I’m confused by a bedrock concept of physics – the electron, but I’m not a scientist and I can’t do the math that’s necessary to clarify what I’m missing. My understanding of the subject, such as it is, comes from popular non-fiction like Gary Zukav’s “Dancing Wu Li Masters” and Bill Bryson’s “A Short History of Nearly Everything.” As the explanations of the electron and its behavior in these texts progresses from the general to the specific, the underlying science progresses from straightforward, to arcane, to supernatural. I’ve outlined my understanding below. There is an entity called an electron. It is an unambiguous fact that an electron is an electron. That is, even though an electron may be a conglomeration of smaller sub-particles, once those sub-particles coalesce in the one certain way necessary to create an electron, the result is an immutable entity of an established and immutable size. But, that immutable entity can, to turn a metaphor back on its source, lead one of two different lifestyles -- domestic or independent. Domestic electrons (d-electrons for purposes this exercise) form part of an atom – the quintessential nuclear family. d-electrons circumnavigate their nuclei, but only within specified real estate -- allowed energy states, orbitals, whatever -- in relation to their nuclei. Returning to a simpler time I’ll refer to that real estate as shells. Independent electrons (i-electrons), on the other hand, exist independently of the nucleus of an atom. Still an i-electron is an electron, which is an immutable entity. There are additional alternatives forms an electron can take, because depending upon how i-electrons separate from the vicinity of an atom they are referred to as different entities. One that fires from atoms residing in a negatively charged metal plate and, for one example, forms an image on a television screen, is a cathode ray. One that fires at a much higher rate of speed from an unstable atomic nucleus is beta radiation. One that is manipulated by technician to perform specific tasks is called a nanomachine. And I’m sure there are others. Still, cathode rays, beta radiation and nanomachines are all i-electrons, and since all i-electrons are electrons, they are all one and the same immutable entity. Rather like you. Whether you dress in a t-shirt and shorts, a business suit or formal evening wear, all three are still you. Except for their multiple personality disorder, i-electrons appear to be straightforward, not unlike many familiar everyday entities – a baseball, a grape, a marble. i-electrons are particles that can travel. Scientists can track their path through gases; measure their size and mass; locate them in space; determine where they’ve been and where they’re going. d-electrons, on the other hand, are imbued with mystical attributes. • Are always there, but don’t exist until we measure them; • But when we do measure them (and therefore they exist): • they are everywhere and nowhere at the same time; and • they can be a wave. Or they can be a particle. At the same time • And so on until it is all presumably explained by the uncertainty principle and the square of the wave equation. This unfortunately does not complete the personality profile of d-electrons. But boxed into a corner by the weirdness, science has left itself nowhere to turn to complete the profile but the spiritual. • d-electrons are electrons (which are the immutable entities) • an atom of any given element has only given number of (d-) electrons • d-electrons can only exist within their shells, not between them • the shell a d-electron resides in at any given moment is a function of its energy state • (repeating) d-electrons can only exist within their shells, not between them • so to get from one sub-shell to the next, a d-electron makes the quantum leap -- it ceases existing in one shell and simultaneously materializes in another shell, without traversing the intervening space. And sciences explanation for this behavior? It’s the only way it can be because the universe made it that way. In other words it has to be taken on faith. Anyone who’s read this far should sense my confusion. Being a layman, there are a lot of scientific explanations I can’t follow or reason through. But others infinitely brighter than I have done the experiments, replicated the results, done the math, demonstrated the practical applications, and on and on, so I accept their explanations, on what amounts to an act of faith on my part. But it is an act of faith predicated on deference to their education and experience. A perfect example, I’m still mystified by radio. The physical explanation notwithstanding, the whole concept still strikes me as nothing short of slight of hand. But it works, so I accept the explanation science provides. But I can’t accept science’s explanation of electron behavior with the same level of confidence. I admit that I’m peering at science from a distant viewpoint and trying to bring the images into focus with a crude instrument – an untrained brain. But from my cloudly vantage point, physicists take the explanation of electrons and their behavior to a certain point with science. Then, when the science fails them (perhaps for no better reason than the unavailability of instruments powerful enough to observe the constituent parts of an atom), they stop trying to make the science work and take the leap of faith – it’s the way it is because the universe made them that way. That, to me, is not sufficient for a discipline based on mathematical expression of observable and repeatable phenomena. Are we really to accept on faith is that d-electrons disappear from one shell and simultaneously materialize in another one nearby without traversing the space between them? Maybe they sneak through sub-atomic worm holes? I’ve seen my twelve year old son do the same trick with a glowing plastic ball. He holds his hands at his side, rocks them back and forth, and makes the glowing ball jump from one hand to the other without navigating the two feet or so between his hands. Being true to his craft, my son would never disclose me how this particular phenomenon occurs. So I have three choices. I can take it on faith that he really made the ball disappear from one hand and simultaneously materialize in the other hand, but I prefer to believe it’s just an illusion and I don’t know how it’s done. Accepting that transmigration is a defining characteristic of d-electrons, strikes me as more akin to the dubious reasoning Darwin Award winners employ than endorsing the explanation for why someone can talk into a steel box in one location and I can hear them by listening to a plastic box ten miles or ten thousand miles away. And phase-shifting d-electrons are only part of the problem. Science teaches that d-electrons and i-electrons are one in the same immutable entity – electrons. But as nearly as I can tell, the only thing they electrons have in common is a negative electrical charge. I can sum up the problem by changing nomenclature for the moment and calling i-electrons “ducks” (as in an “if it looks like a, walks like a, and quacks like a” duck). If I follow the logic of quantum physicists, they have concluded that since a d-electron looks like a goose, walks like a goose and squawks like a goose, then it probably is a - duck. (?) Maybe the discordant theories are accepted because it doesn’t matter whether science knows what an electron is. Whatever the metaphysics, the engineering is unassailable. Science can predict with absolute certainty what will happen when d-electrons from one atom come in contact with d-electrons of another atom. Science works with and manipulates combinations of atoms and molecules on a daily basis, so the reason why what they do works many be of no more import than the solution to last week’s crossword puzzle. It’s like when the big news broke that Velociraptors evolved into ospreys, not iguanas. My first thought was: Oh, cool! My second thought was: But, so what? Still the explanations are out there, absolute, unassailable, inviolate. If the explanations were any of a number of things – that the electron value of an atom represented not the sum of the charges of its discreet electrons but rather the aggregate charge of its electron shells; that the electron shells were the measurable evidence of the boundary of the attractive power of the positively charge nucleus; that the electron shells were a fifth force; that spins were attractive forces analogous to positive and negative electrical forces, preventing the shell from disintegrating; that when enough of the negatively charged matter comprising the shells separated it could coalesce into discreet i-electrons; that the inverse of the obtuse was the differential of the square root of the wave function – I’d shrug my shoulders and accept it. And to do all that science and end up with like wow, man, groovy, time-traveling particles and “even thought they’re almost completely different they’re really the same”, well, it feels more like scripture than science. So back to my original question, can someone explain to me in layman’s English what I’m missing? Or extending my duck metaphor and re-naming the d-electron a “why”, (because it acts in such unexplainable ways): Is why a duck?