Language · Problem · Story

Demystifying quantum mechanics? – a tale of tropes

[Draft] [“Quantum foundations” series]


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Well, I wonder …

This post is about my ongoing physics research project. To tell a story (perhaps literally) which conceptually unpacks quantum field theory. That is, to develop a framework which:

  1. Visualizes Wilczek‘s Grid (discussed in other posts).
  2. Demystifies the historical tropes of quantum mechanics.

Perhaps these tasks are underway elsewhere. While visualization has advanced over the decades, I’ve not encountered any systematic elucidation. Just mainly lots of math. An occasional analogy or wave form. And Big Science and table-top physics are focused on new so-called particles or new types of interactions. Or refining values of key parameters. All of which is vital, but not a compelling narrative.

These fields are actually three dimensional, but if I showed you a three dimensional version of this, your eyes and brain would just be overwhelmed and it wouldn’t be useful. – Nick Lucid [1]

This project really requires a team. But finding collaborators is problematical. Those with a passion for quantum physics, with skillsets in mathematical physics and visualization (including evocative analogies), and having some distance from academic pressure – to work on telling a story rather than publishing noteworthy papers.

So, I’ll start with a story: a parable by Wilczek (although he may not have called it that) and a tale framed as a remembrance of a journey toward new physics.

Table of contents

  • Introduction
  • Prologue – a parable of the Grid
  • Beyond all gloss – a quantum story
  • Quantum physics beyond remembrances
  • Notes

Prologue – a parable of the Grid

Intelligent deepwater fish – or super-dolphins – figure out “swimming” in a medium

Suppose some species of deepwater fish, that never break the surface, evolved to become more intelligent, and started to do theoretical physics.

Eventually the fish-physicists would realize that they could get a nicer version of mechanics by assuming that they lived in a medium – call it water – [which] complicates the appearance of things. In this way, they’d realize that what they hitherto regarded as “nothingness,” their ever-present environment, is actually a material medium.

And then they might be inspired to do experiments to try to make ripples in the medium, to find its atoms, and so forth.

Well, we’re like those fish. Human-physicists have discovered that we can get nicer, simpler accounts of how particles behave by assuming that we’re embedded in a medium, whose presence complicates the appearance of things.

– Physics history, Earth: Frank Wilczek, “What is Space?” (2009)

Beyond all gloss – a quantum story (perhaps)

At this elevation, the landscape looked wonderful. The day was clear, clean. Inside the observatory, Tau was shielded from the not so delightful aspects of the site. Like reduced atmospheric oxygen, gusty cold, and higher radiation.

Tau was waiting for results of his latest simulations. Even supercomputers took awhile.

The conference room was one of his favorite places, with expansive windows and multispectral overlays. Presently unoccupied, Tau was reflecting on being there. Something serendipitous, in a way.

Some of the solar and dish arrays were visible outside. And the more recent upgrades which kept the place operational. The site was witness to a long arc of physics. Of understanding quanta. In the past many people saw the solar panels as collecting particles and the dishes waves. An alchemy of the sky’s electromagnetic spectrum. But that didn’t really matter if you just did the math. Visualization was mostly a never-mind.

Leave the stage of everyday …
go behind the scenes,
beyond all gloss …
until there’s just the lower bound

What remains?
What only can be imagined …
perhaps modeled mathematically

What are the words (or poetry)
to frame such a construct,
it’s structure and topology?

How does the everyday emerge
from that matrix effectively?

to be continued …

Quantum physics beyond remembrances

A framework for renewed visualization

Research objective: visualizing the Grid (inspired by theoretical physicist Frank Wilczek)

The journey: the mundane –> mysterious –> mundane redux

Possible conceptual framework

10^n and 10^-n
energy / contours of energy
fluid dynamics
diffusion equations

energy spectrum
wave forms
confinement (boundary conditions, dampening)

What’s actually happening [re quanta] is a combination of (1) fundamentally smooth functions, (2) differential equations, (3) boundary conditions, and (4) what we care about [which factors in dissipation]. – Sean Carroll [2]


The baggage of behind (popsci tropes)

Research objective: Demystify the historical tropes of quantum mechanics

point particle
wave-particle duality
uncertainty principle
force (charge, mass)

Particular foundational problems

Context: interactions with the Grid and so-called mass / charge states; and the topology of “flavors,” etc.

  • the neutrino
  • mathematical models and infinities
  • why sum over all paths works (with finesse) [3]


[1] Regarding our ability to visualize higher dimensions …

My post “Reckoning quanta, quantum events” cites Nick Lucid’s discussion of quantum fields.

• YouTube > The Science Asylum > “What Are Particles? Do They ACTUALLY Exist?!” by Nick Lucid (May 1, 2023) – Somewhere between 1926 and 1950, we gave up the concept of particles in favor of quantum fields. In this video, I explain the motivations for that to a non-physicist: my wife.

[2] Carroll’s post also is an example of the use of an occasional analogy (violin strings) or wave form (but not wave pulse / packet).

• Preposterous Universe (Sean Carroll) > “Thanksgiving” (November 23, 2023) – A frequently misunderstood (or misinterpreted) feature of nature is the relationship between discrete (measurable) “quanta” – individual excitations of quantized fields (“particles”) or the energy levels of atoms – and smooth and continuous mathematical models of reality.

[3] See these comments for my post “Reckoning quanta, quantum events

May 24, 2023 > “… the equation [Feynman path integral], although it graces the pages of thousands of physics publications, is more of a philosophy than a rigorous recipe. … it does not tell researchers exactly how to carry out the sum. … they face deep confusion about which possibilities should enter the sum.”

May 25, 2023 > “Our work paves the way for experimentally exploring the fundamental problems of quantum theory in the formulation of path integrals.”