Theoretical physicist David Tong (professor at Cambridge University) presents one of the liveliest lectures you’ll ever see on quantum physics and quantum fields, in this lecture at the Royal Institution.
As per usual, I’ll give you my show notes under the video…
These are the pieces of this lecture I find the most interesting. Well, there are other parts that are also very interesting, but would involve transcribing most of the lecture! So let’s just call these
My top easy take-aways from Dr. Tong:
Quantum Fields are fluid-like substances throughout the universe that flow and ripple in interesting waves.
Electrical and magnetic fields create waves. These waves form light.
Energy isn’t continuous. All the energy in the world is parcelled up into some little discrete lump. That’s what quantum means – discrete. What happens when you take discrete quantum lumps and try to combine them with Faraday’s ideas of electric and magnetic fields (continuous smooth waves, oscillating in space)?
What happens to the electric and magnetic field when you apply quantum mechanics or quantum field theory? These light waves are not as smooth and continuous as they appear. They are actually made of little particles of light, called photons.
This same principle applies to every other particle in the universe: The electron field is like a fluid; that fills this room and fills the entire universe. And the ripples/waves of this electron fluid get tied into little bundles of energy, which we call electron particles.
All the electrons in your body are waves of the same underlying field. The electrons in your body are ripples of the same field as the electrons in my body.
There are also 2 quark fields that fill the room and the entire universe. And the ripples of these two quark fields, give rise to the upquark and the downquark. And the same is true for every other kind of particle in the universe: There are fields that underlie everything, and what we think of as particles, aren’t really particles at all, they’re waves of these quantum fields, tied up into little bundles of energy.
Quantum field: particles vs waves
So the important distinction here is that “particles” are solid matter (with a weight), yet “bundles of energy” are not matter – they are energy and waves. Keep reading and we’ll get to how/why something can be both a particle and a wave…
But before that, this whole discussion is SO fascinating to me, because of a personal experience I had in a prana/chi hotspot about an hour outside of Las Vegas.
Soon after we got married, my husband Ian and I rented a brand new SUV and headed out of Vegas for some much-needed nature immersion. The Valley of Fire in Nevada is half state park and half Indian reservation. We drove onto the rez part, parked the car, turned off the ignition, pulled out the keys… to find the car still running! wtf?
So we tried again. Same thing, the car did not turn off. We pocketed the keys, locked the doors and went into the rez gift shop. Leaving the car running in the parking lot.
We finished shopping, then got in the car to drive deeper into the wilderness. We stuck the key in the ignition anyway, because we simply didn’t know what else to do with it, although the car was driving along just fine without it. As we continued driving, the windows started going up and down, opening and closing. The windshield wipers turned themselves on an off. The interior lights flicked on and off. We did not touch a thing.
We had no idea what was happening with this new SUV, or if it would suddenly just die on us out in the desert. But we’re both adventurous souls and decided to just go for it. As we drove along, we saw sand in amazing colors of orange, purple, pink, yellow. This pic gives you an idea; imagine the colors in this rock, turned into sand:
After driving for about half an hour, with not another soul in sight, we both felt drawn to stop at a certain place. There were scrub, plants and sand on the right and huge, craggy rocks on the left. I immediately went to the sand and plants, Ian went to the rock formations. As I wandered around, I felt-heard, “Lie down over there.” And my eye was drawn to a crevice in the rock floor.
Particles or waves?
I lay down in the indentation, which was the perfect size for my body, and stared up at the blue sky and some tall rocks nearby. As I lay there and breathed, and sank into the earth, my vision began to change. Everything that appeared solid and physical before, turned into vibrating dots or particles. The solid physical elements of planet earth changed to vibrating energy particles. Everything; plants, rocks, sky, sand, everywhere I looked.
Then I saw a vision of First Nations warriors riding over the hill and down to the tall rock formations, where there was a battle with another tribe. I knew I had lived in this area in another life. When I got up from my rock bed and the world became solid again, I breathed and steadied myself on my feet. As I began walking, I realized I now knew these plants too. I went from plant to plant, holding my hand over the plant and I knew what each one was used for, which parts of the plant to use, and how to prepare the medicine. I can’t remember if I knew I was the medicine woman for the tribe when I had the vision, or if that knowledge came as I dialogued with the plants… no matter.
The interesting thing is the correlation between what I saw/experienced and what Dr. Tong describes in his Quantum Fields lecture as:
“There are fields that underlie everything, and what we think of as particles, aren’t really particles at all, they’re waves of these fields, tied up into little bundles of energy.”
And that’s what I saw – the little bundles of energy that make up all these apparently solid structures.
About a year after this experience, I began spending up to 7 hours per day in meditation. And after 18 months or so, I noticed the walls of my townhouse becoming opaque. Like a double-layer of sheer curtains that you can see through… shapes, outlines, hints of what is on the other side. Again, the solid physical becoming less dense energy.
And yes, the SUV engine kept running even after we drove it back to the rental agency. We handed them the key and told them the vehicle was parked in the lot, but still running. They literally could not understand what we were saying. We all had to walk out to the car together, for them to see that yes, the engine was running, while they held the key in their hand. We happily left them with the puzzle as we walked back to our hotel.
Remember, the SUV was just a normal car until we drove onto the high frequency land at the Valley of Fire and parked at the reservation gift shop ;)
Okay, back to the science, and let’s continue the process of “getting our head round” this information… especially for those of us who learned something very different in chemistry class! Let’s go back to a more standard/basic way to look at atoms, protons, neutrons, electrons:
What are atoms made of?
If an atom is the size of 10 pro soccer fields, the nucleus (comprised of protons and usually neutrons) is the size of a house spider. Protons have a positive charge, neutrons are neutral. Electrons are negatively charged. If you take 1 proton away from a nitrogen atom, it becomes carbon. If you add 1 proton to a nitrogen atom, it becomes an oxygen atom. The number of protons an atom has, determines which type of atom it is.
Since the protons are positively charged, they determine the number of electrons in the atom (positive charge attracts negative). Through chemical reaction, you can sometimes strip an electron away from an atom, or add one. In these cases, the modified atom is called an ion, eg. nitrogen ion.
And now that we have a basic framework, let’s take it further again (and more accurate):
A better way to picture atoms
So yes, everything that we just learned above, BUT a better way to picture/understand electrons is: rather than thinking in terms of wave vs. particle, you think of wave particle duality. So you could picture the wave function as a flow of water and the particle aspect as a speck of dust in that water. The particle is mostly guided by where the water wave goes.
“Finally, and perhaps most intriguing, there is the relational interpretation. This perspective holds that the behavior of a quantum particle is a function of the relation between the particle and the observer. This means that there is no physical property inherent in the particle that determines its motion. If the particle is not observed, then its behavior is completely determined by a probability function. However, as soon as the outcome is observed, then the probability waveform collapses, producing a single discrete trajectory. This means that the behavior of a system is observer-dependent.”
Now, if you are able to figure out why the pattern in this experiment changes based on observation alone, and how single particles behave like waves only if no one is looking… you may be the next Nobel prize winner.
JINI PATEL THOMPSON
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