Quantum Weirdness – A Matter of Relativity? Part 1

Quantum Weirdness

A Matter of Relativity?

Copyright 2006/2007 James A. Tabb

Part 1: Introduction and Photons In Glass

Quantum Electrodynamics (QED) theory has developed to be the theory that defines almost all of the understanding of our physical universe. It is the most successful theory of our time to describe the way microscopic, and at least to some extent, macroscopic things work.

Yet there is experimental evidence that all is not right. Some weird things happen at the photon and atomic level that have yet to be explained. QED gives the right answers, but does not clear up the strange behavior – some things are simply left hanging on the marvelous words “Quantum Weirdness”. A few examples of quantum weirdness include the reflection of light from the surface of thick glass by single photons, dependent on the thickness of the glass; the apparent interference of single photons with themselves through two paths in double slit experiments; the reconstruction of a polarized photon in inverted calcite crystals, among others.

This paper introduces some ideas that may explain some of the weirdness.

Photons and Relativistic Effects:

I suggest that most of the difficulties we have in addressing the various weirdness phenomena at the particle level can be traced to relativistic effects. It all comes down to the two different simultaneous viewpoints: The one we can see and measure, and the one the photon experiences. Relativistic effects rule the photon world and our life experiences rule ours.

Consider that photons travel at the speed of light and thus experience relativistic effects. What are these effects? Einstein gave us some tools to work with to describe the various space-time relativistic changes as shown in Figure 1. There is a mass equation also, but the mass increase is not a factor here, since we know that the photon has no rest mass.

Relativistic Equations

Figure 1.   Relativistic Effects at c

The photon’s clock stops because the time between clock ticks becomes infinitely long at c. Similarly, the distance traveled becomes zero because the photon’s unit inch becomes infinitely long and stretches to the end of its journey in one bound. In other words, the entire path is foreshortened to zero length, and everything in its path is compressed to a dot.

We, on the other hand, see the photon from our experimental perspective. Photons move at speed c, take a nanosecond to go about a foot, take centuries to go from a nearby galaxy to earth, all of which we can measure or calculate with confidence and confirm with experiments.

The Photon’s Go-Splat World

The photon lives in a “go-splat” world. The clock of a photon completely stops the instant it is emitted and stays stopped throughout its journey. The distance traveled by a photon becomes zero as compared to the distance measured by the stationary observer. It may take a photon a billion years to cross from a distant galaxy to our telescope from our perspective, but for the photon, as soon as it is emitted, it arrives – splat; there is no time elapse in the photon world. In effect, the space and time between the photon’s emission and its destination are severely warped.

Therefore, the photon’s world is flat and stapled together, front-to-back, between its start point and its end point. In effect, the photon is touching its emitter on one end and our eye on the other with zero depth of field. Whatever phase it has at the time of emission, it has when it hits our telescope because it is all frozen in time. Physicists call the time experienced by the photon null time and the path the null time path.

It is this stapled together, zero time world that I believe explains much of the quantum weirdness we experience. Our life and experimental experiences are so strong that we can’t easily get our minds around the relativistic phenomena.

What the photon would know of the experimental setup, whatever it is, consists of wake-up calls at various edges or medium changes and eventually wherever it is absorbed in our screen or detector, all zero distance apart. This is vastly different from our perspective where everything is so carefully laid out, separated, calibrated with finite distances and photon flight times.

From our perspective, if it is going across a table, it moves about a foot every nanosecond. If it is going across the universe it takes years, even millions or billions of years to get from there to here. However we see it or calculate it, the time it takes for the photon’s lifetime is always zero. Go-Splat! As soon as it leaves on its journey, it arrives.

Quantum Weirdness in Glass

One of the weird aspects of photons involves reflection from glass of varying thickness. Send a laser pointer beam perpendicular to a pane of glass and about 4% of it will reflect back, on average, but, by carefully selecting glass of various thicknesses, the reflections vary from 0% to 16%. Glass a foot thick can be slightly adjusted in thickness to not reflect at all! All the light goes into the glass – perfect transmission. QED easily shows how this works for light beams. Rays from the back of the glass interfere with the rays coming in the front so as to cancel the reflection if the wavelength is a multiple of ½ wavelength.

However, the cancellation at ½ wavelength also works for individual photons for thick glass, and there seems to be no answer other than “quantum weirdness”. How does an individual photon know how thick the glass is the instant it hits the front surface when the back surface is thousands of wavelengths away? The reflected photon would be six feet away before a copy could make a round trip through a foot thick piece of glass. (Two feet round trip at 1/3 speed of light in air)

Quantum Weirdness and Relativity

Lets look closer at our foot thick piece of glass. The photon is moving at c and from a relativistic perspective our piece of glass has zero thickness (our entire experiment has zero thickness) as shown in Figure 2a.

Photon in thick glass

Figure 2. Photon in Glass

Immediately after impact, a full  half wave of the photon fits completely into the glass (2c), no matter how thick. The photon’s wavelength in glass is only 1/3 of its air wavelength. If the thickness of the glass is a multiple of a half-wave of the (shortened) photon, the photon will go right on through without reflection. Otherwise, depending on the thickness, some percentage (0 to 16%) of them will reflect.  In effect, the glass collapses to zero thickness if it is an exact multiple of the half wavelength, and if not, there is an overhang on one of the collapsed thicknesses that determines the probability of reflection.  Thus the photon does not have to “wiggle” its way to the far side and back to make its decision. If it is going to reflect, the decision is immediate due to the glass being foreshortened to fit the photon. It is, in fact, relativistic foreshortening of the glass.

Note, although the surfaces in the drawing above and those that follow are drawn with straight lines and flat, they are shown that way only for illustrative purposes. At c, all the points in the direction of travel are pulled to one point at the nose of the photon because they are zero distance apart to the photon, and surfaces near the path are severely bent.

It should also be noted that, once within the lattice of the atoms of glass, the atoms to each side of the photon resume their normal spacing and are no longer foreshortened. This is because they are perpendicular to the direction of travel. Those atoms in front continue to be shortened to meet the photon. Thus the photon length and the glass thickness exactly match, regardless of thickness, if the glass is an exact multiple of a half wavelength.  In that case, the photon completely enters without reflection. If the thickness does not fit the wavelength of the photon exactly, there is a crisis due to a mismatch in which the glass is not quite zero thickness to the photon. The probability of reflection depends on the degree of mismatch, but the reflection decision is made while the photon is still at the front surface and just inside.

There are two effects going on simultaneously: The relativistic effects for the photon and the realistic effects for the observer. The photon fits within the entire experiment (zero thickness, no wiggle time due to no time elapse) while we, as the stationary observers, see the entire experiment where the photon is traveling at c and has to wiggle 130,000 times to get through the glass in a measurable time (about 3 nanoseconds for a foot of glass). One case of quantum weirdness explained by relativistic effects.

Next: Explaining Double Slit Weirdness


6 responses to “Quantum Weirdness – A Matter of Relativity? Part 1

  1. Rob MacRiner rmacriner@sympatico.ca , robmacriner@hotmail.com

    Answer to Question: Why does time seem to exist only in a forward direction?

    Time seems to only exist in a forward direction because the universe is expanding. If the Universe reaches Critical Velocity and starts to contract ….then time, as we measure time will reverse according to the Big Bang / Big Crunch Theory. The reason for this is that time does not exist without change or movement….. (change or movement of particle matter or energy as we know it). If matter has no movement either expanding or contracting then time does not exit for that matter. However Time can exist around non moving particle matter if something is either expanding or contracting around it.

    If the expansion of matter increases as in the case of our universe, or an expanding object, or even light…then time increases relative to the rate of expansion. Example: if carbon A is heated and expands faster than carbon B (which is not heated) then time increases in carbon A relative to carbon B…However as Einstein pointed out…time is relative to the observer…and you need something of contrast to make that comparison….fortunately our universe offers lots of contrast …otherwise we would have a very difficult time figuring this out. Time being relative to the observer can exist at different speeds based on the rate of expanding matter. If you are on riding on a beam of light than time is much different than your friend riding on a sound wave.Of course time is relative to the observer, therefore your time is much faster only to him, or any body else who is not on a beam of light.

    If matter contracts or condenses then time actually reverses…as in the case of a contracting universe…so Planks Quantum would be measured as zero time for the entire Universe…and time starts at the point of the Big Bang (once matter is on the move again)… In the case of a black hole, relative to our expanding universe)… there is also no time. (except for matter being sucked into a black hole….this matter would be reversing in time, until at which point it becomes part of the black hole mass, then time (in a Black Hole) as in Planks Quantum is zero….which is odd because the Universe is still expanding around the black hole…but it is consistent with the theory that. Time can exist around “non moving matter” if something is either expanding or contracting

    Time as we know it is measured in a forward direction and will continue until the point of critical velocity…at which point time starts to reverse…and for a brief moment…the point where the Universe changes from expanding to contracting…time will again be zero…as in Planks Quantum. However…during the forward direction of time…(while the Universe is expanding)…black holes are continuing to suck up matter…and should in theory at some point converge with other black holes….Therefore…as the universe is expanding from the big bang…there is multitude of matter which is not expanding (black holes)…which might well be unexploded Planks Quantum matter from the big bang…and the black holes with their massive gravitational force are sucking up matter which was attempting to expand but was not able to overcome the stronger force of the black hole…like mini-Plank Quantum’s converging within the universe …When the Universe reaches Critical Velocity and then all matter in our Universe starts to contract…heading towards the Big Crunch….the multitude of black holes converging (up to that point) should in theory rapidly increase the speed of reverse time …acting as an accelerant force of a contracting Universe with there collective gravitational force …so the reverse of time.(the journey the contracting Universe is taking towards the Big Crunch)…should happen much quicker than the time it took for the Universe to go from the Big Bang to Critical Velocity…That is of course Time relative from the Big Bang to Critical Velocity ……in contrast to …….Time Relative from Critical Velocity to the Big Crunch..… Rob MacRiner rmacriner@sympatico.ca Nov 2007

  2. I’m not suggesting that Time will reverse itself as one would rewind a movie. The point is that time as we know it can not exit without particle matter either expanding or contracting. Imagine a container of colored sand 5″ high ..packed in a 50 ‘glass tube on a space shuttle. The color images of sand particles seen from outside the glass, might look like some kind of landscape. Now the sand explodes in the 50’ glass tube ….while the shuttle is docked ..and those sand particles hurl in a forward or expansive direction…up the 50’ glass tube…after the explosion. But all of a sudden the space shuttle takes off, and the G forces are very intense, at the same time the particles of sand reach their maximum expulsion. The G forces would bring the sand back down to the base of that glass tube, in a hurry, but when they arrived packed back at the base, now once again 5″ high they would not represent the color image of the landscape that was seen before the explosion….The image would be much different. Forward time would be the expansion of the sand after the explosion. Reversed time for the sand would be as the G forces drive the sand back to the based of the glasstube, and pack those colored sand particles back to it’s original 5 “. That is the image of reverse time that I see.

  3. Rob,

    All of these comments about time presupposes that time actually exists. As you may know, I call that into question in a different post. “Does time Exist?” The comments are not meant as a rebuttal, but represent my opinions on what we are talking about. Thank you in advace for taking the “time” to explain what you think about the subject.

    From your first comment:

    “Time seems to only exist in a forward direction because the universe is expanding. If the Universe reaches Critical Velocity and starts to contract ….then time, as we measure time will reverse according to the Big Bang / Big Crunch Theory. “

    I don’t buy that. The universe may slow down and then begin to be compacted but I don’t think that the progression of events around us that we call time will reverse in our view of the world. Are you saying that at that instant of reversal the incessant ticking of our mechanical clocks will reverse and the counters on our NBS devices will stop and begin to move backward?

    I don’t think the inhabitants of this Universe will notice any change in the progression of their lives.

    “Example: if carbon A is heated and expands faster than carbon B (which is not heated) then time increases in carbon A relative to carbon B…”

    I’m not so sure of that either. For example, I’ve not heard that the half-life of elements such as uranium changes all that much when it is heated. The half-life of a given radioactive material is always the same, regardless of temperature, chemical combination, or any other condition. The individual atoms are unaware that they are heated except they have more energy and their relative motions are increased and bang into each other more often but I don’t think their half-life is affected as they warm up. The half-life is an indicator of their internal clock. Their half-life definitely is affected (from our frame of reference) as they approach the speed of light and slow down as predicted.

    From your second comment:

    “I’m not suggesting that Time will reverse itself as one would rewind a movie.”

    Ok, that is a little more like it. We don’t rewind our world and don’t walk backward. I can agree with that.

    Forward time would be the expansion of the sand after the explosion. Reversed time for the sand would be as the G forces drive the sand back to the based of the glasstube, and pack those colored sand particles back to it’s original 5 “. That is the image of reverse time that I see.

    Well, that is just how everything seems to work without the expansion and contraction of time. You blow things up and then you pack the debris back into a small area and what you have is a compact jumble of broken up and unrecognizable stuff, not at all like you started with. The stuff is older than the moment you started sucking it up. If you try your experiment with ground beef you would eventually get rotted ground beef, assuming air is present.

    I don’t think time reversal is going to happen at any point in the history of our universe. Time may stop when the big crunch happens, but I don’t think it will ever reverse. I agree that at some point, if our Universe is not flat, then we could go back to a big bang moment, but there is a problem. It all started out in the same instant, but it comes falling back in piece by piece. It will never come back together at some instant-instant, just as matter around a black hole does not fall into a black hole all at one instant. Just as the pieces of a bomb in an indestructible balloon scatter its parts in all directions, some pieces stretch the balloon a little more than others and would come back together at different times.

    Matter falling into a black hole is converted to spaghetti by tidal forces and time for the particles slows down to zero as it falls inward. Elements like Uranium will have their half-lives lengthened long before it is separated into quarks and then combined with whatever is at the center. Time if it exists, stops but does not reverse within a black hole.

    I think that there are universes out there that have no dimension of time, but things still happen there for its inhabitants. But those inhabitants can move forward or backward in relation to where we live in “time” without walking backward. They just move in time as they see fit. They would be immortal. Hmmm sounds like heaven to me.

    Again, thanks for posting your thoughts. Any comment on what I’ve said?


  4. I noted in commenting on another of your articles that the speed of light in glass is approximately 2/3 of its speed in air, rather than the 1/3 you quote here. It does not really matter for this article if we assume there is some other clear “glass” even more refractive than diamond, for which the speed ratio really is only 1/3.

    Some things that gives me pause about this article stem from the implicit notion of the rest frame of a photon (a problem I raised in a comment to another article). I find the idea quite appealing that “the photon’s world is flat and stapled together, front-to-back, between its start point and its end point. In effect, the photon is touching its emitter on one end and our eye on the other with zero depth of field.” However, the notion that the photon has a rest frame from which it views the universe is problematic. Perhaps it is less of a problem in the context of photons that are making their way across our universe with no interactions with any materials, but I think you run into serious trouble as soon as interactions are involved, such as in this case of a photon interacting with a glass plate.

    The implied photon rest frame is illustrated by the finite sized half-wavelength packet in Figure 2a encountering the perfectly flat length-contracted slab of “glass.” I don’t know what wavelength you are talking about, though somehow it seems to gradually morph into the wavelength of the light as observed in the rest frame of the glass if the photon is not reflected and travels through the glass as in subsequent diagrams. What you are saying about non-reflected photons seems contradictory to me. On the one hand you are saying the slab has zero thickness as seen by the incident photon, but that somehow the photon “decides”, based on the (non-existent) thickness of the glass relative to this morphing wavelength, to not be reflected.

    Suppose we accept the notion that the incident photon continues to exist when it simultaneously (from its point of view) detects both surfaces of the glass, and decides not to be reflected. Then we have a problem with the idea of the photon having no “time.” We know that light slows down in the glass, so if we have a single photon moving through glass at 1/3 c its clocks should be running, even as observed in the rest frame of the glass, and our entire universe as observed by the photon should expand to the appropriate length for a velocity of 1/3 c. Your diagram suggests that this expansion is a gradual process in which the nose of the photon stays pegged to the back surface of the glass, but at the same time the nose coincides with all parts of the glass through which it somehow thinks it has not yet passed. It looks to me like what you are suggesting is that the part of our universe that we think of as being beyond the back surface of the glass is still contracted to zero length, while the part of our universe that is “behind” the photon has expanded. Presumably, if the photon decides to leave the glass at the far end, as it must if the full thickness of the glass is a multiple of half-wavelengths, our entire universe will again contract to zero thickness, so the photon should be able to once again experience all of it simultaneously.

    Another view of photon propagation is that if a photon is not reflected, it is absorbed by the atoms of the glass. In some rare cases, the energy of the photon gets converted into something other than another photon, but in most cases after one photon is absorbed another is emitted. All of these photons travel with speed c, so they may each have no “time” and each may experience a flat universe, but there is a delay between absorption and emission by our measure of time that accounts for the increased time it takes for light to propagate through the glass. Each such photon should experience our entire flat universe, including both surfaces of the plate, but each will experience it during different intervals of our time. Such photons do not coexist in our universe.

    I do not understand your statement, “In other words, the entire path is foreshortened to zero length, and everything in its path is compressed to a dot.” Why a dot? The only way that makes sense is if you assume the path of a photon has zero width. I doubt that is justified, especially when you consider the apparent wave-like behavior of photons that leads to linear wave-front propagation and things like double slit interference. As you later say “It should also be noted that, once within the lattice of the atoms of glass, the atoms to each side of the photon resume their normal spacing and are no longer foreshortened. This is because they are perpendicular to the direction of travel. Those atoms in front continue to be shortened to meet the photon.” I don’t see how this is compatible with compression to a dot. Perhaps you could explain what you mean by this.

  5. Hello, Dan.

    Your comments do give me pause. I’ve not had time to read them thoroughly in relation to the articles they apply to. But I will. I’ll try to do you justice in this first reply and get to the others later.

    I should say that it has been a while since I’ve done any detail work here and I have in fact been considering reworking some of them. I recognized while doing some of the later articles that the earlier ones could be, or needed to be, refined and sometimes corrected.

    I do think that my idea to use relativity to explain quantum weirdness has firm ground. Perhaps I don’t have sufficient background to do it properly.

    I know photon’s can’t “see” nor can they “experience” time. The articles are written so that most lay people can read and even enjoy them. In doing so, sometimes I do get out of line with more refined readers.

    When I say the entire path is compressed to a dot, I am in fact implying a situation similar to that of an observer moving nearer and nearer to the speed of light and watching the stars in front seem to converge when I make comments like that.

    Such an observer (which is impossible anyway) moving at the speed of light has no time to observe anything. Go splat. But the points very nearly in front do appear to converge because the distance to any one of them and to all of them approaches zero as you approach the speed of light. As the distances approach zero, the distances apart also approach zero, thus a dot.

    The idea is that a photon, no matter what direction it is launched has a specific point of landing in its path and the distance to that point is zero due to relativistic effects.

    Change the angle and the point changes, but it is still a point. So all things in its path are converged into a point no matter where it is aimed. All things very nearly in its path are also zero distance from the photon at the time it is emitted, for all practical purposes.

    As far as the photon having width and behaving like a wave in situations like double slit interference, my ideas do not require wave like behavior, only particles moving at or near c and experiencing relativistic effects.

    In fact double slit interference, as you know, works with single photons which appear to interfere with themselves. Although I am not now happy with the diagrams used in that part of my blog, it serves the purpose. The underlying idea is that applying relativistic effects to photons can explain the wavelike behavior even of single photon emission.

    In my theory, every photon starts as a particle and ends as a particle and is never a wave except within itself meaning within its boundaries whatever they are. I need to look at my writings elsewhere and resolve any contradictions as I am sure they exist.

    Allow relativity to work with these particles and everything falls into place.

    Also in my theory, photons are not continuously absorbed and re appear as new photons as they travel through glass. That absorption/re-emission theory implies that each new one is exactly aligned with the previously absorbed one with no net loss of energy, only a loss of time. I know that is the QED answer and it works, but my idea also works and does not require that scenario of continuous absorption and re-emission.

    One more thing that I need to further explain my thoughts on is the idea that if the glass is exactly a multiple of half wavelengths the photon matches and decides to not reflect.

    My thought is not so much the idea that the glass expands as the photon goes through (even though I’ve tried to use diagrams to explain it) but that the photon’s internal wave properties match the thickness of the glass when it is exactly multiples of 1/2 wavelength of the photon.

    I view the photon as a wave only within its boundaries and its length and width depend on the wavelength and its polarization. It may even be somewhat fluid in makeup but no part of the wave can fall behind or get ahead due to the laws of relativity not allowing “catchup” in those situations.

    When a photon is in the glass by 1/2 wavelength, the front of the photon is effectively already in contact with the far edge. There is a sort of superposition of the various 1/2 wavelengths from front to back of the glass and when the thickness of the glass is an exact multiple of 1/2 wavelength of the photon there is a match. When the superposition has an overhang due to a mismatch in the thickness, then the probability of reflection in non zero. But the decision is made within the first 1/2 wavelength.

    Thanks for writing. I’ve not had many serious comments before.

  6. I should acknowledge that you are absolutely right about my error of stating that the speed of light in glass is 1/3 that of in vacuum. I made that rookie mistake when I wrote down that the speed is 1/3 less than when in a vacuum and later somehow dropped the “less than”. Then I never looked back. I’ll need to change both the diagram and the text in both articles.

    It would be neat however to have a 1 foot thick diamond cut into a slab to work with.

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