“Rotation” is a fundamental property of elementary particles such as electrons, and conjures up images of a small sphere rapidly spinning around its axis, like a planet in a diminutive solar system.
But it is not. I can’t be. First, electrons are not spheres of matter, but points defined by probability mathematics.
However, Charles T. Sebens, philosopher of physics at the California Institute of Technology, argues that such a particle-based approach to one of the most accurate theories in physics can be misleading.
By framing the basis of matter primarily in terms of fields, he says, some of the quirks and paradoxes that emerge from a particle-centered view are melting away.
“Philosophers tend to be interested in really long-standing unresolved problems.” says Self.
“We have ways in quantum mechanics to predict the results of experiments that work very well for electrons and explain a spin, but important fundamental questions remain unanswered: Why do these methods work and what’s going on inside an atom?”
For much of the century, physicists have grappled with the results of experiments that suggested that the tiniest bits of reality don’t look or behave like objects in our daily lives.
Spin is one of these qualities. Like a spinning billiard ball hitting the inside wall of a pool table, it carries angular momentum and affects the direction of a moving particle. Yet, unlike the cue ball, a particle’s spin can never accelerate or slow down – instead it is always limited to a certain value.
To make describing the fundamental nature of matter even more difficult, consider that an electron is so small in size that it virtually lacks volume. If it were large enough to be in volume, the negative charge radiating into that space would repel itself, smashing the electron.
Significantly, even if we were benevolent and gave the electron as a particle of the largest radius allowed by experiments, its spin would exceed the speed of light – something that may or may not break a deal on this scale. many physicists suffice to reject talk about spinning electrons.
One way to make the map of basic physics a little easier is to define points of matter as actions embedded in the mesh of a field and then interpret those actions as particles.
quantum field theory (QFT) does this successfully by combining aspects of Einstein’s special theory of relativity, classical field theory, and particle propositions of quantum physics.
This is not a controversial theory, yet there is still debate as to whether these fields are fundamental – existing even if the fluctuating signals through them are muted – or whether the main actors representing vital information are particles and whether fields are just. a suitable script.
To us it may seem like a trivial distinction. But for philosophers like Sebens, the results are worth exploring.
As he explained In an article from 2019 aeon magazine: “Sometimes progress in physics requires backing up first, in order to reexamine, reinterpret, and revise theories we already have.”
This reexamination of quantum field theory highlights several key advantages of making fields a priority over a particle-first approach in physics, including a model that reimagines electrons in a way that allows us to better understand their behavior.
“In an atom, the electron is often depicted as a cloud showing where the electron can be found, but I think the electron is actually physically spread out over that cloud,” Sebens said. says.
Instead of being confined to a point, an electron can physically span an area, spinning in shapes that are actually less of a mathematical structure and more of a physical description.
While it still won’t be like a tiny planet in a solar system, this spinning electron will at least move at a law-breaking speed.
How this diffuse dispersal of negatively charged matter resists self-disintegration is a question for which Sebens has no answer. But he thinks by focusing on the field properties of an emitted electron, any solution would make more sense than problems with infinitely trapped particles.
There is a quote that has become folklore in the halls of quantum theorists – “Shut up and calculate.It has become a synonym for ‘. fantasy landscape the quantum realm, where imagination and metaphor fail to compete with the uncanny precision of pure mathematics.
Occasionally, though, it’s important to pause our calculations and go back to question a few old assumptions and perhaps even take a fresh look at the fundamentals of physics.
This article was published synthesis.
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