Seriously, it is not that complicated

It was more than a 100 year ago that Max Planck introduced the notion of the quantization of radiation from a black body. The full-blown formulation of quantum mechanics is almost a hundred years old (the 5th Solvay conference more or less represents that achievement). Over the years since then, many ideas have been introduced about quantum physics in the struggle to understand it. Once new ideas have been introduced, nobody can ever remove them again regardless of how misleading they may be. Nevertheless, among these ideas, we can find enough information to form a picture representing an adequate understanding of quantum physics.

It would be very arrogant to claim that this understanding is unassailable or even complete. (I still have some issues with fermions.) Therefore, I simply call it my current understanding. It is a minimalist understanding in that it discards the unnecessary conceptual baggage (thus following Occam’s razor). Yet, it provides an ontology (although not one that guarantees everybody’s satisfaction).

I’ve written about many aspects of this understanding. So, where possible, I’ll thus link to those discussions. Where additional discussions may be necessary, I’ll postpone those discussions for later. Here then follows a breakdown of my current understanding of quantum physics.

Firstly, fundamental particles are not particles in the traditional sense. They are not “dimensionless points traveling on world lines.” Instead, they are better represented by wave functions or fields (or partites). Interactions among these fundamental fields (using the term “fields” instead of “particles” to avoid confusion) are dimensionless events in spacetime.

As a consequence, there is no particle-wave duality. Fields propagate as waves and produce the interference as, for example, seen in the double-slit experiment. Whenever these fundamental fields are observed as discrete entities, it is not a particle in the traditional sense that is being observed, but rather the localized interaction of the field with the device that is used for the observation.

Secondly, interactions are the key that leads to the quantum nature of the physical world. What Max Planck discovered was that interactions among fundamental fields are quantized. These fields exchange energy and momentum in quantized lumps. This concept was also reiterated in Einstein’s understanding of the photo-electric effect. Many of the idiosyncratic concepts of quantum physics follow as consequences of the principle of quantized interactions.

The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle is not a fundamental principle. It is a consequence of the quantization relations associated with interactions. These relations convert conjugate variables into Fourier variables, which already represent the uncertainty principle. As a result, the conjugate variables inherit their uncertainty relationship from Fourier theory. It becomes more prevalent in quantum physics, due to the restrictions that the quantization of interactions imposes on the information that can be obtained from the observation of a single “particle.”

Planck’s constant only plays a physical role at interactions. Once these interactions are done, the presence of Planck’s constant the expressions of the fields have no significance. It can be removed through simple field redefinitions that have no effect on the physical representations of these fields. As a result, the significance that is attached to Planck’s constant in scenarios that are not related to interactions are generally misleading if not completely wrong.

Thirdly, another key concept is the principle of superposition. The interactions among fundamental fields are combined as a superposition of all possibilities. In other words, they are integrated over all points in spacetime and produce all possible allowed outcomes. As a consequence, after the interactions, the resulting fields can exist in a linear combination of correlated combinations. This situation leads to the concept of entanglement.

Since a single “particle” only allows a single observation, the different measurement results that can be obtained from the different elements in a superposition are associated with probabilities that must add up to one. The coefficients of the superposition therefore form a complex set of probability amplitudes. The conservation of probability therefore naturally leads to a unitary evolution of the state of the single particle in terms of such a superposition. This unitarity naturally generalizes to systems of multiple particles. It naturally leads to a kind of many-worlds interpretation.

It seems to me that all aspects of quantum physics (with the exception of fermions) follow from these three “principles.” At least, apart from the question of fermions, I am not aware of anything that is missing.

2 thoughts on “Seriously, it is not that complicated

  1. It seems that you have seen my comment on PW’s blog even though it is not there anymore. I never saw it there. However, I am not angry with PW for deleting it. It is his blog and he can do what we wants.

    The reason for my post being so negative is because of something else that happened to me, not related to physics. I think, I want to rewrite this post completely because it creates an unwanted impression that is not what I intended.

    Thanks for the light-hearted view that you present on your blog. I needed that.

  2. Regarding spin (I read PW’s blog too), the reasons why people think about it are many. You can do the math, as described by PW, but as several ones pointed out there, you can do math alike on stuff that does not exist.
    Along with that, a lot of the current-physics stuff has analogies in classical physics: Newtonian kinetic energy as low-order approximation of special-relativistic treatment, and e.g. gauge symmetries started already within classical EM.
    Thus it is quite apt to ask first, why this math and not some another math, and second, what are (if any at all) analogies of QM spin within classical physics. Even PW admits that something is here: Where there’s a bit more of a mystery is for half-integral values of the spin, in particular spin 1/2.
    The “why this math” part can be approached via: When you do quantization of L, you get the half-integer forms for free. That is alike arriving to Dirac equation gives you antifermions for free too. And both deriving had to be done, altruistically providing the additions at the end.
    Regarding palpable ways for QM spin, PW mentions spinors at the end of his post. I would argue that it would make more sense to have the post focused on it, rather than all the scolding there. Well, you write as you please, of course.

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