Ontology and physics

One sometimes wonders what keeps amateur physicists awake. Why is it that they want to understand quarks and wave equations, or delve into complicated math (perturbation theory, for example)? I believe it is driven by the same human curiosity that drives philosophy. Physics stands apart from other sciences because it examines the smallest of smallest – the essence of things, so to speak.

Unlike other sciences (the human sciences in particular, perhaps), physicists also seek to reduce the number of concepts, rather than multiply them – even if, sadly, enough, they do not always a good job at that. However, generally speaking, physics and math may, effectively, be considered to be the King and Queen of Science, respectively.

The Queen is an eternal beauty, of course, because Her Language may mean anything. Physics, in contrast, talks specifics: physical dimensions (force, distance, energy, etcetera), as opposed to mathematical dimensions – which are mere quantities (scalars and vectors).

Science differs from religion in that it seeks to experimentally verify its propositions. It measures rather than believes. These measurements are cross-checked by a global community and, thereby, establish a non-subjective reality. The question of whether reality exists outside of us, is irrelevant: it is a category mistake (Ryle, 1949). It is like asking why we are here: we just are.

All is in the fundamental equations. An equation relates a measurement to Nature’s constants. Measurements – energy/mass, or velocities – are relative. Nature’s constants do not depend on the frame of reference of the observer and we may, therefore, label them as being absolute. This corresponds to the difference between variables and parameters in equations. The speed of light (c) and Planck’s quantum of action (h) are parameters in the E/m = c2 and E = hf, respectively.

Feynman (II-25-6) is right that the Great Law of Nature may be summarized as U = 0 but that “this simple notation just hides the complexity in the definitions of symbols is just a trick.” It is like talking of the night “in which all cows are equally black” (Hegel, Phänomenologie des Geistes, Vorrede, 1807). Hence, the U = 0 equation needs to be separated out. I would separate it out as:

We imagine things in 3D space and one-directional time (Lorentz, 1927, and Kant, 1781). The imaginary unit operator (i) represents a rotation in space. A rotation takes time. Its physical dimension is, therefore, s/m or -s/m, as per the mathematical convention in place (Minkowski’s metric signature and counter-clockwise evolution of the argument of complex numbers, which represent the (elementary) wavefunction).

Velocities can be linear or tangential, giving rise to the concepts of linear versus angular momentum. Tangential velocities imply orbitals: circular and elliptical orbitals are closed. Particles are pointlike charges in closed orbitals. We are not sure if non-closed orbitals might correspond to some reality: linear oscillations are field particles, but we do not think of lines as non-closed orbitals: the curvature of real space (the Universe we live in) suggest we should but we are not sure such thinking is productive (efforts to model gravity as a residual force have failed so far).

Space and time are innate or a priori categories (Kant, 1781). Elementary particles can be modeled as pointlike charges oscillating in space and in time. The concept of charge could be dispensed with if there were not lightlike particles: photons and neutrinos, which carry energy but no charge. The pointlike charge which is oscillating is pointlike but may have a finite (non-zero) physical dimension, which explains the anomalous magnetic moment of the free (Compton) electron. However, it only appears to have a non-zero dimension when the electromagnetic force is involved (the proton has no anomalous magnetic moment and is about 3.35 times smaller than the calculated radius of the pointlike charge inside of an electron). Why? We do not know: elementary particles are what they are.

We have two forces: electromagnetic and nuclear. One of the most remarkable things is that the E/m = c2 holds for both electromagnetic and nuclear oscillations, or combinations thereof (superposition theorem). Combined with the oscillator model (E = ma2ω2 = mc2 and, therefore, c must be equal to c = aω), this makes us think of c2 as modeling an elasticity or plasticity of space. Why two oscillatory modes only? In 3D space, we can only imagine oscillations in one, two and three dimensions (line, plane, and sphere). The idea of four-dimensional spacetime is not relevant in this context.

Photons and neutrinos are linear oscillations and, because they carry no charge, travel at the speed of light. Electrons and muon-electrons (and their antimatter counterparts) are 2D oscillations packing electromagnetic and nuclear energy, respectively. The proton (and antiproton) pack a 3D nuclear oscillation. Neutrons combine positive and negative charge and are, therefore, neutral. Neutrons may or may not combine the electromagnetic and nuclear force: their size (more or less the same as that of the proton) suggests the oscillation is nuclear.  

 2D oscillation3D oscillation
electromagnetic forcee± (electron/positron)orbital electron (e.g.: 1H)
nuclear forceμ± (muon-electron/antimuon)p± (proton/antiproton)
compositepions (π±/ π0)?n (neutron)? D+ (deuteron)?
corresponding field particleγ (photon)ν (neutrino)

The theory is complete: each theoretical/mathematical/logical possibility corresponds to a physical reality, with spin distinguishing matter from antimatter for particles with the same form factor.

When reading this, my kids might call me and ask whether I have gone mad. Their doubts and worry are not random: the laws of the Universe are deterministic (our macro-time scale introduces probabilistic determinism only). Free will is real, however: we analyze and, based on our analysis, we determine the best course to take when taking care of business. Each course of action is associated with an anticipated cost and return. We do not always choose the best course of action because of past experience, habit, laziness or – in my case – an inexplicable desire to experiment and explore new territory.

PS: I’ve written this all out in a paper, of course. 🙂 I also did a 30 minute YouTube video on it. Finally, I got a nice comment from an architect who wrote an interesting paper on wavefunctions and wave equations back in 1996 – including thoughts on gravity.

Particles as spacetime oscillations

My very first publication on Phil Gibb’s site – The Quantum-Mechanical Wavefunction as a Gravitational Wave – reached 500+ downloads. I find that weird, because I warn the reader in the comments section that some of these early ideas do not make sense. Indeed, while my idea of modelling an electron as a two-dimensional oscillation has not changed, the essence of the model did. My theory of matter is based on the idea of a naked charge – with zero rest mass – orbiting around some center, and the energy in its motion – a perpetual current ring, really – is what gives matter its (equivalent) mass. Wheeler’s idea of ‘mass without mass’. The force is, therefore, definitely not gravitational.

It cannot be: the force has to grab onto something, and all it can grab onto is the naked charge. The force must, therefore, be electromagnetic. So I now look at that very first paper as an immature essay. However, I leave it there because that paper does ask all of the right questions, and I should probably revisit it – because the questions I get on my last paper on the subject – De Broglie’s Matter-Wave: Concept and Issues, which gets much more attention on ResearchGate than on Phil Gibb’s site (so it is more serious, perhaps) – are quite similar to the ones I try to answer in that very first paper: what is the true nature of the matter-wave? What is that fundamental oscillation?

I have been thinking about this for many years now, and I may never be able to give a definite answer to the question, but yesterday night some thoughts came to me that may or may not make sense. And so to be able to determine whether they might, I thought I should write them down. So that is what I am going to do here, and you should not take it very seriously. If anything, they may help you to find some answers for yourself. So if you feel like switching off because I am getting too philosophical, please do: I myself wonder how useful it is to try to interpret equations and, hence, to write about what I am going to write about here – so I do not mind at all if you do too!

That is too much already as an introduction, so let us get started. One of my more obvious reflections yesterday was this: the nature of the matter-wave is not gravitational, but it is an oscillation in space and in time. As such, we may think of it as a spacetime oscillation. In any case, physicists often talk about spacetime oscillations without any clear idea of what they actually mean by it, so we may as well try to clarify it in this very particular context here: the explanation of matter in terms of an oscillating pointlike charge. Indeed, the first obvious point to make is that any such perpetual motion may effectively be said to be a spacetime oscillation: it is an oscillation in space – and in time, right?

As such, a planet orbiting some star – think of the Earth orbiting our Sun – may be thought of a spacetime oscillation too ! Am I joking? No, I am not. Let me elaborate this idea. The concept of a spacetime oscillation implies we think of space as something physical, as having an essence of sorts. We talk of a spacetime fabric, a (relativistic) aether or whatever other term comes to mind. The Wikipedia article on aether theories quotes Robert B. Laughlin as follows in this regard: “It is ironic that Einstein’s most creative work, the general theory of relativity, should boil down to conceptualizing space as a medium when his original premise [in special relativity] was that no such medium existed [..] The word ‘ether’ has extremely negative connotations in theoretical physics because of its past association with opposition to relativity. This is unfortunate because, stripped of these connotations, it rather nicely captures the way most physicists actually think about the vacuum.”

I disagree with that. I do not think about the vacuum in such terms: the vacuum is the Cartesian mathematical 3D space in which we imagine stuff to exist. We should not endow this mathematical space with any physical qualities – with some essence. Mathematical concepts are mathematical concepts only. It is the difference between size and distance. Size is physical: an electron – any physical object, really – has a size. But the distance between two points is a mathematical concept only.

The confusion arises from us expressing both in terms of the physical distance unit: a meter, or a pico- or femtometer – whatever is appropriate for the scale of the things that we are looking at. So it is the same thing when we talk about a point: we need to distinguish a physical point – think of our pointlike charge here – and a mathematical point. That should be the key to understanding matter-particles as spacetime oscillations – if we would want to understand them as such, that is – which is what we are trying to do here. So how should we think of this? Let us start with matter-particles. In our realist interpretation of physics, we think of matter-particles as consisting of charge – in contrast to, say, photons, the particles of light, which (also) carry energy but no charge. Let us consider the electron, because the structure of the proton is very different and may involve a different force: a strong force – as opposed to the electromagnetic force that we are so familiar with. Let me use an animated gif from the Wikipedia Commons repository to recapture the idea of such (two-dimensional) oscillation.

Think of the green dot as the pointlike charge: it is a physical point moving in a mathematical space – a simple 2D plane, in this case. So it goes from here to there, and here and there are two mathematical points only: points in the 3D Cartesian space which – as H.A. Lorentz pointed out when criticizing the new theories – is a notion without which we cannot imagine any idea in physics. So we have a spacetime oscillation here alright: an oscillation in space, and in time. Oscillations in space are always oscillations in time, obviously – because the idea of an oscillation implies the idea of motion, and the idea of motion always involves the notion of space as well as the notion of time. So what makes this spacetime oscillation different from, say, the Earth orbiting around the Sun?

Perhaps we should answer this question by pointing out the similarities first. A planet orbiting around the sun involves perpetual motion too: there is an interplay between kinetic and potential energy, both of which depend on the distance from the center. Indeed, Earth falls into the Sun, so to speak, and its kinetic energy gets converted into potential energy and vice versa. However, the centripetal force is gravitational, of course. The centripetal force on the pointlike charge is not: there is nothing at the center pulling it. But – Hey ! – what is pulling our planet, exactly? We do not believe in virtual gravitons traveling up and down between the Sun and the Earth, do we? So the analogy may not be so bad, after all ! It is just a very different force: its structure is different, and it acts on something different: a charge versus mass. That’s it. Nothing more. Nothing less.

Or… Well… Velocities are very different, of course, but even there distinctions are, perhaps, less clear-cut than they appear to be at first. The pointlike charge in our electron has no mass and, therefore, moves at lightspeed. The electron itself, however, acquires mass and, therefore, moves at a fraction of lightspeed only in an atomic or molecular orbital. And much slower in a perpetual current in superconducting material. [Yes. When thinking of electrons in the context of superconduction, we have an added complication: we should think of electron pairs (Cooper pairs) rather than individual electrons, it seems. We are not quite sure what to make of this – except to note electrons will also want to lower their energy by pairing up in atomic or molecular orbitals, and we think the nature of this pairing must, therefore, be the same.]

Did we clarify anything? Maybe. Maybe not. Saying that an electron is a pointlike charge and a two-dimensional oscillation, or saying that it’s a spacetime oscillation itself, appears to be a tautology here, right? Yes. You are right. So what’s the point, then?

We are not sure, except for one thing: when defining particles as spacetime oscillations, we do definitely not need the idea of virtual particles. That’s rubbish: an unnecessary multiplication of concepts. So I think that is some kind of progress we got out of this rather difficult philosophical reflections, and that is useful, I think. To illustrate this point, you may want to think of the concept of heat. When there is heat, there is no empty space. There is no vacuum anymore. When we heat a space, we fill it with photons. They bounce around and get absorbed and re-emitted all of the time. in fact, we, therefore, also need matter to imagine a heated space. Hence, space here is no longer the vacuum: it is full of energy, but this energy is always somewhere – and somewhere specifically: it’s carried by a photon, or (temporarily) stored as an electron orbits around a nucleus in an excited state (which amounts to the same as saying it is being stored by an atom or some molecular structure consisting of atoms). In short, heat is energy but it is being ‘transmitted’ or ‘transported’ through space by photons. Again, the point is that the vacuum itself should not be associated with energy: it is empty. It is a mathematical construct only.

We should try to think this through – even further than we already did – by thinking how photons – or radiation of heat – would disturb perpetual currents: in an atom, obviously (the electron orbitals), but also perpetual superconducting currents at the macro-scale: unless the added heat from the photons is continuously taken away by the supercooling helium or whatever is used, radiation or heat will literally bounce the electrons into a different physical trajectory, so we should effectively associate excited energy states with different patterns of motion: a different oscillation, in other words. So it looks like electrons – or electrons in atomic/molecular orbitals – do go from one state into another (excited) state and back again but, in whatever state they are, we should think of them as being in their own space (and time). So that is the nature of particles as spacetime oscillations then, I guess. Can we say anything more about it?

I am not sure. At this moment, I surely have nothing more to say about it. Some more thinking about how superconduction – at the macro-scale – might actually work could, perhaps, shed more light on it: is there an energy transfer between the two electrons in a Cooper pair? An interplay between kinetic and potential energy? Perhaps the two electrons behave like coupled pendulums? If they do, then we need to answer the question: how, exactly? Is there an exchange of (real) photons, or is the magic of the force the same: some weird interaction in spacetime which we can no further meaningfully analyze, but which gives space not only some physicality but also causes us to think of it as being discrete, somehow. Indeed, an electron is an electron: it is a whole. Thinking of it as a pointlike charge in perpetual motion does not make it less of a whole. Likewise, an electron in an atomic orbital is a whole as well: it just occupies more space. But both are particles: they have a size. They are no longer pointlike: they occupy a measurable space: the Cartesian (continuous) mathematical space becomes (discrete) physical space.

I need to add another idea here – or another question for you, if I may. If superconduction can only occur when electrons pair up, then we should probably think of the pairs as some unit too – and a unit that may take up a rather large space. Hence, the idea of a discrete, pointlike, particle becomes somewhat blurred, right? Or, at the very least, it becomes somewhat less absolute, doesn’t it? 🙂

I guess I am getting lost in words here, which is probably worse than getting ‘lost in math‘ (I am just paraphrasing Sabine Hossenfelder here) but, yes, that is why I am writing a blog post rather than a paper here. If you want equations, read my papers. 🙂 Oh – And don’t forget: fields are real as well. They may be relative, but they are real. And it’s not because they are quantized (think of (magnetic) flux quantization in the context of superconductivity, for example) that they are necessarily discrete – that we have field packets, so to speak. I should do a blog post on that. I will. Give me some time. 🙂

Post scriptum: What I wrote above on there not being any exchange of gravitons between an orbiting planet and its central star (or between double stars or whatever gravitational trajectories out there), does not imply I am ruling out their existence. I am a firm believer in the existence of gravitational waves, in fact. We should all be firm believers because – apart from some marginal critics still wondering what was actually being measured – the LIGO detections are real. However, whether or not these waves involve discrete lightlike particles – like photons and, in the case of the strong force, neutrinos – is a very different question. Do I have an opinion on it? I sure do. It is this: when matter gets destroyed or created (remember the LIGO detections involved the creation and/or destruction of matter as black holes merge), gravitational waves must carry some of the energy, and there is no reason to assume that the Planck-Einstein relation would not apply. Hence, we will have energy packets in the gravitational wave as well: the equivalent of photons (and, most probably, of neutrinos), in other words. All of this is, obviously, very speculative. Again, just think of this whole blog post as me freewheeling: the objective is, quite simply, to make you think as hard as I do about these matters. 🙂

As for my remark on the Cooper pairs being a unit or not, that question may be answered by thinking about what happens if Cooper pairs are broken, which is a topic I am not familiar with, so I cannot say anything about it.

Form and substance

Philosophers usually distinguish between form and matter, rather than form and substance. Matter, as opposed to form, is then what is supposed to be formless. However, if there is anything that physics – as a science – has taught us, is that matter is defined by its form: in fact, it is the form factor which explains the difference between, say, a proton and an electron. So we might say that matter combines substance and form.

Now, we all know what form is: it is a mathematical quality—like the quality of having the shape of a triangle or a cube. But what is (the) substance that matter is made of? It is charge. Electric charge. It comes in various densities and shapes – that is why we think of it as being basically formless – but we can say a few more things about it. One is that it always comes in the same unit: the elementary charge—which may be positive or negative. Another is that the concept of charge is closely related to the concept of a force: a force acts on a charge—always.

We are talking elementary forces here, of course—the electromagnetic force, mainly. What about gravity? And what about the strong force? Attempts to model gravity as some kind of residual force, and the strong force as some kind of electromagnetic force with a different geometry but acting on the very same charge, have not been successful so far—but we should immediately add that mainstream academics never focused on it either, so the result may be commensurate with the effort made: nothing much.

Indeed, Einstein basically explained gravity away by giving us a geometric interpretation for it (general relativity theory) which, as far as I can see, confirms it may be some residual force resulting from the particular layout of positive and negative charge in electrically neutral atomic and molecular structures. As for the strong force, I believe the quark hypothesis – which basically states that partial (non-elementary) charges are, somehow, real – has led mainstream physics into the dead end it finds itself in now. Will it ever get out of it?

I am not sure. It does not matter all that much to me. I am not a mainstream scientist and I have the answers I was looking for. These answers may be temporary, but they are the best I have for the time being. The best quote I can think of right now is this one:

‘We are in the words, and at the same time, apart from them. The words spin out, spin us out, over a void. There, somewhere between us, some words form some answer for some time, allowing us to live more fully in the forgetting face of nonexistence, in the dissolving away of each other.’ (Jacques Lacan, in Jeremy D. Safran (2003), Psychoanalysis and Buddhism: an unfolding dialogue, p. 134)

That says it all, doesn’t it? For the time being, at least. 🙂

Post scriptum: You might think explaining gravity as some kind of residual electromagnetic force should be impossible, but explaining the attractive force inside a nucleus behind like charges was pretty difficult as well, until someone came up with a relatively simple idea based on the idea of ring currents. 🙂

The nature of the matter-wave

Yesterday, I was to talk for about 30 minutes to some students who are looking at classical electron models as part of an attempt to try to model what might be happening to an electron when moving through a magnetic field. Of course, I only had time to discuss the ring current model, and even then it inadvertently turned into a two-hour presentation. Fortunately, they were polite and no one dropped out—although it was an online Google Meet. In fact, they reacted quite enthusiastically, and so we all enjoyed it a lot. So much that I adjusted the presentation a bit the next morning (which added even more time to it unfortunately) so as to add it to my YouTube channel. So this is the link to it, and I hope you enjoy it. If so, please like it—and share it! 🙂

Oh! Forgot to mention: in case you wonder why this video is different than others, see my Tweet on Sean Carroll’s latest series of videos hereunder. That should explain it.

Sean Carroll

Post scriptum: Of course, I got the usual question from one of the students: if an electron is a ring current, then why doesn’t it radiate its energy away? The easy answer is: an electron is an electron and so it doesn’t—for the same reason that an electron in an atomic orbital or a Cooper pair in a superconducting loop of current does not radiate energy away. The more difficult answer is a bit mysterious: it has got to do with flux quantization and, most importantly, with the Planck-Einstein relation. I will not be too long here (I cannot because this is just a footnote to a blog post) but the following elements should be noted:

1. The Planck-Einstein law embodies a (stable) wavicle: a wavicle respects the Planck-Einstein relation (E = h·f) as well as Einstein’s mass-energy equivalence relation (E = mc2). A wavicle will, therefore, carry energy but it will also pack one or more units of Planck’s quantum of action. Both the energy as well as this finite amount of physical action (Wirkung in German) will be conserved—cycle after cycle.

2. Hence, equilibrium states should be thought of as electromagnetic oscillation without friction. Indeed, it is the frictional element that explains the radiation of, say, an electron going up and down in an antenna and radiating some electromagnetic signal out. To add to this rather intuitive explanation, I should also remind you that it is the accelerations and decelerations of the electric charge in an antenna that generate the radio wave—not the motion as such. So one should, perhaps, think of a charge going round and round as moving like in a straight line—along some geodesic in its own space. That’s the metaphor, at least.

3. Technically, one needs to think in terms of quantized fluxes and Poynting vectors and energy transfers from kinetic to potential (and back) and from ‘electric’ to ‘magnetic’ (and back). In short, the electron really is an electromagnetic perpetuum mobile ! I know that sounds mystical (too) but then I never promised I would take all of the mystery away from quantum physics ! 🙂 If there would be no mystery left, I would not be interested in physics.