includes a picture with a caption that says the Dirac equation doesn’t describe photon-photon interactions. If you don’t describe the photon, or the photon-photon interaction that creates the electron and the positron, you have no foundations. Especially when you don’t describe the electron either.

A Universe where electrons and protons are free and collide with photons transitions to a neutral one that’s transparent to photons as the Universe expands and cools. Shown here is the ionized plasma (L) before the CMB is emitted, followed by the transition to a neutral Universe (R) that’s transparent to photons. The scattering between electrons and electrons, as well as electrons and photons, can be well-described by the Dirac equation, but photon-photon interactions, which occur in reality, are not. (AMANDA YOHO)

Also to his credit, Siegel says in his own text that the Dirac equation doesn’t describe the photon or the photon-photon interaction:

But it couldn’t account for everything. Photons, for instance, couldn’t be fully described by the Dirac equation, as they had the wrong particle properties. Electron-electron interactions were well-described, but photon-photon interactions were not. Explaining phenomena like radioactive decay were entirely impossible within even Dirac’s framework of relativistic quantum mechanics. Even with this enormous advance, a major component of the story was missing.

The above is a paragraph I agree with. But I will say this: a major component of the story is still missing. Even to this day, quantum electrodynamics doesn’t describe the photon, or pair production, or the electron. Even to this day,  there’s a hole in the heart of quantum electrodynamics. How does a photon interact with another photon? By exchanging photons? No. How does it interact with itself and stay tied up as an electron? By exchanging photons? No.

The big problem was that quantum mechanics, even relativistic quantum mechanics, wasn’t quantum enough to describe everything in our Universe.

That isn’t the big problem. The big problem is that quantum mechanics wasn’t quantum enough to describe anything in our universe. Siegel then gives a picture that talks about a point particle and an electric field:

If you have a point charge and a metal conductor nearby, it’s an exercise in classical physics alone to calculate the electric field and its strength at every point in space. In quantum mechanics, we discuss how particles respond to that electric field, but the field itself is not quantized as well. This seems to be the biggest flaw in the formulation of quantum mechanics. (J. BELCHER AT MIT)

That’s misleading, because the electron is not a point particle. Its field is what it is. And that field is the electromagnetic field. Siegel then talks about classical electromagnetism:

Think about what happens if you put two electrons close to one another. If you’re thinking classically, you’ll think of these electrons as each generating an electric field, and also a magnetic field if they’re in motion. Then the other electron, seeing the field(s) generated by the first one, will experience a force as it interacts with the external field. This works both ways, and in this way, a force is exchanged.

You know, sometimes it feels like Maxwell was never born. No Ethan, the electron is an electromagnetic field construct. It isn’t some point-particle that generates an electric field. And no, if you’re thinking classically you’ll think of each electron as being a dynamical “spinor”, a double-wrapped electromagnetic wave in a spin ½ Möbius configuration with no apparent phase, so it looks like a standing electromagnetic field. Only it isn’t really standing, it’s more like an optical vortex, and two co-rotating vortices move around one another and away from one another.

This would work just as well for an electric field as it would for any other type of field: like a gravitational field. Electrons have mass as well as charge, so if you place them in a gravitational field, they’d respond based on their mass the same way their electric charge would compel them to respond to an electric field.

This is wrong because the massless photon responds to a gravitational field. And because the electron is an electromagnetic field construct – it doesn’t actually have an electric field, so electric charge is actually a misnomer.

Even in General Relativity, where mass and energy curve space, that curved space is continuous, just like any other field.

General relativity is not a theory where mass and energy curve space. Does nobody know how gravity works? Has nobody read Einstein’s Leyden Address? A concentration of energy, usually in the guise of a massive star, “conditions” the surrounding space, making it “neither homogeneous nor isotropic”. A gravitational field is inhomogeneous space where light curves because the speed of light is spatially variable”. The inhomogeneity is non-linear, hence spacetime curvature. The electromagnetic field is curved space – see what Percy Hammond said in the 1999 Compumag: “We conclude that the field describes the curvature that characterizes the electromagnetic interaction. Siegel then gives a picture where the caption gets gravitational blueshift wrong. Electron-positron annihilation at a lower elevation results in lower-energy photons, because of the mass deficit. If you include the kinetic energy of a falling electron-positron pair the photon energy is the same due to conservation of energy.

If two objects of matter and antimatter at rest annihilate, they produce photons of an extremely specific energy. If they produce those photons after falling deeper into a region of gravitational curvature, the energy should be higher. This means there must be some sort of gravitational redshift/blueshift, the kind not predicted by Newton’s gravity, otherwise energy wouldn’t be conserved. In General Relativity, the field carries energy away in waves: gravitational radiation. But, at a quantum level, we strongly suspect that just as electromagnetic waves are made up of quanta (photons), gravitational waves should be made up of quanta (gravitons) as well. This is one reason why General Relativity is incomplete. (RAY SHAPP / MIKE LUCIUK; MODIFIED BY E. SIEGEL)

This error is then used as some kind of justification for quantum gravity. For anybody out there working on quantum gravity, I recommend this course of action: understand gravity first, then electromagnetism, and then start working on something other than quantum gravity. Siegel carries on:

The problem with this type of formulation is that the fields are on the same footing as position and momentum are under a classical treatment. Fields push on particles located at certain positions and change their momenta. But in a Universe where positions and momenta are uncertain, and need to be treated like operators rather than a physical quantity with a value, we’re short-changing ourselves by allowing our treatment of fields to remain classical.

This is wrong too. The electron doesn’t move because some field is pushing on it. It falls down in a gravitational field because it’s like light going round a closed path, and the horizontal component curves downwards because of the gradient in the speed of light. It goes round and round in circles in a uniform magnetic field because it’s a dynamical “spinor” undergoing precession in what is effectively a rotor field. Siegel then gives a picture with a caption that says we expect GR’s successor will contain space that is quantized. Somebody just doesn’t understand gravity.

The fabric of spacetime, illustrated, with ripples and deformations due to mass. A new theory must be more than identical to General Relativity; it must make novel, distinct predictions. As General Relativity offers only a classical, non-quantum description of space, we fully expect that its eventual successor will contain space that is quantized as well, although this space could be either discrete or continuous.

Siegel then talks up second quantization, claiming it was some great advance. Does anybody seriously think that introducing creation and annihilation operators was some kind of substitute for actually understanding what actually happens in pair production and annihilation? I’m afraid the answer is yes. Siegel says this:

That was the big advance of the idea of quantum field theory, or its related theoretical advance: second quantization. If we treat the field itself as being quantum, it also becomes a quantum mechanical operator. All of a sudden, processes that weren’t predicted (but are observed) in the Universe, like: matter creation and annihilation, radioactive decays, quantum tunneling to create electron-positron pairs, and quantum corrections to the electron magnetic moment, all made sense.

It’s Emperor’s New Clothes. Matter is created when photons interact with photons and thence themselves to form fermion pairs of opposite chirality. Annihilation is the reverse process. Pair production is nothing to do with quantum tunnelling. Beta decay only makes sense if you understand the neutron, and know that electron capture does what it says on the tin. Then you pay attention to what James Chadwick said in 1933: “the electric field between a neutron and a nucleus is small except at distances of the order of 10-12 cm”. As for quantum corrections to the electron magnetic moment, they were a retrofit to match the observed value. Siegel then gives a picture of Feynman diagrams with a caption that says “The major way this framework differs from quantum mechanics is not merely the particles, but also the fields are quantized”. Somebody doesn’t know that the electron’s field is what it is. The foundations just aren’t there.

Today, Feynman diagrams are used in calculating every fundamental interaction spanning the strong, weak, and electromagnetic forces, including in high-energy and low-temperature/condensed conditions. The major way this framework differs from quantum mechanics is that not merely the particles, but also the fields are quantized. (DE CARVALHO, VANUILDO S. ET AL. NUCL.PHYS. B875 (2013) 738-756)

In the next paragraph. Siegel seems to be admitting that particle exchange is just a calculation tool, and that Feynman diagrams offer only a perturbative or approximate calculation method:

Although physicists typically think about quantum field theory in terms of particle exchange and Feynman diagrams, this is just a calculational and visual tool we use to attempt to add some intuitive sense to this notion. Feynman diagrams are incredibly useful, but they’re a perturbative (i.e., approximate) approach to calculating, and quantum field theory often yields fascinating, unique results when you take a non-perturbative approach.

However a quick Google makes it clear that Seigel believes in particle exchange. He used the same picture of Feynman diagrams in another post on April 25th. The caption said electromagnetic interactions “are all governed by a single force-carrying particle: the photon”. It isn’t true. Hydrogen atoms don’t twinkle and magnets don’t shine. Siegel also says “the way the strong force works is by exchanging gluons”. Which is a bit tricky when the gluons in ordinary hadrons are virtual. Next:

But the motivation for quantizing the field is more fundamental than that the argument between those favoring perturbative or non-perturbative approaches. You need a quantum field theory to successfully describe the interactions between not merely particles and particle or particles and fields, but between fields and fields as well. With quantum field theory and further advances in their applications, everything from photon-photon scattering to the strong nuclear force was now explicable.

Quantum field theory doesn’t describe the interactions between fields. It doesn’t explain why the electron and the positron move rotationally and linearly in their annihilation dance of death. It doesn’t explain how a magnet works. It doesn’t explain anything. That’s why when I asked Siegel to explain the electron, he gave a non-explanation. Siegel then gives a diagram depicting neutrinoless double beta decay which has never been observed, and never will be:

A diagram of neutrinoless double beta decay, which is possible if the neutrino shown here is its own antiparticle. This is an interaction that’s permissible with a finite probability in quantum field theory in a Universe with the right quantum properties, but not in quantum mechanics, with non-quantized interaction fields. The decay time through this pathway is much longer than the age of the Universe.

That’s because the neutrino is not a Majorana particle, and because it’s a non-sequitur to say neutrino oscillations must mean neutrinos have mass. The get-out clause is in the caption: “the decay time through this pathway is much longer than the age of the Universe”. Very convenient. Next:

At the same time, it became immediately clear why Einstein’s approach to unification would never work. Motivated by Theodr Kaluza’s work, Einstein became enamored with the idea of unifying General Relativity and electromagnetism into a single framework. But General Relativity has a fundamental limitation: it’s a classical theory at its core, with its notion of continuous, non-quantized space and time.

People who promote quantum mysticism are always critical of Einstein, and his desire to actually understand what’s going on. Siegel says Einstein became enamored with unifying general relativity and electromagnetism, and suggested the problem was that general relativity is classical. But electromagnetism is classical too. There’s more:

If you refuse to quantize your fields, you doom yourself to missing out on important, intrinsic properties of the Universe. This was Einstein’s fatal flaw in his unification attempts, and the reason why his approach towards a more fundamental theory has been entirely (and justifiably) abandoned.

The opposite is true. When you believe in quantum field theory to such an extent that you don’t question it, or read up on the history of general relativity and electromagnetism as well as the history of quantum field theory, you doom yourself to pseudoscience. And wasting your time on quantum gravity, which is a castle in the air because it lacks foundation. The people who promote it don’t know how gravity works, and they don’t know how a magnet works. Siegel gives a depiction of quantum gravity:

Quantum gravity tries to combine Einstein’s General theory of Relativity with quantum mechanics. Quantum corrections to classical gravity are visualized as loop diagrams, as the one shown here in white. Whether space (or time) itself is discrete or continuous is not yet decided, as is the question of whether gravity is quantized at all, or particles, as we know them today, are fundamental or not. But if we hope for a fundamental theory of everything, it must include quantized fields.(SLAC NATIONAL ACCELERATOR LAB)

Next we have a touch of quantum snake oil. I am reminded of the myth that the internet was invented a CERN:

The Universe has shown itself time and time again to be quantum in nature. Those quantum properties show up in applications ranging from transistors to LED screens to the Hawking radiation that causes black holes to decay. The reason quantum mechanics is fundamentally flawed on its own isn’t because of the weirdness that the novel rules brought in, but because it didn’t go far enough. Particles do have quantum properties, but they also interact through fields that are quantum themselves, and all of it exists in a relativistically-invariant fashion.

The discovery of the transistor has nothing whatsoever to do with quantum field theory. Ditto for LEDs. And no, quantum properties do not show up in Hawking radiation. Nobody has ever seen any Hawking radiation. Which is no surprise, because when you dig into it you find it features negative-energy particles which don’t exist, and particles travelling back in time which don’t exist. It’s based on a thermodynamic analogy that doesn’t stand up to scrutiny, and it ignores gravitational time dilation. It’s pseudoscience. See Yvan Leblanc’s paper on fake physics: black hole thermodynamics, the holographic principle and emergent gravity. Siegel finishes up talking about a quantum theory of everything along with quantum weirdness:

Perhaps we will truly achieve a theory of everything, where every particle and interaction is relativistic and quantized. But this quantum weirdness must be a part of every aspect of it, even the parts we have not yet successfully quantized. In the immortal words of Haldane, “my own suspicion is that the Universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose”.

He quotes John Haldane talking about a universe that’s queerer than we can suppose. Trust me, it isn’t. The only thing that’s queer is quantum physics. Because it’s a pack of lies to children. And because irony of ironies, it’s cargo cult science.


This Post Has 21 Comments

  1. Pavel Kudan

    Yes, John, it is really funny. They took things like atomic energy levels (which have definite values) or masses of particles (which also haves definite values) and proclaims that all should be quants :)))
    That may be natural for standing waves to have definite values of energies – different levels, but why any field should be quantum? :))) Absurd.
    However, this level of matter is really complicated. Very close to conversion of electromagnetic waves and standing waves – energy to matter.
    Really hard to measure which are element there. Too easy to mix ‘stones’ with ‘bridges’. Too low differences between monolithic ‘stones’ and composite ‘brigdes made of stones’. Cement gluing is too similar to ‘stones’.
    May be so, that proven, but not undersood by phycisists method of chemistry – deviding matter into ‘elements’ / ‘compounds’ does not work well here.
    The physical meaning of that method and its applicability – energy of bond between ‘elements’ should be much greater that energy of other interactions. The centers of particles/standing waves should be for that reason much closer then distances on nept level.
    Example – distance between molecules are greater than between atoms in molecule, interaction is weaker. So, we can consider molecule ‘composite’ and atom ‘elements’ for that level.
    Nucleus is binded stronger than atoms in molecule, so we can consider that atom ls are ‘composite’ and nucleus/electrons are ‘elements’ on that level.
    In turn, nucleus still can be considered ‘composite’ consisting of subnuclear particles, which may be considered as ‘elements’ for that level. Here, not only proton-neutron model is possible, but still.
    Yes, electron is ‘elementary’ for atomic level. But neither possible subelectron, nor possible subproton, nor possible subneutron particles are not known for sure. Different models possible and was ignored.
    Is electron, proton, neutron the end of that chain of ‘elements’ (really ‘elementary’) or they can be presented as combination of other particles + energies of interactions, that is most difficult question on that level. Too close to transformation to energy… To ‘wavy’…

    1. The physics detective

      Yes Pavel, quantum physics is full of absurd “quantum” things. The photon has a quantum nature, hence the h in E=hf. But that doesn’t mean energy is delivered in lumps. It means all photons share a common attribute. It’s also why electrons are 511keV electrons. Because only one wavelength will suffice when you want to tie a photon in a trivial knot. But what’s really absurd is that quantum physics doesn’t understand that to turn energy into matter you convert a linearly-propagating electromagnetic wave into an electromagnetic wave that goes round and round. Don’t worry about your bridges and stones until you’ve got a handle on the electron. Don’t think that it’s made up of other components or “elements”. There’s no evidence for that. All the evidence says it’s a wave. One wave. Not two. Or three. The same goes for the proton. Nobody has ever seen a quark. Not ever. So is the electron at the end of the chain of elements? isn’t the most difficult question. It’s the easiest, and the answer is yes.
      Yes, I too think Einstein was right about the Copenhagen fairy tales. Amazingly though, Niels Bohr is considered to have “won”. So we ended up with the probabilistic pseudoscience. Ye Gods. Yes, the rubber arrow is a good analogy. Feynman used the hands of a clock in a similar analogy. LOL, yes, that will be a point with ‘magical’ probabilistic properties. As fro the multiverse, groan! No, a rubber arrow with steel pointer is not “elementary”. But a photon is.

      1. Pavel Kudan

        Absolutly agree on reason of single mass for electron. As well absolutly agree with the statment that matter finally made of waves. Standing may be not better term for that local construct, but still we unerstand what we mean
        But to distinguish bridges (composites of particles) and single stones is important, Jonh.
        You say, that no evidence are that particles are composite and see single alternative for composite – quark model.
        I disagree with both.
        First. On opposite, it should be proved that subatomic particles are elementary and should be taken that composite by default for correct considirations. Before modelling particles from waves. Exactly opposite. Agregates of matter (substances) consist of molecules and atoms. Molecules consist of atoms. Atoms consist of electrons an nuclei. Nuclei consist of protons and one other particle. Neutron or negative pion. If you state thet this is the end and no subelectron particles, as well as no subproton particles or no subparticles for that debatable partner of proton exists, you should prove that they do not exists. As all levels upper are composite.
        We just did with you one of the check. Found possible candidates to subelectron particles and showed that idea failed. So, we proved, that electron cannot be represented it terms of dynamics of subparticles, as neutrino is not particle but wave. That means, that to our knowledge, electron is elementary particle. Must be constructed from field. We checked and proved.
        That is not so obvious for proton. But also checkable. Although, more complicated.
        If you are trying to consider composite of several particles with its inner dynamics to represent as single particle, you will fail.
        Quark model is just speculation, but it is not only alternative for composite proton, fir example. Too many honor for it to believe that it is only possibility.

  2. Pavel Kudan

    Also, I think, that Albert Einstein was absolutely right in strugling with Copenhagen fairy tales and joking about ‘God gambling’.
    The reason for probabilistic results of particle / standing wave, which understood by Copenhagen as mystical materialisation of particle-point with magic property to be free from any measurement may be much simpler.
    If you speak about standing wave (oscillating/rotating field), than a phase of such standing wave at the moment of collision determine the result of collision.
    Yes, the phase is random at that random moment. The result is fully deterministic physically, but as initial conditions are random, so result is probablistic.

    Consider rubber arrow with steel pointer at the end quickly rotating. When it will face the wall, result of collision will depend on phase of rotation at the moment. Rubber part or steel part faced the wall? Which are angles?

  3. Pavel Kudan

    Imagine the troubles of one, who will declare that rubber arrow with steel pointer is single point :)))
    That will be a point with ‘magical’ probablistic properties :)))
    Then one will declare that ‘God gambling’ to explain and will speak a stuff about multiple universes with multiple results of collision of this arrow :)))
    That is similar to Copenhagen and followers parroting ))))

  4. Pavel Kudan

    Here is a question on ‘composite’ / ‘elementary’ too.

    Is rubber arrow with steel pointer ‘elementary’? Or it ‘composite’ consisting of rubber stick and steel end?
    How to investigate it, if arrow is rotating quickly?

    1. The physics detective

      Yes, it’s the wave nature of matter. And yes, it’s important to understand what the various particles are. How can anybody propose a selectron when they don’t know what an electron is? How can anybody propose a squark when they’ve never seen a quark? There is no evidence for quarks, Pavel. People say there is, but there isn’t.
      As for proving that subatomic particles are elementary, how can an electron be elementary or fundamental when we can make them and destroy them in pair production and annihilation? Elementary means “I don’t understand the electron and I won’t even try to understand it”. Yes, I’m saying the hierarchy comes to an end with protons. Physics is not turtles all the way down. When we break a proton, we don’t see three quarks come flying out. Or any quarks. Or any gluons either. Quarks and gluons are fairy stories, as is quark confinement. I don’t need to prove that they don’t exist, just as I don’t need to prove that unicorns don’t exist. If you think they do exist, show me the evidence.
      The electron is constructed from a field variation, a wave. When you annihilate it with a positron you see that wave, a photon, moving linearly again. When you perform low-energy proton/antiproton annihilation, you see the same. You don’t see quarks. You see photons. You may see pions, but not for long. You can reduce everything down to photons and neutrinos. They’re the particles that are really elementary. I think TQFT is essentially correct, it’s related to knot theory. I also think the proton is merely a more complicated knot than the electron.
      Yes, Einstein was right to oppose the Copenhagen fairy tales. But the Copenhagen quacks won. We still have their fairy tales to this day. Even though the truth is in the old papers by Schrodinger and Charles Galton Darwin and Max Born and Leopold Infeld. And Louis de Broglie of course. What a tragedy.
      Yes, declaring the rubber arrow with a steel point to be a point particle is going to lead to problems. It’s the same when you try to treat waves as point particles. History will not be kind to all this mumbo jumbo. I shake my head at the multiverse.
      A rubber arrow with a steel point is not elementary. It’s composite. But a photon is not. You investigate it by looking at the evidence. The evidence is there. See What is a photon? and The photon
      Sorry, I have to go out now. I’ll look at your other comments later. Please can you combine them, like I combine my replies. I’m on holiday this week.

  5. Pavel Kudan

    I also think that quark model is absurd. Confiment is just cover for this myth. Looks like religion, not science.
    But I also think that the quark model is not only solution for composite neutron, for example.
    Considering proton – electron difference, also muon and taon should be taken into account.
    If electron is knot and proton is treeknot what muon is?
    By the way – positive proton is matter, but positive positron is antimatter, as well positive muon and tau are.
    Muon and tau are analogues of electron, proton and its analogues looks like different chain.
    Very complicated.
    On composite particles, you are right that at high energy collisions elements should be observable. As idea of compounds between elements means that inside elements bound is stronger than between elements.
    For example, if neutron is ‘compound’ of proton and negative pion, then at sufficient energy of scattering (very big, more than 130 MeV) dissociation to elements should take place. Neutral neutron cannot be accelerated so yet.
    But for atomic nuclei must be the same, if so. Also hidden between pair formation, process: neutron —> proton + negative pion should be observable at nuclei collisions near 140 MeV, if the Rutherford-Kudan model is adequate.
    Thank you so much, John, we may have different opinions sometimes, but conversations with you are so essential for understanding.

  6. Pavel Kudan

    For example, if the Rutherford-Kudan model is adequate, in scattering of deuteron with proton at energy approx. 140 MeV (binding energy in the Rutherford-Kudan model) and above, the reaction:
    2H+ + 1H+ = 3 1H+ + π-
    should take place.
    (Deuteron and proton should give three protons and negative pion at collision 140 MeV and higher), which is equal to reaction: neutron = proton + negative pion.
    Quite a moderate energy for collisions of nuclei.
    Formation of electron/positron pairs as well as formation of neutral pion will be possible byprocesses, but as energy is too low for formation of pair negative pion/positive pion, negative pion formation should be well seen, if exists.
    Thank you, John, for your help in understanding that 🙂

  7. Pavel Kudan

    That is interesting, John, but physical experiments on neutrons developed well, and in our days suddenly sophisticated experiments with accelerated neutrons appeared to be available in Dubna.

    Reaction like I would like to see are known. Neutron colliding proton gives two protons and negative pion.


    Dissociation of composite neutron consisting of proton and negative pion (the Rutherford-Kudan model) to elements – proton and negative pion fits well and may be one of possible explanations for that reaction.

    That is the type of decay (forced by energy) like that you would like to see for composite particle to elements as one of proofs of composite nature.
    Particle reactions, however, is very flexible process, reaction like this cannot be regarded as direct evidence of the Rutherford-Kudan model validity.

    1. The physics detective

      Sorry to be slow replying Pavel. I’ve been busy renovating my parquet floor. Yes, the quark model looks like religion, not science. But I don’t care much about the muon and tau. They’re just ephemera. It’s ephemera that led to the quark model, and to a lack of understanding of the stable particles, along with mass and charge. If the electron is a knot, what’s a muon? Well, the muon decays quickly into an electron, an antineutrino, and a neutrino. A neutrino is a spin wave, so the muon is a tumbling electron.
      I agree that the positron is antimatter. But I think of the proton as antimatter. Yes I really do. See this: https://physicsdetective.com/the-mystery-of-the-missing-antimatter/ .
      What’s a tau? I’m not sure. I haven’t studied it. But the most common decay is the 25.49% decay into a charged pion, a neutral pion, and a neutrino. Look at the decay products, then look at how they decay. When you get to particles that don’t decay, work backwards.
      I think you can learn a lot about a particle from how it decays, but high energy collisions don’t tell you so much. Increase the energy and you can make more and more complicated particles. Or perhaps I should say pretty ephemeral patterns which soon fall apart. Studying them is as useful as studying firework patterns in the sky on New Year’s eve. It won’t teach you anything about gunpowder.
      The neutron isn’t a ‘compound’ of a proton and a negative pion. If it was, you’d see a pion in free neutron decay, and you don’t. Not ever. Pions decay into muons plus other things, but in free neutron decay you don’t see muons either. The idea of a neutron being a proton and a pion dates back to the days of Heisenberg and isospin. It’s just wrong. I’m sorry Pavel. That was the nuclear disaster. The nuclear force isn’t due to a “pion exchange”. It’s electromagnetic. That’s why the beta particle is an electron, not a pion.
      Yes, physical experiments on neutrons developed well. The paper you mentioned is here: https://sci-hub.se/10.1016/j.physletb.2012.05.002. It doesn’t mean the neutron is proton+pion combination. A decay forced by energy is not a decay. It’s making pretty ephemeral patterns which soon fall apart.

      1. Pavel Kudan

        In one phrase, John – you cannot expect decay where it is not energetically profitable.
        Example – neutron decays beta. Deuteron not.
        If you wants to see deuteron beta decay, you should pay energy. Deuteron will give you a couple of protons, electron and antineutrino. If you will give energy for that. Forced beta-decay vs spontaneous beta-decay.
        Are not you surprised that deuteron does not decay, are you?
        That is the same.

  8. Pavel Kudan

    We may consider ephemera particles like neutral pion. Which decays to photons. So, desappears.

    Particles with charge cannot be considered ephemera. As they do not disappear. Just transform. That a property of charge. Antiparticle needed to disappear.

    Tau is really something not well known. But we have a raw – electron, muon and tau.
    At least, if we say about inner structures of electron and proton, muon would be great to have explained, to be sure that proton is explained correctly.
    Also, we live at approximatly absolute zero, comparing to stars. Low energy. At more energetic different temperature / electromagnetic energy environment, molecules would not exist and more energetic patricles than proton and electron would be dominating.
    About expectations on decay of negative pion bounded with protons you are not right, John.
    It decays to electron and antineutrino – that what we see. Which is only energetically profitable. As it more profitable for negative pion to stay bonded with proton, than brake the bond and decay to muon. If you want to see something like that, you should give energy for it. And you expect to see it for free? Not correct expectation.
    If neutron reseaving energy from collision, decays to free proton and free negative pion, it is exactly the same process you mean, but with your error corrected.
    If at collisions neutron accepting energy can give proton, muon and muonic neutrino it may be considered as muonic pathway of negative pion beta decay, which you mentioned.
    But to see it, you have to pay energy, John 🙂
    For negative pion it is more energetically profitable to be bounded with proton (to give neutron) than to decay to muon and muonic antineutrino. So, neutron does not decay spontaneously to muon. Energy needed for that from outside.
    But as well, for negative pion it is more energetically profitable to decay to electron and electronic antineutrino, than to be bonded with proton. So, neutron decay to proton, electron and electronic antineutrino. Energy releasing at that.
    In chemistry there are terms – ‘endothermic reaction’ and ‘exothermic reaction’. Sorry, John, but some reactions needs energy and that is normal.

    1. John Duffield

      No, I’m not surprised that the deuteron does not decay. The proton grips the neutron with a binding energy of 2.224 MeV. But when you have one proton and two neutrons, you have a triton, with a binding energy of 8.4818 MeV. One proton can’t keep a grip on two neutrons. One of the neutrons can undergo beta decay, and what’s left is a helion comprised of two protons and one neutron. One neutron is gripped by two protons, and now it’s stable. You can work out something about the structure of these things, see https://physicsdetective.com/the-nuclear-force/.
      I consider any particle that doesn’t last long to be ephemera. That includes neutral pions with a lifetime of circa 9 × 10ˉ¹⁷ seconds. The point to note is that a particle with mass is, in simple terms, “light going round and round”. (Forget about neutrinos for a minute). That light is moving at the speed of light. It doesn’t get far in 9 × 10ˉ¹⁷ seconds. It moves 3 x 10ˉ⁹ metres. The neutral pion is little more than a transient eddy that soon falls apart into two gamma photons. A charged pion lasts longer at 2.6 × 10ˉ⁸ seconds, so it isn’t quite so ephemeral. But we are talking about 2.6 hundred millionths of a second. That’s still ephemeral. As is the muon. The electron isn’t. The charge persists, because the electron is a knot, and the pion is not a knot.
      Yes, it would be good to describe all the particles. Maybe I’ll look at the muon sometime. I haven’t done so because I don’t care much for ephemera. I think particle physics made a big mistake focussing on the emphemeral particle zoo instead of focussing on the stable particles. That mistake gave us the quark model, with a lame excuse for why we’ve never seen a quark, not in fifty years.
      Temperature is just motion. A hot gas is one where the particles are moving fast. It doesn’t feel like fundamental physics. It leaves me cold. LOL!
      We’ll just have to agree to differ on the negative pions bound with protons. It’s electron capture, not pion capture. The nuclear force plot matches the neutron charge distribution. We see an electron and an antineutrino coming out of beta decay. We’ve never seen a pion coming out of beta decay, not in fifty years. Please stop posting multiple comments promoting the idea.

      1. Pavel Kudan

        We may introduce the ‘ephemera scale’ for our usage, John 🙂 To understand better 🙂

        Ephemera = virtual particle. Pure fantasy. Matter should be real.

        Halfephemera = real particle which decays to energy (photons or lighter particle/antiparticle pair). These are real, but can be ignored yet. Some intermediate form between energy and matter. Something like embryons of particle/antiparticle pairs. Examples – neutral pion, neutral kaon etc.

        Not ephemera = real particles which cannot decay to energy only is not ephemera. But we do not understand them yet. Some reactions convert those to other particles. We do not understand that reactions yet. But, still, that particles does not disappear complitely, so cannot be considered ephemera.

        Most easy are stable particles, of course. Those do not have reactions which whould convert further. Most easy case.

        Hope, you understand what I mean, John. After all, that is not very easy things for physicist.

        1. Pavel Kudan

          To feel what is ephemera and what is not ephemera, consider a piece of radioactive isotope.
          Is it real or ephemera?
          It is real. And radioactive isotopes are very important for physics. If physicists would ignore them and would work with only stable isotopes, what would be physics today?
          Has radioactive isotope short lifetime? Yes. Not stable. But still, it should not be ignored for that reason. It leaves another isotopes after decay. It cannot be ephemera just because of short lifetime.

  9. John Duffield

    Yes, an ephemera scale doesn’t harm. But note that ephemeral means lasting for a very short time. So a virtual particle isn’t ephemeral. However a neutral pion is. So are most of the baryons in the list of baryons. Ditto for the mesons. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_baryons and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_mesons. There are no stable mesons. When when you know that a particle like the electron is energy going round and round at the speed of light, you can reason that the same is true for the kaon. Now ask yourself how far that energy gets in 3.26 ×10ˉ²³ seconds. Making pretty patterns out of these things doesn’t tell you anything about the proton. Hence my gunpowder analogy.
    Yes, the charged pion is less ephemeral, and so is the muon. Like I said, maybe I’ll write something about that. Maybe I should write something about the particle zoo, starting with the longer-lasting particles. We’ll see. But how many baryons are not ephemeral? One. Or two if you include the antiproton. As for the neutron, I don’t think it counts as a baryon, because it looks like a proton composite. Like a squeezed down hydrogen atom with a twist. It’s stable when it’s gripped by protons, but if not, it’s the jumping popper of particle physics. However with a lifetime of circa 15 minutes. I wouldn’t call that ephemeral. 15 minutes isn’t a very short time. So a piece of radioactive isotope is not ephemeral. It decays due to beta decay, which is neutron decay.

  10. Sandra

    You know, I’ve been thinking about physics stuff lately, and got this thought. I imagined the temperature of objects as the average motion of little idealized balls inside materials, and as the temperature increases so does the agitation of the balls. Their motion is described, fundamentally, by harmonic oscillators, around their center of mass.
    Then I thought about time dilation in Einstein’s relativity: how does it affect the temperature of an object? If you zoom in, you’ll find that the motion of each little ball is slowed down, so it appears as if the temperature decreased. The local kinetic energy stayed the same, it’s just the mass of each ball that increased.

    I was getting confused about all this, so decided to look up a solution online: it turns out that, after 110 years, this is still a highly debated topic! We have no agreed upon description of relativistic thermodynamics. Some say objects become colder, others say they heat up, others say the temperature is a relativistic invariant.

    Finally, I thought about the harmonic oscillator, which is fundamentally necessary to describe the motion of the little balls. Turns out, we didn’t have a relativistic description of the harmonic oscillator until the late 2000s, while the equation of motion for the HO in a gravitational field were first calculated in 2021!!! (Micheal Tung, Relativistic Harmonic Oscillator in a Uniform Gravitational Field)
    Mind you, we still don’t have a description for a non-uniform gravitational field, which means we still don’t know how it is affected by time dilation.

    How IN THE WORLD did we go 110 years without a relativistic harmonic oscillator?? How did we develop the standard model, which assumes every particle is an oscillation in a field, without it???

    1. The Physics Detective

      The thing is Sandra, is that time dilation is just a measure of the reduction of the speed of light*. Light goes slower when it’s lower, and this combined with the wave nature of matter, is why an electron falls down. It’s the same for a brick. As it falls, gravity converts internal kinetic energy, which is mass energy, into external kinetic energy. When the brick hits the ground, the kinetic energy is usually dissipated, and then you’re left with a mass deficit. The mass of the brick is now less than it was, and the same is true of an electron. The same is also true of your little balls. Their mass is reduced. It’s the same for all matter, such as the matter in a spring. If your little ball is connected to a spring in the guise of a harmonic oscillator as it falls down, then there’s no aspect of gravity that makes the oscillation slow down. Strictly speaking temperature is a measure of average kinetic energy, and the mass of the balls has reduced, so the temperature has reduced too. But the same effect happens to you and your rods and clocks, so you won’t measure a temperature decrease. Instead, when you compare the speed of your little balls to the speed of light, it looks like they’re now moving faster.

      I haven’t got time to read the Michael Tung paper right now I’m afraid. But can I say this: he mentions a pendulum clock. Unlike an atomic clock, an optical clock, or indeed a clockwork clock, the clock rate of a pendulum clock depends of the local gradient in gravitational potential, not the gravitational potential. And that gravitational potential directly relates to the coordinate speed of light. So a gradient in gravitational potential is a gradient in the speed of light. So when he says the speed of light c is a Lorentz scalar, I don’t think he’s getting to the bottom of it.
      Sorry, I have to dash, but do take a look at some of these articles: https://physicsdetective.com/articles/articles-on-gravity-and-cosmology/. PS: a uniform gravitational field is one where there’s a linear gradient in the speed of light. A non-uniform gravitational field is one where the gradient exhibits curvature. We then attach the label curved spacetime.
      * People often say it’s a reduction in the “coordinate” speed of light, but make no mistake, it’s just the speed of light. Einstein made this clear year after year.

      1. Sandra

        Whatever the explanation YOU give, in the literature it is made clear that there’s no consensus on how to define relativistic thermodynamics or a relativistic oscillator. It doesn’t matter if they are wrong or right, what baffles me is that we went 110 years without such a fundamental description, and physicists have the audacity of telling you that we need string theory or susy. I’d say go back to the drawing board and solve these basic issues first.

        Tung’s paper only mentions the pendulum. He fully describes an harmonic oscillator bouncing up and down along a uniform gravitational field. But again, the salient point is that this description is only 2 years old. I was absolutely stunned nobody thought about it before, especially considering the whole of quantum mechanics is based around an harmonic oscillator.

        “As it falls, gravity converts internal kinetic energy, which is mass energy, into external kinetic energy. When the brick hits the ground, the kinetic energy is usually dissipated, and then you’re left with a mass deficit.” That would mean the inertia (since mass is a measure of the inertia of a body) of the brick increases as you lift it up the potential, so it would become harder and harder to lift the brick.

        1. The Physics Detective

          Whatever the explanation YOU give, in the literature it is made clear that there’s no consensus on how to define relativistic thermodynamics or a relativistic oscillator. It doesn’t matter if they are wrong or right, what baffles me is that we went 110 years without such a fundamental description, and physicists have the audacity of telling you that we need string theory or susy. I’d say go back to the drawing board and solve these basic issues first.
          The explanation I give is based on the literature. Note my strapline, which quotes Bert Schroer: “Perhaps the past, if looked upon with care and hindsight, may teach us where we possibly took a wrong turn Einstein’s explanation”. Einstein explained gravity in terms of a refraction due to a varying speed of light. Tung’s paper misses this, which ought to signal to you that there are far bigger issues in contemporary physics. PeopIe don’t understand Einstein’s gravity or Maxwell’s electromagnetism. They don’t know the difference between inhomogeneous space, curved spacetime, and curved space. They think photons don’t interact with photons, they think electrons are point particles, they think virtual particles are real particles that pop in and out of existence. And so on. It’s like cargo-cult physics Sandra. The situation is far far worse than you think. When you realise just how bad it is, you will be utterly appalled.
          Tung’s paper only mentions the pendulum. He fully describes an harmonic oscillator bouncing up and down along a uniform gravitational field. But again, the salient point is that this description is only 2 years old. I was absolutely stunned nobody thought about it before, especially considering the whole of quantum mechanics is based around an harmonic oscillator.
          The same principle applies. A stronger gravitational field stretches the spring more, and it’s the gravitational potential itself, rather than the local gradient in gravitational potential, that equates to time dilation. Not only that, but the most fundamental harmonic oscillator is the photon passing you by. But I’ll have a good look at Tung’s paper and get back to you properly.
          “As it falls, gravity converts internal kinetic energy, which is mass energy, into external kinetic energy. When the brick hits the ground, the kinetic energy is usually dissipated, and then you’re left with a mass deficit.” That would mean the inertia (since mass is a measure of the inertia of a body) of the brick increases as you lift it up the potential, so it would become harder and harder to lift the brick.
          That’s right. You do work on that brick when you lift it up. You add energy to it, and the mass of a body is a measure of its energy content. But the additional mass is very slight, you won’t be able to measure it. See https://physicsdetective.com/the-principle-of-equivalence-and-other-myths/ for details and references.

Leave a Reply