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Quantum physics: About the most difficult in simple language

If they ask if his position is permanent, you need to say no, if they ask if it changes over time, you need to say no. If they ask if he is stationary, you need to say no, if they ask if he is moving, you need to say no.” The laws of quantum mechanics are very difficult to perceive, they look like mystical revelations, and these words of Robert Oppenheimer about the behavior of the electron could well have been said by Lao Tzu two and a half thousand years before the advent of modern physics.

Introduction. The fundamental complexity of understanding quantum theory

It is difficult to imagine what our civilization would look like without classical physics and mathematics. The concepts of an absolute “objective reality that exists independently of our consciousness,” of three-dimensional Euclidean space and uniformly flowing time are so deeply rooted in a consciousness that we do not notice them. And most importantly, we refuse to notice that they are applicable only in some routine situations and are simply incorrect to explain the structure of the Universe.

Although something similar was already expressed by Eastern philosophers and mystics centuries ago, Einstein spoke about it for the first time in Western science. It was a revolution that our consciousness did not accept. With condescension, we repeat: “everything is relative,” “Time and space are one,” always keeping in mind that this is an assumption, a scientific abstraction that has little in common with our habitual stable reality. In fact, just our ideas are poorly correlated with reality — amazing and incredible.

Язык математики строг, но мало соотносится с нашим непосредственным восприятием

The language of mathematics is strict, but it has little to do with our direct perception

After the structure of the atom was discovered in general terms and its “planetary” model was proposed, scientists encountered many paradoxes, for the explanation of which a whole section of physics appeared – quantum mechanics. It has developed rapidly and has advanced far in explaining the universe. But these explanations are so difficult to understand that until now few people can understand them at least in general terms.

Indeed, most of the achievements of quantum mechanics are accompanied by such a complex mathematical apparatus that it simply cannot be translated into any of the human languages. Mathematics, like music, is an extremely abstract subject, and scientists are still struggling with an adequate expression of meaning, for example, the folding of functions or multidimensional Fourier series. The language of mathematics is strict, but it has little to do with our direct perception.

In addition, Einstein mathematically showed that our concepts of time and space are illusory. In

С нашим трехмерным умом вряд ли возможно вообразить четырехмерный континуум пространства-времени

With our three-dimensional mind, it is hardly possible to imagine a four-dimensional continuum of space-time

Planetary theory. Wave or particle

Until the end of the XIX century, atoms were considered indivisible “elements”. The discovery of radiation allowed Rutherford to penetrate the “shell” of the atom and formulate a planetary theory of its structure: the bulk of the atom is concentrated in the nucleus. The positive charge of the nucleus is compensated by negatively charged electrons, whose sizes are so small that their mass can be neglected. Electrons rotate around the nucleus in orbits, similar to the rotation of planets around the Sun. The theory is very beautiful, but there are a number of contradictions.

Firstly, why don’t negatively charged electrons “fall” on the positive nucleus? Secondly, in nature, atoms collide millions of times per second, which does not harm them at all — how to explain the amazing strength of the entire system? In the words of one of the “fathers” of quantum mechanics, Heisenberg, “no planetary system that obeys the laws of Newton’s mechanic’s will.

Атомы

Data that does not fit well into the framework of the classical approach appeared long before Einstein. For the first time, such a “duel” took place between Newton and Huygens, who tried to explain the properties of light. Newton claimed that it was a stream of particles, Huygens considered light to be a wave. Within the framework of classical physics, it is impossible to reconcile their positions. After all, for her, a wave is a transmitted excitation of particles of the medium, a concept applicable only to a variety of objects. None of the free particles can move along a wave-like trajectory. But an electron is moving in a deep vacuum, and its movements are described by the laws of wave motion. What is exciting here if there is no environment? Quantum physics offers a Solomonic solution: light is both a particle and a wave.

Probabilistic electronic clouds. The structure of the nucleus and nuclear particlesGradually it became more and more clear: the rotation of electrons in orbits around the nucleus of an atom is completely different from the rotation of planets around a star.
Для электрона мы можем лишь примерно описать, в каких областях он может находиться, и с какой вероятностью

For an electron, we can only roughly describe in which areas it can be located, and with what probability

But anyone who wants to finally understand the structure of the atom must turn to its basis, to the structure of the nucleus. The large elementary particles that makeup it — positively charged protons and neutral neutrons – also have a quantum nature, which means that they move faster the smaller they are enclosed in. Since the size of the nucleus is extremely small even in comparison with the atom, these elementary particles are carried at quite decent speeds close to the speed of light. To finally explain their structure and behavior, we will need to “cross” quantum theory with the theory of relativity. Unfortunately, such a theory has not yet been created and we will have to limit ourselves to a few generally accepted models.

The theory of relativity has shown (and the experiments have proved) that mass is only one form of energy. Energy is a dynamic quantity associated with processes or work. Therefore, an elementary particle should be perceived as a probabilistic dynamic function, as interactions associated with a continuous transformation of energy. This gives an unexpected answer to the question of how elementary particles are, whether they can be divided into “even simpler” blocks. If we accelerate two particles in an accelerator and then collide, we will get not two, but three particles, and exactly the same. The third one will simply arise from the energy of their collision — thus, they will separate and not separate at the same time!

Если разогнать две частицы в ускорителе, и затем столкнуть, мы получим не две, а три частицы, причем совершенно одинаковые — третья возникнет из энергии их столкновения

If we accelerate two particles in an accelerator, and then collide, we will get not two, but three particles, and exactly the same – the third will arise from the energy of their collision

Participant instead of an observer

In a world where the concepts of empty space and isolated matter lose their meaning, a particle is described only through its interactions. In order to say something about it, we will have to “pull” it out of the initial interactions and, having prepared it, subject it to another interaction – measurement. So what do we measure in the end? And how legitimate are our measurements in general, if our intervention changes the interactions in which the particle participates — and therefore changes it itself?

В современной физике элементарных частиц все больше вопросов вызывает фигура ученого-наблюдателя. Правомернее было бы называть его «участником»

In modern particle physics, the figure of a scientist-observer raises more and more questions. It would be more legitimate to call him a “participant”

In modern elementary particle physics, it causes more and more complaints… the very figure of a scientist-observer. It would be more legitimate to call him a “participant”.

A participant observer is necessary not only to measure the properties of a subatomic particle, but also to determine these very properties, because they can only be talked about in the context of interaction with an observer. It is necessary for him to choose the way in which he will carry out measurements, and depending on this, the possible properties of the particle are realized. It is necessary to change the observing system, and the properties of the observed object will also change.

This important moment reveals the deep unity of all things and phenomena. The particles themselves, continuously passing into one another and into other forms of energy, do not have constant or precise characteristics — these characteristics depend on the way we decided to see them. If it is necessary to measure one property of a particle, the other will certainly change. This limitation is not related to the imperfection of devices or other completely fixable things. This is a characteristic of reality. Try to accurately measure the position of a particle, and you will not be able to say anything about the direction and speed of its movement – simply because it will not have them. Describe exactly the motion of the particle — you will not find it in space. So modern physics poses problems of a completely metaphysical nature.

Стоит сменить наблюдающую систему, и свойства наблюдаемого объекта также изменятся

It is necessary to change the observing system, and the properties of the observed object will also change

The uncertainty principle. Place or momentum, energy or time

We have already said that the conversation about subatomic particles cannot be conducted in the exact terms familiar to us, in the quantum world we are left with only probability. This, of course, is not the probability that is talked about when betting on horse races, but a fundamental property of elementary particles. They don’t really exist, but rather they can exist. They don’t exactly have characteristics, but rather they can have them. Scientifically speaking, a particle is a dynamic probabilistic scheme, and all its properties are in constant mobile equilibrium, balancing like Yin and Yang on the ancient Chinese symbol Tai chi. It is not for nothing that the Nobel laureate Niels Bohr, elevated to the rank of nobility, chose this sign and the motto for his coat of arms: “Opposites complement each other.” Mathematically, the probability distribution is an uneven wave oscillation. The greater the amplitude of the wave in a certain place, the higher the probability of the particle’s existence in it. At the same time, its length is not constant — the distances between neighboring ridges are not the same, and the higher the amplitude of the wave, the stronger the difference between them. While the amplitude corresponds to the position of the particle in space, the wavelength is related to the momentum of the particle, that is, to the direction and speed of its movement. The greater the amplitude (the more accurately a particle can be localized in space), the more uncertain the wavelength becomes (the less can be said about the particle’s momentum). If we can determine the position of a particle with extreme accuracy, it will not have any definite momentum at all.

The faster the process goes, the more uncertain the amount of energy involved in it, and vice versa

This fundamental property is mathematically derived from the properties of the wave and is called the uncertainty principle. The principle also applies to other characteristics of elementary particles. Another such interconnected pair is the energy and time of quantum processes. The faster the process goes, the more uncertain the amount of energy involved in it, and vice versa – it is possible to accurately characterize the energy only for a process of sufficient duration.

So, we realized: nothing definite can be said about a particle. It moves there, or not there, or rather, neither there nor here. Its characteristics are such or such, or rather, not such and not such. It is here, but it may be there, or it may not be anywhere. So does it exist at all?

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