Manchak, John Byron Arguments Concerning Photon Concepts Faculty Mentor: David Grandy, Philosophy G. N. Lewis coined the word ‘photon’ in 1926 to describe what he thought was a particle that transmitted radiation from one atom to another.1 The word ‘photon’ caught on and eventually became the name for the smallest measurable bit of light. Developments in physics since that time, however, have suggested that it is “no longer straightforward to explain what is meant by a photon.”2 Select physicists now disregard the traditional view that photons are “bullets”3 of light. Others have argued against another conception of light that is based on the ideas of waves not unlike those found on a beach.4 It seems that no one really understands light at all, including the physicists. Towards the end of his life, Einstein put it this way, “All these years of incessant pondering brought me not an inch nearer an answer to the question of what light quanta are. These days, any youngster imagines that he knows this. But he is quite mistaken…For the rest of my life I will meditate on what light is.”5 The research I have done with Dr. David Grandy has been to think, read, write, sleep, and breathe light. He has written numerous papers6 on the subject of light and was an invaluable source of guidance for me as my approach changed direction and emphasis again and again. I began my research in late May 2003 by studying the works of Rodney Louden,7 W.E. Lamb,8 Arthur Zajonc,9 George Greenstein,10 M.O. Scully11 and others. These physicists have each doubted typical positions held regarding the photon. After reading their works and compiling short summaries of each of them, I was particularly drawn to the papers of W.E. Lamb. Footnotes lead me to other sources, which, in turn, lead me to others. Eventually, I found my way to, what I believe are, some significant findings. 1 W.E. Lamb, Jr., “Anti-photon.” Applied Physics B 60, (1995): 79. 2 Rodney Louden, The Quantum Theory of Light, 2000: 2. 3 Rodney Louden, The Quantum Theory of Light, 2000: 1. 4 Jones, D. G. C. “Two Slit Interference—Classical and Quantum Pictures.” European Journal of Physics, 15 (1994): 170-178. 5 Alan A. Grometstein, The Roots of Things: Topics in Quantum Mechanics, 1999: 6. 6 The Articles are: i. “The Otherness of Light: Einstein and Levinas” Postmodern Culture, vol. 12, no. 1. ii. . “Light as an Absolute in Science and Religion,” Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies, vol. XII, no ½ iii. “Light as a Solution to Puzzles About Light,” Journal for General Philosophy of Science, (accepted for publication; in press). iv. “Light’s Atemporality and Visual Experience” Kronoscope: Journal for the Study of Time, (invited article under peer review). 7 Rodney Louden, The Quantum Theory of Light, 2000. 8 W.E. Lamb, Jr., “Anti-photon.” Applied Physics B 60, (1995). 9 Arthur Zajonc, Catching the Light: The Entwined History of Light and Mind, 1993. 10 George Greenstein and Arthur Zajonc, The Quantum Challenge: Modern Research on the Foundations of Quantum Mechanics, 1997: 35. 11 M.O. Scully, W.E. Lamb, “The Photoelectric Effect Without Photons” Polarisation, Matiere et Rayonnement, 1969. It seems that there are at least five different conceptions of photons over the past century.12 Each of these models has both positive and negative aspects. What the physicists like Lamb and others are saying is that what they call “historical” models, such as the prevalent wave or particle conceptions, are wrong. What was interesting about my research was that, initially, I believed that their attitude was similar to that of Einstein. I thought they held that these historic models were wrong—but that no one has developed a satisfactory model yet, and thus, we should keep thinking about it. Surprisingly, the further I got into the research, the more I found out that they believe that a satisfactory model has been developed and that we should focus on this conception and leave the others. The theory presented by Dirac13 in 1927 is called the Quantum Theory of Radiation (QTR) and is little known, even among physicists. My attention then turned to this model and trying to understand it. Here, my physics background was extremely useful. This model was entirely dependent on the mathematical formalism; there were no analogies or pictures that could be associated with this photon conception. As I struggled my way through the complicated development, I was surprised to find that it was extremely elegant in its description. Though I initially did not feel a satisfactory model existed yet for light, I eventually concluded that the QTR model was a very good conception. In other words, I came to agree with Lamb and his followers. The problem now was that I could not simply rehearse the views of these physicists—I needed an original thesis. My philosophy training has helped me immensely to understand, critique, and create arguments. As I read the works of Lamb, I became more and more aware of fundamental problems in his reasoning. Other physicists, it seemed, constructed similar unsound arguments.14 Although I agreed with the conclusions of these scientists, I disagreed with the methods that they used to support their claims. My thesis became one that would try to soundly justify the opinions of Lamb and others. Here, my paper took another philosophical bent. I researched how arguments such as those made by Lamb have usually been made in the traditions of sound philosophy of science. I then patterned my proposed argument after these methods. To support my assumptions, I had to return to researching more about advances in experimental physics. Finally, after three months of full time research, I had formulated my argument and bolstered it with the claims of contemporary physics. My paper, totaling 20 pages and complete with more than 50 sources, has since been published in the Fall 2003 edition of Aporia, Brigham Young University’s undergraduate philosophy journal. It has also been the basis for a writing sample that I have sent to numerous graduate schools. I have already been accepted to one of the top programs in my field, a philosophy of physics program at the London School of Economics and am waiting to hear from the other universities. I feel that that my research conducted during the summer of 2003 has helped me to be a very strong applicant. In addition, the analytical and research skills gained from this project will benefit me for years to come. 12 See Kidd, R., Ardini, J., Anton, A. “Evolution of the Modern Photon.” American Journal of Physics, 57 (1989): 27-35. 13 Paul Dirac. “The Quantum Theory of the Emission and Absorption of Radiation.” Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, A 114 (1927): 243-265. 14 See Jones, D. G. C. “Two Slit Interference—Classical and Quantum Pictures.” European Journal of Physics, 15 (1994): 170-178.
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