# Theory of the One Electron

## Main Question or Discussion Point

My understanding is that electrons are one of the most highly measured entities in science. I'm not sure what the measurement is (mass/charge?) but it's known to maybe 10 significant digits.

Furthermore every electron seems to have the same metric, within experimental error.

Now, I read many years ago somebody suggested it's because there is only one electron in our reality.

It appears here, vanishes, reappears over there, again vanishes, with such rapidity it appears to be many electrons to our instruments. And the reason for the "identical" measurements is simply because its the SAME electron.

Does anybody know who first proposed this cute idea?

## Answers and Replies

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I don't know who suggested this idea, but I don't quite understand how it can be possbile. If there exists only one electron, how come an atom can have a $$2e^-$$ charge?

Originally posted by Chen
I don't know who suggested this idea, but I don't quite understand how it can be possbile. If there exists only one electron, how come an atom can have a $$2e^-$$ charge?
If you mean "double quantity negative" charge (sorry, I'm not familiar with your notation) then imagine this analogy:

You are placed in a dark room, against the middle of one wall. The room has a light capable of very fast switching. There is a rock opposite you in the right corner sitting on a scale. There is nothing special in the left corner. The light briefly flashes on/off. You see a rock, on a scale, and a measure wieght. The rock and scale is very quickly moved to the left corner where the light again flashes on/off. The rock/scale returns to the right corner. This process repeats indefinitely.

It seems you can see 2 rocks - one in each corner on a scale. They have identical characteristics it seems, even the same mass. Amazing! As far as you are concerned you accept they are separate rocks and, furthermore, exact twins, in the common sense.

Now substitute the word electron for rock and read it again.

ahrkron
Staff Emeritus
Gold Member
I don't know who came out with the idea in the first place, but I'm almost certain I read something along those lines in John Gribbin's "In search of Schroedinger's Cat". The idea was that, since antiparticles can be regarded as particles going backwards in time, then you could see positrons (electrons antiparticles) as the only electron "going back" to make another trajectory for itself (in our perspective). It is indeed a nice image, but I don't think it has any scientific weight, since (even if compatible with observations) it seems to me thaht it has no predictive power. Besides, I think it should be possible to disprove it via weak decays or CP violation.

But I agree, it is a cute idea.

Originally posted by zforgetaboutit
Now substitute the word electron for rock and read it again.
Sorry, it kind of fits but not completely. Because if you hold the scale in your hands, regardless of the state of the light, you will still only feel the weight of one rock. Whereas if you have an atom with "double quantity negative" charge, it will pull you twice as hard as an tom with only one negative charge - whether you "see" two electrons or not (and let's not forget the uncertainty principle), you will the effects of two.

Originally posted by Chen
Sorry, it kind of fits but not completely. Because if you hold the scale in your hands, regardless of the state of the light, you will still only feel the weight of one rock. Whereas if you have an atom with "double quantity negative" charge, it will pull you twice as hard as an tom with only one negative charge - whether you "see" two electrons or not (and let's not forget the uncertainty principle), you will the effects of two.
If you carry 1 rock, quickly alternating between your hands, and conclude it's just as easy as 1 rock constantly in one hand, well I think both hands would eventually get too tired to carry anything - I.E. it eventually had the same effect as 2 rocks. 1 had the effect of 2. If you double the frequency and involve 2 people I think you could count the effect of 4 rocks.

I think the idea works if the frequency is high enough. The measuring device wouldn't have time to come to a resting position when wham! here comes another additive pulse, pushing it higher than a from-rest-single-pulse.

Ok, I can relate to that... but what makes the electron so special that there is only one of him in the whole universe? Why can't there also be one proton and one neutron? Besides if you go to a planet that manufactures cameras (for example) in an automated and precise process, wouldn't you expect that all cameras will be exactly the same? I think the fact that all electrons in the universe are precisely the same is just another aspect of the completeness and perfection of the Creation.

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Well, we've measured electrons to a high degree of sameness; but we've never encountered your camera planet, so unfortunately I can't comment on it.

Show me the cameras first, and if they have an electron-matching degree of sameness, we'll carry on with the camera planet idea.

Just came across many joint attributions of this idea to John Wheeler & Richard Feynman.

... I think the fact that all electrons in the universe are precisely the same ...
Whoa! I didn't go that far. I'd say, all the observed ones so far are approximately the same.

As for the other particles, there might be only one each.

Just as a 'stickman' in a cartoon strip can not understand (prove) how 2D-drawn objects in his Universe can appear and then disappear, as the artist draws and then erases them, we may be unable to understand similar mechanisms happening in 5- or higher dimensional spaces as they appear to us in 4-space.

Or there may be an endless succession of Infinities, Cantor-style, without beginning or end whose cardinalities are supersets of preceding ones.

I'd say we have as much chance of understanding as a stickman is able to comprehend the existence (in our -space) of an artist, which is zero.

I'll always enjoy thinking about this stuff once in a while.

I wonder why John Wheeler did not advance a theory of one eye?

Furthermore every electron seems to have the same metric, within experimental error.
This is in accordance with quantum theory which posits every electron is identical to every other election, except for possible differences in their quantum states. So all electrons have precisely the same mass, same electric charge, same spin, and exactly the same weak and strong force properties...but they may have different locations, different spin directions and different energies for example.

ALL electrons are believed precisely identical in this sense...they are perfect twins...one is indistinguishable from another...all of which becomes more interesting regarding teleportation...

...ALL electrons are believed precisely identical in this sense...they are perfect twins...one is indistinguishable from another...all of which becomes more interesting regarding teleportation...
So you believe there are many electrons?

Notions like exact position, momentum, time, and energy break down when you look so closely at them. What makes you think that notions of same-ness remain.

When a particle drifts in space, is it really the same particle from instant to instant? Or does the first particle vaporize and another one appears? How can we tell in an experiment that two indistinguishable particles aren't switching places from time to time just because they feel like it?

Same-ness isn't as simple as you think it is. In math, is 1 the same as 1? Well yeah. But if the first 1 is a real number and the second 1 is actually 1 + 0i, a complex number, then maybe. A complex number has more structure than a real, but there is a very natural isomorphism between the two. In fact, it's so natural, we might even say they are exactly the same. Other similar isomorphisms exist, such as C and R^2. But we don't usually say that 1 + 3i is a vector in R^2. Yet, the situation isn't any different than between R and C.

So back to physics. What does it *mean* to say one particle is the same as the other? How are *you* defining same-ness here?

I don't BELIEVE anything,,,,I just rely on the standard theories, quantum mechanics in this case, and hope the interpretations of well known physicists have it mostly right.... like Lee Smolin, Brian Greene, Roger Penrose, Stephen Hawking, Kip Thorne,etc ........I figure they'll be right more often I would ...but of course all of them have been wrong from time to time....

DaveC426913
Gold Member
I too have heard of this concept, though I have no idea how much merit there is in it these days or how rigorous the idea is.

My understanding is that all electrons are identical in principle, not simply in experiment. i.e. if they were not identical, we would have to rework our understanding of physics.

Theory of one electron! ... so if a positron finds this electron and aniihilates it, it would destroy the whole universe! isn't it?

Identical electrons are an experimental fact, as identical atoms, etc. It should not be explained, it should be correctly implemented in the theory. Wheeler's idea is just absolutely wrong.

The 1 electron theory was proposed by Feynman. I have a 1965 paper he authored where he discusses this. He asked his professor if it is possible that every electron in the universe is merely the same electron. I'll find the paper and post it.

Richard Feynman is who I remember putting this theory forward.

Claude

DaveC426913
Gold Member
Theory of one electron! ... so if a positron finds this electron and aniihilates it, it would destroy the whole universe! isn't it?
Hm. That is a pretty compelling argument against the idea...

The 1 electron theory was proposed by Feynman. ...

Richard Feynman is who I remember putting this theory forward.
No, according to Feynman, it was Wheeler who called him and "explained" electron's being identical. Read Feynman's Nobel lecture.

this cannot be true, as if it were, when any atom lost an electron via the photoelectric effect, it would then have 0 electrons.

DaveC426913
Gold Member
this cannot be true, as if it were, when any atom lost an electron via the photoelectric effect, it would then have 0 electrons.
You are misunderstanding.

The hypothesis is not that "all electrons around an atom are the same electron", it is that "all electrons everywhere in the universe are the same electron".

The hypothesis is that one electron is moving forward through time, turning around moving backward through time, then turning around and moving forward through time, etc.

So, your atom with multiple electrons has an electron ejected from it. All other incarnations of that electron, including the other ones in the same atom, are unaffected.

No, the compelling argument against this hypothesis is: "What happens when a/the electron is annihilated with a positron?"

Staff Emeritus
2019 Award
No, the compelling argument against this hypothesis is: "What happens when a/the electron is annihilated with a positron?"
In this hypothesis, annihilation is the "turning around point", where an electron starts moving backwards in time and appears to us as a positron. Pair production is the same thing, although the hypothesis doesn't explain where that electron comes from - or why its the same as the earlier electron.

In any event, it's been known since 1964 that this model cannot be extended beyond QED. It predicts an exact symmetry under time reversal and we know that this symmetry is approximate in the real world.

DaveC426913
Gold Member
In this hypothesis, annihilation is the "turning around point", where an electron starts moving backwards in time and appears to us as a positron.
D'oh! Of course.

Electron and positron moving forward in time and subsequently colliding.
- is equivalent to -
Electron moving forward in time, turning into a positron, which immediately begins moving backward in time.