A Quantum of Denial

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“So, look at the question from another point. How long is wave in the ocean?”
Margot looked at Ed, tilted her head to one side, and asked, “What kind of wave?”
“Oh, let’s consider a wind wave, maybe two feet high, and having been generated from wind off the African coast.” Ed put down his chalk, picked up his coffee cup, and then added, “Or maybe, this little ripple in the remnants of my coffee. Again, how long is the wave?”
“Trick question, isn’t it. Waves aren’t just two dimensional; they have a number of components.”
“And that means what, exactly? Or, to complicate matters, at what point in time, another great element, does a wave come into existence, and when does it cease to exist?”
This debate had been rattling around the lab for weeks. It started when a new grad student had asked Ed, “Have you ever wondered why particles may be able to change location, that if they are associated with waves, then if they do cease to be in one location and appear in another, does the wave change length, to stretch between the two points? Or does the wave travel with the particle, and by instantaneously relocation, generate energy from passing by other temporarily stationary particles and waves?”
Classical quantum teachings had been simplified by reducing the complexity to a simple statement, “Theory is that at any time, a particle will probably be at another location, and particles and waves interact.” The problem was developing that with continued inspection and introspection, more questions were being generated than answers.
“Somewhere,” Ed pondered aloud, “there has to be a conservation of energy. If a particle goes from “here” to “there,” that takes energy. If waves are energy, then the wave must degrade in the process. But, that damned grad student, what was his name, Bandugamian, something, raised a good point. If waves are of infinite length…”
Margot got up from her stool, walked over to the ever-running coffee maker, and held her cup under the spigot. Without pulling the handle, she said, “Ed, what is it about waves that confuses us? Energy is put in from “something,” the object that will form a wave absorbs that energy, and the wave is propagated. Maybe the question is more, what is it that sustains the wave?” Looking back at her cup, she pulled the spigot handle and watched the steaming brew fill her cup.
“You know, Margot, particles, and waves, if there are such things, are intangible to humans. All we really know is that heavy things have more gravitational attraction, things that are hot radiate energy, ice cream is better than cabbage soup, and warm water is better to swim in than cold water. We are simple creatures and this is not a simple problem.”
“That kind of means that if I postulate that light is not the fastest speed attainable, all I’m doing is muddying up the heavy water, right? Photons and neutrinos and such are all limited to the cosmic speed limit too?”
“Margot, all that is elementary stuff. Particles can change locations. Photons have a point of origin and travel in continuous paths. Neutrinos just pass right through everything. What are you thinking?”
“Well, if I was a wave, and I wanted to be tricky, I’d have two ends and a peak, but nothing in between the parts. My particle would be associated with any one of the parts at any time. As I, the wave, was induced to change my energy state, a portion of the wave would simply move to another location and take the particle with me, as an anchor. Upon arrival at my new location, the center part would move half way to the particle, the tail to the center, and then the center the rest of the way to the particle, and the last would catch up. Kind of like a Slinky moving in stages and storing energy.”
Ed sat down on another stool and looked at Margot. “Now that’s about as silly an idea as I ever heard,” he said. Particles and waves are not Slinkys.”
“Perhaps,” she answered, “but when you look at a Slinky, side on, you only see the closest wire bands. You can’t see the other side, so how do you know it exists?”
Ed just sat, looking at Margot, and shook his head. “How long have you been working in this field? Is that the best you can do?”
Margot smiled a tight little smile. “I was told that you folks would never catch on, even if you were lead down the garden path. I’ve been here two years and you still don’t want to listen. Well, earthman, I gave it my best shot. Now, I’ll give you a demonstration, but no explanation, and I bet you still never figure it out.
She held out her coffee cup, palm up, the cup sitting rock solid. “This, you silly man, is my “particle.” First, a portion of the “wave” ceases to be “here” and…”
Ed gawked as Margot’s cup now hovered in air on the other side of the lab, and then the front view of Margot appeared in the middle of the room. Her back view caught up with the front, which then moved to stand under the cup, and her backside caught up with both an eye blink later.
“You should have listened, Ed. It was a free ride. Now, I’m a little bored with it all, and all you have is…”
Margot disappeared in a small thunderclap. The cup fell, shattering and splashing hot coffee all over the lab floor. The steaming liquid lay flat as it expanded out under stools and tables. There were certainly particles within it, but nary a wave, and as he watched, Ed wept.