“If you think you understand quantum mechanics, then you don’t understand quantum mechanics”
Richard Feynman (allegedly)
And on that encouraging note . . .
Like peanut butter, light comes in two varieties; chunky and smooth, the big difference between light and peanut butter being that light seems to be able to be both chunky and smooth at the same time. Obviously, that’s not possible, but to understand why people think it is, you have to know something about time.
Imagine that you are on your way to or from Clapham by public transport. You turn to one of your fellow travellers1and ask which, in their opinion, presents the greater opportunities: the past or the future. They will probably suggest the future, partly on the grounds that it contains a wider range of options, the past being over and done with, and partly just because it is unknown and largely unknowable. Soon you should find you are both able to agree that the future consists entirely of events that have yet to occur, if ever, while all those that have already happened form the past. That leaves us only the present to consider.
The present is more interesting, and somewhat less intuitive. Most people, for instance, would consider the present, otherwise known as “Now”, as lasting a reasonable amount of time, enough at least to get stuff done. However, in reality, it can’t possibly be long enough for things to happen during it, because then the past would start at that point, by definition. It has to be shorter than that. In fact, and this is the key, no change at all can take place in the present if it is to avoid instantly becoming the past. At the same time, it can’t simply be zero, as that would mean it doesn’t exist, which it patently does. It has to be greater than zero, just enough to form a buffer between future and past, but in the course of which nothing can happen.
On the other hand, if the present’s that short, and nothing can happen during it, then how could anything happen at all? Think of the present as being like a video frame, and each element a single pixel; nothing changes within a video frame, but it is not exactly the same as the ones before and after it, which gives the illusion of continuous movement and change. Each element (quantum) has its own timeline (unless they are ‘entangled’). For each quantum state in any given timeline there are an infinite number of possible subsequent states of varying probability, from “no change” to “new”.
The rule is: “If nothing happens, nothing happens”. So long as an element’s probable future states remain unchanged – in what is called a ‘wave’ state because that is how it behaves – then successive presents will remain in that state until something happens, i.e. some event causes an instantaneous change to a ‘past’, or what is called ‘particle’, state which then simply becomes part of the fabric of the universe in that form (See definition of ‘past’ above). When we look at the sub-molecular quantum world, that is what we see: two possible states, one probabilistic while the probabilities still exist, and the other fixed once an event has occurred. It should be borne in mind, however, that any event instantly generates its own probable subsequent states which are superposed on the past ‘particle’2state.
I call this the ‘sequential present’3.
The Clapham Interpretation resolves a number of apparent paradoxes in quantum mechanics, among them the Observer Effect, Schrödinger’s Cat, the EPR Paradox, the Multiverse, the Double-Slit Experiment, the Block Universe and the Arrow of Time, to name but a few. It also reconciles Classical Physics with the Theory of Relativity and provides a basis for a quantum theory of gravity, with implications for String Theory, Brane Theory and the Holographic Universe.
It has a nice GUT feel to it.
“What now appear as the paradoxes of quantum theory will seem as just common sense to our children’s children”
Stephen Hawking, The Second Millennium Evening at The White House, March 6, 1998