So, we often say that light behaves as both a particle and a wave, it’s a “wavicle”. I think it’s great that we can have multiple theories about the same phenomenum which accurately predict outcomes. However, when we have two explanations, I feel like it means we lack the basic understanding of what is really happening. So I was trying to decide which I preferred (rather than come up with a third)… like a particle (little photon balls zooming around) or like a wave.
So, imagine a star a zillion light years away. It’s really bright so it is spitting out gazillions of photons in all directions. Let’s say they keep their size (itsy bitsy) and zoom along in roughly a straight line (affected by gravity, etc, as appropriate to their virtual mass). Now here is my unaided eyeball on planet earth… well. in space, but not exploding, but no atmospheric effects. The only photons I see are the ones that head straight for my eyeball, which is like the super teensiest subtended angle. But there were a gazillion to start with.. so how many are reaching my eye right now. Is it so few that I could (with equipment) measure gaps in time during which none arrived? Or is the original source sooo large that even with this much dilution it would still appear to be a non-ending soup?
Anyway, this makes me want to sort of rule out ‘particle’ as the transport medium of light (sorry, photons!)
I think I like wave better since with a wave nothing actually moves. Nothing physical exactly. When you drop a pebble in water, you create a ‘dimple’ in the surface. Gravity wants the surface to be flat, so (by pulling surrounding water areas down) it fills the dimple. But it overcorrects a little and gives you a bump where the dimple was. Then it pulls the bump back down, overcorrects again, and gives you a dimple again, but a slightly more shallow one than before. This oscillation continues, eventually dying out and leaving you again with a flat pond. But in the process of doing this, you see a series of rings as the previous dimple propagates out from the original impact point.
The water is not moving per se (yes, molecules of water are moving ‘up and down’ and a little in and out, but no molecules are moving along with the wave front.) The wave front is just a fluctuating potential energy difference. And because it oscillates ‘around zero’ it is not violating any conservation of energy rules (at least not for very long), and depending on the medium, the wave front can travel a great distance before it is damped back down to zero.
I should point out that my description is my own and should not be confused with the more accurate description you had better use for any test questions you need to answer.
Anyway, so I want the propagation of light to be similar.. something like a fluctuating potential energy.. travelling through some medium. And that, for this purpose, I am willing to entertain the long abused notion of an “ether” which permeates all of what we call space. Even in a ‘vacuum.’ What *is* this ether? I dunno, I just embrace its existence in the same way that water is the medium that lets water waves ripple out as circles on the top of the pond, this ether is what allows energy fluctuations to propagate as spherical wave fronts out from the point of emission of ‘a photon’. So rather than emitting a photon particle, the light-emitting event ‘drops a pebble in the ether’ at that point. It ‘cracks space’ a little, and space wants to fill it back in. And instead of the dimple/bump metaphor on water, space wants to return to ‘even density’ (but not density of matter, density of ether-stuff, which is probably some form of energy. I dunno.)
Now, the pond is only flat on top because of gravity, and in my model that gravity is very important (and probably the gravity and the nature of water establish the actual wave propagation velocity, which I claim does not change based on the size of the pebble, as it were).
So does my ether analogy require a gravity equivalent? My ether has to be 4 dimensional, I guess, since the ether waves are spherical instead of the 2D pond ‘circles’ (at right angles to the gravity field). So my ether gravity is somehow ‘one dimension higher’ than real gravity. And it operates ‘at right angles’ to the ether itself (with the usual head scratcher of imagining 4D)
Anyway, so, with lots of hand-waving: There is an invisible ether, permeating all (or most) of space, independent of the matter we see. light-emitting-events ‘crack’ this ether at a particular 3D point (in the 4D ether). The ether itself tries to return to an even distribution to recover from the crack. (possibly because of some 4D gravity-like tension applied to the ether). That propagates an energy fluctuation we can visualize as the surface of a 3D sphere. It’s speed of propagation is determined by the nature of the medium and the nature of the tension. But in a vacuum it is the speed of light as we know it. (and I guess the speed of light through glass, for example, is actually the speed of light through ether which is ‘riddled with glass matter’) The matter forming some sort of ‘doping’ of the pure ether (much as impurities added to silicon matrices alter the energy transfer in those regions).
Nothing ‘travels across the universe’ except for this fluctuation, and when the fluctuation arrives at a part of the ether contaminated with an impurity (like my eyeball) some of that fluctuation couples with the matter (seriously dampening the fluctuation from that point forward on its original path.. and/or causing reflections like the pond wave bouncing off the banks of the pond), but energy removed can cause my eye to act like it just saw ‘light’.
And perhaps the ether varies a little across the universe.
So, crazy enough for you? Go Ether! Go Energy Fluctuation! Death to the photon!
Particle Post Script:
I feel I should add that I am not *completely* anti-particle. Two personal experiences leave me with no other explanation than particles for some effects. The first is the simple ‘cloud chamber’ where a bit of dry ice in water creates an environment where low level (alpha ray?) radiation leaves little smoke trails as bits come flying off. Definitely not a propagating (spherical) wave front in the sense I meant above. The other is from my summer jobs in High Energy Physics (Go, Brookhaven!) where cosmic rays would hit the spark chambers. Definitely looks like a particle zipping along a more or less straight line. Plus the output of the accelerator itself, of course. I do not contest the existence of particles. My crackpot Aether theories should provisionally be limited to “propagation of ‘light’ and ‘gravity'” to avoid confusion. I’m not sure where that leaves “x-rays” for me, so we’ll just ignore them for a bit… and consider them perhaps not true members of the electromagnetic spectrum.
XRay Post Script
OK, well, since I mentioned it. You are placed between an xray source and a bit of unexposed film. Can crackpot ether theory explain a photo of your bones?
‘xray emission’ in that context is a series of ‘cracks in space time’ leading to spherical wave fronts coming out from the emitter, traveling through the ether, towards the film. by the time the wavefront reaches the film, it is pretty high radius, enough to expose (to a very teensy amount) pretty much the entire sheet (with some cosine roll-off presumably).
But as it travels through the bit of the ether which is saturated by your mass, the energy fluctuation does not propagate as efficiently (coupling some of the energy into your denser bits). Leaving a ‘shadow in the wavefront’. Sure.. the sphere is only perfect at the moment of the ‘crack’.
Moving to the water example, if I have an expanding wave ripple on my pond, and I have a stick in the water (representing my dense bones), the ripple is damaged at that point (with some reflection/absorption from the stick). I claim what I would see is either ‘quiet water’ past the stick (think ‘pacman mouth’ instead of ‘full circle’) Or maybe I would magically still see a full circle, but the height of the wave front (past the stick) would be lower. Or maybe even just a lot of noise introduced as the wave front tries to heal itself. (or even the shadow created by the out-of-phase reflected components). In any case..
LESS energy is fluctuating along, and (back to the xray example) less of the film is affected (the part in ‘the shadow’) when the wave front passes through it.
So long as my body is ‘relatively close to the film’ I think this works as well as thinking of it as a zillion discrete particles that either make it to the film, or not, based on collisions with my dense bits (bones). With sensitive enough film, you could probably detect this by using extremely brief exposures. Does the film have “just a few spots” on it (particle) or “just a weak exposure over the full film area” (ether wave). In this experiment you don’t even need my dense bits.
But you do need to be able to limit the xray source to less than a few dozen ‘cracks’ (and have ‘film’ capable of measuring that small amount of exposure)). And this doesn’t include properties specific to the ‘film’. I suspect this is not measurable with current technology (convenient for me!)