Why Energy Seems Quantized Especially To Crackpots
    By Sascha Vongehr | May 14th 2014 02:44 AM | 7 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
    About Sascha

    Dr. Sascha Vongehr [风洒沙] studied phil/math/chem/phys in Germany, obtained a BSc in theoretical physics (electro-mag) & MSc (stringtheory)...

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    I receive much crackpot email. There is a very common misunderstanding often central, one I have not seen a good answer to anywhere. This is partially due to that few who write about physics counter crackpot theories well. Allow me to explain this point with a new personal story before explaining why energy seems quantized, why photons seem to be little packets of energy rather than a concept that describes quantum interactions more or less well.

    Bad answers feed the perception of establishment conspiracy. I supplied many examples over the years. For yet another example: Joy Christian’s nonsense is still actively argued against by established scientists wasting their time on internet forums, but their own theories are worse than Joy’s at a crucial point. Ask: “How many parallel worlds does your theory imply?” Joy’s answer would be that there is only one “real” world and that is also the number that his (for many other reasons idiotic) theory implies.

    At least two or three of the scientists who argue against Joy also publicly support my own work and the Quantum Randi Challenge for example, so it may seem that we are on one team. However, those scientists, more established than me, refuse to think about how many worlds their theories imply (I asked them several times). Some claim that it is only a single world, but their theory implies either multiple worlds or solipsism.

    Crackpots like Joy sense this mistake more or less clearly, because they are obsessed with certain realisms. In a well defined sense, Joy’s nonsense is at the most crucial point less nonsensical than what established scientists who support me counter with. Why should people like Joy take them seriously?

    Usually, physics crackpots are anti-quantum nowadays; they do no longer refuse Einstein’s relativity, but instead, Einstein is their hero now, because Einstein did also not understand the core of quantum mechanics in those early days of that theory, and it is quantum mechanics that seems to destroy realism worse than the relativity of time already destroyed it (not true, but it seems to most that way).

    Einstein would have come around soon to understand ‘Everett relativity’ (which roughly means something like “parallel worlds”), because Everett relativity is the straightforward extension* of his own space-time relativity if you include not just all times but also all possibilities into the theory of everything.

    But life is short, Einstein died, so quantum crackpots think that Einstein is on their side. Great, because Einstein’s relativity tells us that light is red-shifted relative to systems that move away from the light source. This implies that if there is even just the tiniest motion between two atoms, the light emitted by one atom could never be absorbed by the other, not if energy were quantized into little packets that cannot be divided.

    Think about it: Assume one sodium atom emits an amount Delta = (E2 – E1), where E1 and E2 are the precise energies of the relevant energy levels of sodium atoms (in case energy is fundamentally quantized, the atom’s energies would be too!). The other sodium atom can thus also only receive precisely such an amount Delta. Then the atoms would have to be absolutely still relative to each other, or else the amount of energy Delta is slightly blue or red shifted for the second atom and could not be absorbed, because where is the tiny amount of difference in energy going to go if energy is thought of as occurring in little packets, especially if they are thought to have a fundamental minimum size?

    Also, the visible lights’ wavelength (or its coherence length if you like that better) is a thousand times larger than the atom. The absorbing atom cannot know whether the whole length has a shape and thus energy that it can absorb. Once the whole wave has zipped by with light velocity, the atom may know that this photon could have been absorbed, but now it is too late.

    Sure, you can describe a situation where all atoms absorb all photons and then spit them out immediately if they do not fit, and this is kind of what leads to the slow down of light in materials like glass, but that would not be what crackpots-for-naive-realism would enjoy (they want a simple reality) and the main problem is just pushed to somewhere less obvious in such a description. The problem is: If every part were a certain precise way, the way it “really happens to be”, nothing would ever fit with anything else perfectly enough to interact. The world could not be happening.

    Here are the proper relevant explanations:

    1) Only interaction is quantized by quantum mechanics. There are other types of quantization (e.g. string winding number, atoms), but they are not the quantization of quantum mechanics. Anything that appears quantized because of quantum mechanics, like for example energy in equations like Delta(E) = h * Frequency, is a manifestation of the quantization of interaction, and that is what the constant h is about. Usually, there is some periodicity of a parameter that supplies a boundary condition; here for example it is time that is periodical via the involved frequency. This periodic boundary condition is responsible for that the interaction-quantum shows up as if energy is quantized. Angle is always periodic; you are back where you started after turning around once. Therefore, angular momentum is quantized, *not* because it happens to be *also* quantized, but because the momentum along the circle reflects the interaction quantization (the momentum kind of interacts with itself as it is smeared along the circle, bumping into itself).

    Interaction is not quantized into some god-given amount h either. That odd value this constant happens to have is due to our odd traditional units. Interaction is quantized simply because either two things interacted or not. Information is in some sense the fundamental substance of our stories, bits that are either 1 or 0, Yes or No. You cannot have half an interaction.

    2) There are no “really existing” photons; according to Einstein, photons do not even have time to exist! Photons are fundamental in that they are almost not existing, not because they are little packets of fundamental energy; energy is not fundamental.

    The “Delta” in the formula Delta = (E2 – E1) seems to indicate that Delta is no more but the difference between two levels, that is, a certain amount, a packet. That is often a convenient way to see it, but Delta comes ultimately from the quantum uncertainty relation. It is fundamentally not a difference, but a measure of uncertainty, often very close or equal to the standard deviation like in the following expression: E = (50 +/- 0.3) Joule. 50 Joule is here the average, sometimes written <E>, and 0.3 Joule is the standard deviation, sometimes written Delta(E).

    Think of Delta as always deriving from an uncertainty like in E = <E> +/- Delta(E), even if it can be conveniently interpreted as a difference. Delta = (E2 – E1) is the uncertainty in the atom’s energy during emission.

    3) Naïve realists say:

    “The real world as such is precisely in some certain way, and the uncertainty is ours while the photon for example has whatever energy it happens to have and no other”.

    Here is how that naïve worldview arises: The absorbing atom is very likely to move a little in some direction relative to the first atom. Nevertheless, there is a finite probability for it to absorb energy from the emitting atom, *because* the amount of energy is fuzzy (uncertain) and the velocity is fundamentally uncertain and the states of the atoms when emitting or absorbing, are fundamentally uncertain. Also the problem with the photon’s coherence length being thousands of atomic diameters is resolved by that the time of emission and the time of absorption and thus all positions are uncertain.

    The coherence length is nothing but the position uncertainty of the light. All these parameters are fuzzy, because all the possible interpretations in terms of a classical “real” world, many possible worlds so to speak (no, I do not support a naive many world view!), are all involved in the quantum interaction. The correlations between the potentially observed outcomes restricts what is ultimately possible, thus leading to what appears to be physical “law” as if it is obeyed in spite of there being fundamentally no time to obey anything.

    Now you may say: “How could energy ever be conserved if it is all that fuzzy?”

    You must make measurements on the whole system including both atoms, in order to see how much energy may have been lost. All these measurements are all interactions that change uncertainties. Since you design the measurements to reduce the uncertainty about energy, the more accuracy you obtain, the more you cut out ever more possible worlds from the direct involvement in your uncertainty of interest (while uncertainty hugely grows somewhere else of course, just like entropy, in most other parameters that you are not interested in at that point).

    The measurement interaction when measuring conserved quantities (like energy in this example, which is in general not conserved) is such that your reducing of uncertainty about the energy of the overall system selects those potential parts that are consistent with a conservation law. From all the possibilities for the emitting atom and all the possibilities of states for the absorbing atom, those that together do not conserve energy well enough are not going to show up together; they are no longer both together possible after your measurement.

    Here an easier example: An experiment (the EPR setup) is constructed so that Alice always gets the opposite result of Bob's, but without there being a classical common cause like a pair of socks, where Alice would get the left sock whenever Bob gets the right sock. Here is what happens instead: Those Alice worlds that measure 1 will find themselves together with a Bob who measured 0. Those Alice worlds that measure 0 find themselves later with a Bob that measured 1. The result 0+1 = 1+0 is conserved to be 1, but not because Bob’s or Alice’s outcome is certain.

    On the contrary, it can be conserved because they are both uncertain, because only then can the possible outcomes all pair up so that conservation appears with all possible pairs! (If Alice = 1 and Bob = 1 were actually certain, the result would be 1+1=2 instead; there would be no longer a way to conserve the sum to be 1 every time.)

    * I have shown this to be the case by analysis of the EPR paradox [see
    here and here], and Einstein would have seen this eventually, because he understood the light-cone formulation and was not obsessed with space-time foliations.

    quantum light front page image credit: IOP


    I've often wondered about this. The quantumization of energy packets has always seemed to suggest that at some point, there must be levels/frequencies/wavelengths that are not allowed - eg: you could have a 10,000 Hz wave, and a 10,010 Hz wave, but no 10,005 Hz wave. I've wondered if the Planck length/time was involved - the difference in wavelength between two waves must be at least one Planck length, or the difference in frequency must be at least one cycle per Planck period (or would it be two Planck periods to complete a full cycle?)

    This gets really confusing, because as far as I can tell, according to physics, I should be able to stand and push against a wall all day and not get tired, because I'm not actually doing anything - I'm not doing any work, I'm not generating any power, etc...

    Thank you for your comment.
    eg: you could have a 10,000 Hz wave, and a 10,010 Hz wave, but no 10,005 Hz wave.
    Right, in case there were an absolute minimum energy, such a problem would arrise, while actually the question here is how we can know that the frequency is one rather than the other, and the answer is given by Fourier theory rather than quantum mechanics, namely Delta(Frequency) = 5 Hz needs us to measure at least a certain amount of time Delta(time), and again, here the amount of time is not a quantized bit of time, but it provides the uncertainty about when the oscillation has the frequency measured (or where the photon is, in case of light).
    I've wondered if the Planck length/time was involved
    It is, if you ask how quantum mechanics and gravity interact (the Planck length depends on the gravitational constant G). The frequency and thus energy may become so large that the wavelength (better: Compton length) is smaller than the black hole radius of that energy. So, the crucial issue is still fundamental uncertainty, as further certainty is meaningless (one can on principle not measure inside a black hole and tell the outside about it).
    according to physics, I should be able to stand and push against a wall all day and not get tired, because I'm not actually doing anything
    What is the relation between this and the above?
    An admission that I don't understand how Physics uses common every day words properly.


    No one is disputing whether quantized events or actions are discrete. What exactly is the question you ask when you inquire of a physicist whether his model demands many “worlds” or only one? Are you implying that each action is necessarily caused by many worlds? 

    It's the quantum discontinuity in which matters can go two or more ways that is of interest. This branching is as simple as a photo encountering a skin, layer or glass …. or a person making a decision. Does the semantics demand many “worlds”? If I was asking a physicist about this multiplicity, I would not use the "world" without defining it. 

    A Fourier series is a sum over many dimensions. Most any operation in a Hilbert Space needs access to an infinitude of dimensions. Let's not confuse dimensions with worlds.

    No one is disputing
    Some are
    What exactly is the question you ask when you inquire of a physicist whether his model demands many “worlds” or only one? Are you implying that each action is necessarily caused by many worlds?
    First: Solipsism is a valid dual description. Second, if that option is refused (most refuse it without second thoughts), the question is whether a given model necessarily needs multiple correlated alternative outcomes to be actualized in order for their correlations to have the effect they do. Usually, physicists do see that the quantum correlations are necessary in order for the quantum probability to be observed (for example Bell violation), however, there is no way in their model that any of the correlated worlds (= observed outcomes, i.e. Bob experiencing looking at 0 as the outcome) is in any way selected among the alternatives (like noting 1 instead of 0, note: actually seeing and recording it, meaning being alive and doing so consciously, potentially telling us later about it) until after the compound measurement (say Carl(s) in the middle seeing and recording "Alice got 1 while Bob got 0"). If there is only one outcome "real" in the end, then most of the Bobs and Alices must have been killed somehow (Alice looking at 0 and Bob at 1 were already actualized, so their worlds must have uprupty stopped if there is only one "real" world left).
    It's the quantum discontinuity in which matters can go two or more ways that is of interest.
    No - you need a compound measurement like between Bob and Alice in the EPR setup. A single branching cannot reveal the quantum correlations (because they are correlations involving alternative worlds!).
    I would not use the "world" without defining it.
    World is defined in my longer texts but I cannot start every little post with definitions. Wittgenstein uses "world" differently, but here it means that which an observer finds herself in.
    Let's not confuse dimensions with worlds.
    It is not confusing them if we talk about how physics happens to assign different dimensions to different worlds in whatever model.

    Thank you for your on-topic remarks - it is nice to see these serious comments slowly comming in.
    I wish I had the time and energy to unravel this better. 
    Your distinction over "compound measurements" and "single branching" is essential. 
    I would like to see it amplified.

    EPR is not the simplest example to ponder .... I think it is the single most linked item in the history of physics publishing. The original paper by EPR and the response by Bohr were anything but transparent. The Bell inequalities have been worked to death. I think readers need a fresh approach involving Alice, Bob and Carl. 

    Of related interest are Szilard bomb testing thought experiments wherein counterfactuals have to be acknowledged. Reminds me of Alice in Wonderland: "If it could be, it would be ..." (paraphrase).

    And yes, the lack of a universal simultaneity in compliance with Special Relativity needs to be appreciated. Otherwise, one mistakenly uses language that wants to talk about cause and effect. It is hard to to find a discussion of EPR that does not needlessly take one through a tangled wood of what causes what.

    Physicists, scientists, engineers and to some extent, doctors ... are all trained to think in terms of cause and effect. It's hard to get out of that habit and think in terms of pre-existing context and symmetries.
    A clear reason for the correlations evades us.

    Let's not confound complex-valued amplitudes with recorded registrations ...
    (especially when those clicks and jots are hidden in the cosmic record(s) and are not directly read or given a recorded response).

    Another problem with the “literature” is in the way it starts off as if we are dealing with individual particles, socks or marbles. The absolutely crucial atomic fact is that the much discussed particles or objects have no personal history or individuality. They can be swapped with no observable difference. Technically this swapping is under just two types of rules, depending on whether the “particles” are fermions or bosons. Notice how with the words “objects” and “particles” one is already headed down a road, a boulevard, of misguided realism. The only “objects” that are present are the actual recorded events or interactions. These are discrete and individual; they cannot be divided up into smaller bits of cause and effect or marbles rattling about in a cage. It is these clicks that are irreversible, not the subatomic particles.

    ((i tried to insert this in an appropriate response area without success .... carry on))

    distinction over "compound measurements" and "single branching" is essential.
    Yes - absofuckinglutely! All who do not get this do not understand QM. Single branching can be completely classical.
    I would like to see it amplified.
    I think readers need a fresh approach involving Alice, Bob and Carl. 
    Well, that is precisely what I have provided: The first visually intuitive MW model of the easiest EPR made as simple as possible with only Alice, Bob, and Carl, only three angles, one of them zero. It does not get any fresher or simpler, because that is the simplest that still has the crucial compound measurement.
    mistakenly uses language that wants to talk about cause and effect. It is hard to to find a discussion of EPR that does not needlessly take one through a tangled wood of what causes what.
    Causality is crucial *because* of relativity of simultaneity! EPR/Bell is all about causality.
    A clear reason for the correlations evades us.
    The reason is quantum to classical consistency: If EPR photons did not have the correlations they have, they would not be able to lead to classical optics! This is already discussed in the Annals of Physics article and the QRC stuff: The sine of the Bell violation is precisely the sine at polarized sunglasses. A classical world needs a quantised underpinning (entropy from information), but these both can only be consistent together if the Bell inequality is violated by that sine-factor. Every single photon has the local probability 50%, but also needs to obey a global sine-law, too. Of course, it would be more satisfying to have a more bottomn-to-top reason (rather than b-to-t-consistency as if they must constructively interfere to be observable), a 'Wheeler's simple idea', but nevertheless, a necessity for the precise Bell correlation (no more and no less - so I am having a quantitative result here, not just a qualitative!) is clearly identifyable.
    Let's not confound complex-valued amplitudes with recorded registrations ...
    I do not need any amplitudes, never mention complex numbers.
    Another problem with the “literature” is in the way it starts off as if we are dealing with individual particles, socks or marbles.
    That is to show what a classical system can and cannot do! I also start with socks and marbles.

    I am mostly struck by how people like to spend more time arguing than simply read the paper, which would need less time. If you want, I email you the newest version as I am in the process of improving it in order to put a yet easier version out - your comments may help.

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