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Analogy: Particle as a 'piece of color'

  1. Jan 20, 2012 #1
    I am trying to think of a way to visualize the dual nature of particles. If a particle can be represented as a wave and if that wave collapses when measured... would the following be a decent analogy? If not, does anyone have a good way of visualizing this?

    A summary of what I am trying to visualize is...
    Is the act of measuring a photon or electron actually what creates the "thing" that we can measure? And in that process are we altering what that thing originally was before it was measured?

    In this imaginary world, we think of white light as a thing or a single wave. We do know have an undertanding of other electromagnetic wave lengths outside of the visible range.

    If I think of a particle as a 'piece of color' (just as a visualization aid) then, I can imagine white light traveling out in all directions like a ripple in a pond (white light isn't really one EM wave but this is just a visualization aid for me). That "wave of white light" is in many places at once (it's just a ripple traveling through some medium)... but, when that "wave of white light" interacts with a atom or a group of atoms it alters the original wave. Maybe it absorbs evey wave that makes up the white light as IR/Heat except red. So, what I see from that piece of the wave's interaction with that atom is a "piece of red". I only see a "piece of red" because I have a measuring tool (my eyes) that can see that "piece of red". And I don't yet have the understanding that a piece of red is also a wave. Someone else might see a "piece of red" from that same "wave of white light" somewhere else since it's a ripple in many places at once (connected back to its point of origin through time).

    If I use this same visual aid and think about the double slit experiement and I am just looking for "pieces or red" to measure because a "piece of red" is this new thing I have discovered...
    I notice that when I find "pieces of red" on the screen behind the slits that they spread out. If I try to measure the "pieces of red" before they go through the slits, then they are not spread out on the screen behind the slits. The act of measuring the "piece of red" at a point in time prior to it going through the slit caused the "piece of red"... which was just part of the "wave of white light" before it was measured to be altered by the measuring device. In order measure the piece of red, I had to interact with the "wave of white light" in a way that caused some of the wave to be convereted to IR/heat (which, for this visualization I don't know about yet) and the rest of the enegry to be converted to a "piece of red" (a wave legth specific to the color red). Now when I look at the screen behind the slits, I only see the non spread out pattern becuase the newly created and emitted "piece of red" or wavelegth that is measure as red has not had much distance to spread out.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 20, 2012 #2


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    Staff: Mentor

    I'm sorry, but I can't makes heads or tails of your visualization.

    For me I don't think of a photon or other particle as a wave that turns into a "thing". When we measure the position of a particle we are measuring the charge or other property of that particle and its effect on my measuring device. The wavefunction merely describes how it moves around and where it might be at. The actual collapse of the wavefunction is very difficult to figure out, and many many people have put lots of time into trying to do so.

    Honestly, I'm beginning to shift my visualizations from a "particle" to a little wavepacket. To me it's easier since it acts much more like that than a little hard ball. How else could it move through spaces it couldn't before just by increasing its velocity. (Which decreases it's wavelength or something, aka it's size)

    But that's just the way I think. And my knowledge of Quantum Mechanics is only from here on PF, a few books, and wikipedia, so I may have no idea what I'm talking about. ;)
  4. Jan 21, 2012 #3
    I guess what I am trying to get straight in my head is... If we call a particle a "packet of waves" then a particle is basically made of waves (some how different from EM waves)... Unless i am missing something. If a particle is basically made of a packet of waves (and a particle is a thing) then I could also imagine a packet of visible light waves... in this case the color red... a thing like we call a particle a thing couldn't I?

    The part I was trying to get straight with the double slit experiment is that... It seems that tge thing we call a particle doesn't exist unless we interact with it. We see the things around us because EM waves are interacting with "particle waves" and we see that interaction. A particle isn't a "thing" until there is some interaction. Otherwise it's just a lump of possibilities.

    Am I close?
  5. Jan 21, 2012 #4

    Vanadium 50

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    I think that trying to explain one thing that is hard to understand, "quantum mechanics" in terms of another thing that is hard to understand "a piece of color", is doomed to failure. You should also know that no non-mathematical explanation is going to be accurate - an analogy may help you better understand some aspects, but if taken too far it will cause you to misunderstand others.
  6. Jan 24, 2012 #5
    So, maybe I have found my visualization... The host might be a little dramatic but...


    As well as...

    If find the pilot wave idea very interesting.

    I did a little research on string theory as well and also find standing waves and spherical harmonics as something that helps me visualize what might be going on.
    Different math may work for various approaches to a problem but, I find it extremely helpful to be able to have an image that pulls it together. Mathmatical equations may describe a process in one language but, I think most people have a need for something they can relate to. That's all I was trying to get to.
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