Monday, September 6, 2010

Hoisted from the archives: Enough with the mystery of the wave-particle duality.

Ok, so I was reading this, and wondering things to myself like -- is religion like the belly-button of our consciousness, i.e. a conduit from our ancient limbic system to our higher planning and social interaction noodly bits our brain, and the remainder of the pathway by which we bootstrapped to sentience -- but then came to this:

Just as physicists cannot fully understand the electron as either a particle or a wave, but only as both at once, says [Andrew] Newberg, so we need both science and a more subjective, spiritual understanding in order to grasp the full nature of reality.

Wave-particle duality? Yes we do have to describe electrons as both in particular experiments, but we can fully understand the electron (to 10 or so decimal places) as a single thing: an irreducible (Dirac spinor) representation of the Lorentz symmetry group. Sort of like how a cube is a (scalar) representation of the group of 90 degree rotations about the x, y, and z axes, and a sphere is a representation of the group of all rotations, an electron is a particular representation of the various 'rotations' of the Lorentz group (which gives us the weird stuff in Einstein's special relativity).

So what Newberg is saying is that there is some kind of unified quantum field theory of brain function out there waiting to be discovered. This is what dualities have meant in the past. The duality between electricity and magnetism gave us Maxwell's electromagnetism. It's not mysterious anymore ... 150 years later. The wave-particle duality lead to Quantum Electrodynamics only 20 or so years later. T-duality may be one of the links that eventually lead to the string theory description of everything.

You are welcome to continue to be weirded out by the quantum mechanics of 80 years ago if you'd like, but the uncertainty principle is nothing more mysterious than why you need measure something resonating for a longer time to more precisely determine its tone (or that something that resonates for a short time does not have a precise tone). Or if you wiggle a jumprope between two people, that you can figure out the wavelength if you make a standing wave, and figure out where the pulse is if you make a pulse, but not vice versa and never both.

There are things that are actually mysterious in quantum mechanics (like entanglement), but let's bring on the new weird dualities in Physics! The AdS/CFT correspondence! The holographic principle! We may all just be projections on a screen ... and I can't show you why with a jumprope.