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What Happened to Wheeler's Single Electron Idea?

  1. Sep 1, 2012 #1
    What Happened to Wheeler's "Single Electron" Idea???


    I wrote out a lengthy reply that I could not retrieve after I pressed preview and was asked to log in again...not sure if that's a bug/glitch as I am brand new on this website, but it was very annoying ;)

    Anyways before I introduce my topic I'd like to tell you guys that I have almost no formal background in physics or mathematics....I've used the power of the internet to educate myself as much as possible in modern physics etc so bear with me.

    I just recently heard of the story involving Richard Feynman and his then professor John Wheeler back in 1940 in which Wheeler calls Feynman on the telephone at some absurd hour of the night and exclaims that "he finally knows why all electrons have the exact same charge and the exact same mass"!

    If I'm understanding this correctly, he goes on to say that the reason electrons are all perfectly identical is because they are actually just one, single particle moving back and forth through spacetime in a single continuous and connecting world line. The appearance of many identical but separate electrons that we see/experience in our everyday universe is kind of an illusion created by our fixed, sliced view of time. However Wheeler says its really just the exact same particle which has traveled back and forth many times through that particular slice of time. From this idea, he went on to say that the electrons charge is simply its direction in time; so that a positron was really just this very same particle(electron) moving "backwards" in time.

    Feynman quickly realized the numerous holes in this "theory" but ironically would run with the latter part of Wheeler's idea on his way to winning the Nobel Prize.
    Apparently the lack of equal amounts of antiparticles and particles in our visible universe is the quickest and easiest way to dismiss this idea but we also hear a lot about broken symmetries and things that could explain this.
    Basically I'm very interested in finding out what became of Wheeler's idea or theory as physics and our knowledge has progressed....

    I personally see some very deep connections and implications if you follow this line of thinking and I just figure there had to be other, much smarter people who took this idea seriously.

  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 1, 2012 #2
    Re: What Happened to Wheeler's "Single Electron" Idea???

    Hello ktx49, I am also new. I'm not familiar with this story, but look forward to hearing responses from others.
  4. Sep 1, 2012 #3


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    Re: What Happened to Wheeler's "Single Electron" Idea???

    It's an interesting idea but it's not clear how it fits in with the idea of causality. What happens if an electron falls in a black hole?
  5. Sep 1, 2012 #4
    Re: What Happened to Wheeler's "Single Electron" Idea???

    i understand your point....but I would immediately point to well established/tested theories such as QMs....where we clearly see these same "issues" with causality(think delayed choice experiment).

    anyways thanks for reply, i'd love more discussion on this topic
  6. Sep 1, 2012 #5


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  7. Sep 1, 2012 #6
    Re: What Happened to Wheeler's "Single Electron" Idea???

    hello! i have just recently begun my physics journey and will definitely take a look at the links you've provided before continuing....thanks for the reply!
  8. Sep 1, 2012 #7
    Re: What Happened to Wheeler's "Single Electron" Idea???

    after quickly reading through the 3 links provided above, its rather clear that almost nobody who commented on the topic even had a proper grasp of what the hypothesis is saying....not sure if that is a good or bad thing lol

    for example, there was a lot of debate on the very premises of the hypothesis!
    eg. what "identical" electrons/particles even mean....

    It seems to me that many of the people who commented think the identical properties seen are what define an electron, and that if a particle didnt have these identical characteristics, than it wouldn't be an electron, duh.
    so therefore: identical electrons =/= one electron

    now maybe my understanding is wrong and maybe the author of this article found here(http://io9.com/5876966/what-if-every-electron-in-the-universe-was-all-the-same-exact-particle) is also wrong. ignoring those very real possibilities, I find it almost inconceivable that Wheeler and Feynman both could be wrong in their understanding of what "identical" means as explained further here:

    so lets start from the beginning then where it seems most people get hung up on this idea...

    is there any evidence to support the view of many electrons/particles?? is there any test or experiments that have been performed which can prove 100% without a doubt the existence of at the very least, more than 1 electron?

    Last edited: Sep 1, 2012
  9. Sep 1, 2012 #8


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    Re: What Happened to Wheeler's "Single Electron" Idea???

    Evidence that more than one electron exists:

    Two CRT TVs are in operation on opposite sides of the earth.

    If "normal" matter is composed of normal atoms, and normal atoms have electrons in orbit around their nucleii, then there must be more than one electron in our universe because matter is distributed homogeneously.
  10. Sep 1, 2012 #9
    Re: What Happened to Wheeler's "Single Electron" Idea???

    A: I would say it is not considered relevant in the context of the currently accepted quantum field theory (an example of which is QED, in which final stages of development his student, Feynman, played a significant role) for two reasons:
    1. A particle may follow any world line (see Path Integral Formulation of Quantum Mechanics);
    2. Particles are considered to be excitations of a quantum matter field that propagate through space-time carrying energy-momentum. This immediately explains why they are identical and indistinguishable.
  11. Sep 1, 2012 #10
    Re: What Happened to Wheeler's "Single Electron" Idea???

    not sure i'm following either of you guys...sorry

    i do have a somewhat related question.

    can anything besides particles and their anti-particle counterparts become entangled??

  12. Sep 1, 2012 #11
    Re: What Happened to Wheeler's "Single Electron" Idea???

    What prompted you to ask this question now? You are the first person who had used the term 'entangled' in this thread, and it is in the quoted post.
  13. Sep 1, 2012 #12

    Vanadium 50

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    Re: What Happened to Wheeler's "Single Electron" Idea???

    I can hardly believe my eyes. You've said that you're a beginner, and your response to people who have answered your questions - some of whom have earned doctorates in the field - is that clearly they don't understand....but you do.

    The answer is twofold: we have a different explanation that has more predictive power, and that this model predicts symmetry relations in nature that are not observed. It's neither correct nor useful, so people don't worry about it anymore.
  14. Sep 1, 2012 #13
    Re: What Happened to Wheeler's "Single Electron" Idea???

    i'm a little confused by this post...to clarify, you're asking me why I just now decided to bring up the topic of entanglement?? also, what do you mean by the "quoted post"?

    thanks, and sorry for confusion ;)
  15. Sep 1, 2012 #14
    Re: What Happened to Wheeler's "Single Electron" Idea???

  16. Sep 1, 2012 #15
    Re: What Happened to Wheeler's "Single Electron" Idea???

    If the "yarn ball" world-line of a single electron is uncut, it must have a point with a highest and a lowest temporal coordinate. That means, if we take a slice at times before the lowest temporal coordinate, or after the highest one, there would be no electrons present.

    Also, how is electron-positron annihilation described within this hypothesis?

    So, since you mention that even Feynman himself found a lot of holes in it, let me link you to a video:
  17. Sep 1, 2012 #16
    Re: What Happened to Wheeler's "Single Electron" Idea???

    i think you misread what i wrote. i looked over the 3 links that were provided by 'Bobbywhy' at the beginning of the thread(presumably to give people a better idea of what I was attempting to discuss), and when I looked through the comments/discussion contained in these 3 sources, it was glaringly obvious that *most* of the people who replied or commented did not even understand the concept properly.

    as is shown here with quotes directly from the 3 links provided:

    as I clearly articulated in my 1st post on these forums, I have zero formal education in the areas of physics or advanced mathematics....but even I can see that people making these kind of statements(regardless if they are actually right or wrong) obviously do not understand the hypothesis of the one-electron universe.
    now there are also some very good and informative comments sprinkled in from people who are obviously well versed in the subject but my point was that the discussion sucked because most people didnt properly grasps the ideas behind it. again, this is independent of whether the one-electron hypothesis is correct or even useful.
    hopefully that clears up the misunderstanding; i would be foolish to act like I've got a better understanding of physics than even 1% of the members of this site. i came here to learn, not show people up.

    I think you've probably figured out where I was going with the entanglement question lol....BUT, to answer your question directly, I am very curious about the exact nature of entanglement because in my limited exploration of QMs, I've only seen the mention of a particle/anti-particle entanglements!
    if this is true, it immediately slapped me in the face that a one-particle universe could probably explain this phenomenon quite easily(again this is in the spirit of discussion, regardless if its actually correct).

    as far as highest/lowest temporal coordinate containing no electrons/particles....I think we would have to make too many assumptions about the nature of time in order to make a generalized statement like that. again, I am not versed in these areas but I do know that our understanding of time is pretty limited. Also, you are assuming that the "yarnball" world line is uncut, I'm pretty sure there would at least be a beginning point, where the first electron came into existence so If by uncut you mean a looped line that may be incorrect.

    Electron-Positron annihilation is described pretty well by Vanadium50 himself in the previous thread that was linked above...ill quote him for you:
    and i also liked this little nugget posted by DaveC426913:

    sorry for such a massive post....i didnt want to spam my own thread so I kept editing this one.
    thanks again for the replies and sharing your knowledge
    Last edited: Sep 1, 2012
  18. Sep 1, 2012 #17
    Re: What Happened to Wheeler's "Single Electron" Idea???

    I suspected that you drew a linguistic analogy between the intertwining of "yarn ball" and entanglement. If this is the case, then let me tell you that the concept of entanglement in Quantum Mechanics is of quite a different nature than the naive pictorial picture that would come to mind. I would advise you to not use concepts of Physics through their layman's linguistic interpretation (ex. weight, energy, work, pressure, and so on).
  19. Sep 1, 2012 #18
    Re: What Happened to Wheeler's "Single Electron" Idea???

    nope, go back a page and look over my last reply again, as it has been extensively edited...

    but thanks for the help, I will definitely heed your advice in those regards ;)

    as i hinted at in my last post, the one-electron universe could provide a possible explanation for the paradoxes and problems associated with Entanglement. just an observation from a noob ;) of course this logic would fall apart if entanglement can exist between anything besides a particle and its antiparticle counterpart

    did my own searching, apparently things as large as buckyballs can become entangled but I'm not sure if that means the entire buckyballs are themselves entangled or just that theres particles within the atoms of the buckyballs that are entangled. not sure if it even matters
    Last edited: Sep 1, 2012
  20. Sep 1, 2012 #19
    Re: What Happened to Wheeler's "Single Electron" Idea???

    By "uncut" i meant having either zero or two open ends. Assuming a continuous world line, and a continuous time (this is hardly a rigid assumption of the nature of time), there must be a max and a min. (Se http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Extreme_value_theorem) This means that after that time, there would be no electrons and positrons anymore, i.e. they have all annihilated.

    Annihilation might be nicely visualized as an electron turning back in time. However, I must remind you that, as an outcome of every (real) annihilation process there is a certain number greater than two of photons coming out. How do these fit in the picture?

    Furthermore, an energetic enough photon (at least with energy of twice the rest energy of the electron, nearly 1.02 MeV) may produce an electron-positron pair. Again, how does this process fit in the picture?

    Finally, think of the following. The first "yarn ball" reached its maximal temporal coordinate, leaving all electrons and positrons annihilated. Then, many of the resulting photons which came out as products of the annihilation process, kept on propagating at later times. Some of them produced other electron-positron pairs at an even higher temporal coordinate. These electrons must belong to a different "yarn ball" than the one that was continuous in the past. Thus, the concept of a single "yarn ball" gets destroyed.
    Last edited: Sep 1, 2012
  21. Sep 1, 2012 #20
    Re: What Happened to Wheeler's "Single Electron" Idea???

    Jesus. And I thought I had heard of most theories of physics.
    Now comes this outlandish and disturbing theory of 1 electron universe.
    Thank you ktx49, for bringing this theory to our attention.

    If this theory is true, it would prove our (humans) perceived 'resolution of time' is very very poor. Just like how our lack of fast visual response is exploited in TV watching.

    But how would any one explain solid objects with this theory?
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