Is there any evidence of the physical existence of photons?
by S33Light on Thursday, November 4, 2010 at 9:53am
Or could there even be such a thing?
This is the note I sent to Cecil Adams of The Straight Dope. My question is currently under consideration for possible inclusion at a later time.
“It seems to me that it’s just as likely that the existence of photons is logically inferred rather than demonstrated in reality. Since all of our methods of measuring photons hinge upon some form of material object to act as a collector/antenna/reflector (like your eyes or visual cortex), I wonder if the reason why the difficulties most people have with making sense of quantum mechanics arises from the assumption that there is something physically there to have a mechanical nature.
In a vacuum, there is no visible beam of light, rather, all of our experiences of beams of light are the result of particles being illuminated in the path of the beam, aren’t they? A laser does not look like a beam, it looks like a dot which appears on the closest physical surface. The two slit experiment famously shows that light does not behave like a substance but we interpret this as photons being a substance which doesn’t behave like other substances we are familiar with.
In a microwave oven, food is cooked without heat or light but rather water molecules within the food are electronically inspired to jiggle and the food cooks itself. There are no accumulations of photon residue, no puddles of microwave precipitation. Without making a case for naive realism, it would appear that electromagnetism does not physically exist, but rather it is strictly the underlying logic of material processes which gives rise to the appearance of physical existence.
Even phenomena such as gravitational lensing prove only that electromagnetic behavior carries logical information about the space in between the source and the target, not that there is a movement or collision of objects traveling at the fastest speed possible. To me, it seems like such a speed is not really a velocity at all but more like the opposite of stasis - absolute velocity, where the ‘object’ is both nowhere and anywhere (within the logical range of effect) at the same instant. Might not the latency of light observed over vast distances reflect the temporal nature of space itself and not light’s velocity (ie. the speed of awareness of ‘time’ measured in energy events per mile/foot/millimeter…).
If this were the case, then consciousness would make sense as the electromagnetic logic behind patterns of material events in the brain - events which recapitulate the logic of material events outside of the brain. If you think of attention as a kind of magnetic field and intention as a kind of electric field (fields don’t physically exist, they are logical delineations of physical effects so not necessarily having a shape - like the signal of a radio tower is really just a relation between that antenna and any that passes within range, not a bubble of energy stuff) awareness or detection can be thought of as a contiguous phenomenon with objective mechanics and the brain of a living organism can be thought of as a semiconductor which complicates and slows reflex, rectifies it into sensory and motor i/o.
I’ve argued this with a several skeptics and although it seems to upset them, I haven’t really gotten any satisfying, common sense example which has disillusioned me so far. I’m not a physicist or even a casual student of physics so I am open to any explanation which might convince me that the massless, chargeless probability particle-that-are-also-a-waves, that jump around in uncertainty until such time as an observer fixes either it’s position or velocity (but not both) should be considered anything at all other than an inferred cause of material behaviors (including awareness).
Here is another post I put out earlier in 2010:
Recently I’ve had some ideas about light which may seem crazy, but I think that the are not only potentially plausible, but point to the inherent existence of order, life, and some version of subjective awareness at all levels of the Cosmos. It would potentially support astrology as well.
Here is a quick sketch of the conventional way we think (or how I think that we think) that light works.
1. An atom changes it’s energy state - an electron pops back into it’s proper shell/orbit after being knocked out of it by an external event - a particle collision, etc.
2. The electron’s movement causes a ripple/particle to be released at the speed of light.
3. The particle (photon) acts like a wave when we test it for wave characteristics, it acts like a particle when we test it as a particle. Either the position or momentum can be determined (Quantum Indeterminacy/Uncertainty).
4. Electrons cannot be detected without using photons to detect them, which affects the behavior of electrons. All of our observations of quantum phenomena are aspects of what we use to observe them (Observer Effect).
The idea I have about light began with this interpretation of c.
1. The so called ‘speed of light’ is equated roughly with ‘c’, which is the maximum velocity possible in timespace. c therefore represents not a speed, but a condition which is the opposite of stillness; absolute motion, or ‘full speed’.
2. There is no ‘speed’ of light in the sense of photons having a velocity as they travel through the vacuum of space. Instead, it’s an instantaneous shared experience to the extent that timespace will accommodate.
3. Light then is a behavior of matter, which may ‘jump’ from atom to atom through a behavior of imitation - like a crowd in a stadium doing ‘The Wave’, it is driven by simple subjective relations between individuals and the group. It’s a rhythmic synchronization of enthusiasm in time. And I think that might be exactly how light/energy works. Like this:
I’m not trying to throw out quantum mechanics. Obviously the predictive value of the model and all of the work of brilliant physicists over the last 50 years is tremendous. What I’m suggesting is that QED (Quantum Electrodynamics) is only part of the picture. It’s quantitative projection is exactly what you’d get if you take a universe which is half interior and subjective and flatten it into an exterior, objective context:
From Feynman’s QED - diagramming the strange behavior of partial reflection and how the amount of light events detected changes probabilistically with the thickness of the glass being used. Photons are not captured but rather inferred through a series of electronic chain reactions in the photomultipliers (A and B). We have no actual evidence of what is going on here, but we can observe enough to tell ourselves a story about what’s going on which we can use to predict how much light will be reflected under what conditions.
Under most conditions this would be reasonable and adequate, except that what light does is not reasonable if we take the model of photons as particles to be literally true. Instead of assuming a particle moving through space, bouncing here and there, I propose the same observations could be explained by seeing electromagnetism as a telesemantic process through which matter literally makes sense and sense makes matter.
I would add to the Feynman diagram a fuller sense of the entities and relations involved.
Here, we have the mind, brain, body, glass, photomultipliers, and illumination source all making sense of the event they share in whatever way they are able. The reflection itself is an experience which manifests logic to us visually rather than a physical substance dependent on logic. Think of how partial reflection works, how it changes depending on your position. There’s something a bit haunting about the double-exposure effect and seeing the diaphanous unreality of image. It reminds me of how metals have no odor themselves but rather alter the chemistry of the oils in our skin to give a metallic smell. The thing itself, the photon, is like the smell of metal - nothing. What we understand of optics is nothing more than the logic of our own visual perception; perception not of light particles, but of sense. Qualitative, experiential, signifying participation in our own complex, multi-layered subjective existence.
I conceive the complement of QED to be QCD - Qualitative Cooperative Dynamics. In this model of the cosmos:
1. Photons don’t exist as projectiles.
…a. Since they are described as being invisible, intangible, probabilistically invoked nothingness with no mass or charge, doing away with the idea of photons seems merciful.
…b. The effects we attribute to photons can, I imagine, all be reinterpreted as having their origins in the behavior of the molecules of the local matter (the retina of our eyes or the ccd/film of a camera)
2. Light is a qualitative property of matter which matter detects and imitates, even when separated by millions of light years in a vacuum.
…a. In a vacuum, the illuminated behavior of the atom spreads to the adjacent atoms just like it would in a copper wire, only the vacuum is skipped. Light is matter responding to the presence of it’s own excitation at a distance. Electronic voyeurism.
…b. The smiley face emphasizes the : particle nature of the object side, and the ‘looking’ and ‘seeing’ experience of the subjective side while the ) represents the wave nature of the object side, as well as the ‘feeling’ and ‘expressing’ of the subjective/social/communicative side.
…c. Electric and magnetic aspects map to detection and imitation functionality. They work together to transmit and receive exterior and interior conditions.
3. Gravity is the counterpart of electromagnetism. It represents the exterior process of entropy. Galaxies draining out into black holes, stars and planets blown out and orphaned. The quantitative accumulation of matter until it crushes itself from the outside in. This is the physical limitation of meaning, communication, and subjectivity. It binds our soft, warm dreams to a world of cold hard facts.
Here’s some examples and interpretations to help make this more concrete:
1. A ray or beam of light does not appear visibly as a beam unless there is a particulate (or other beam-splitting obstruction) within the range of the light source to scatter the light before it reaches it’s target. Maybe the ‘beam’ is a logical area of effect and not a physical object at all.
2. Light may not ‘enter a prism’, rather a material light source excites the prism so that it simulates that original excitement with the release of light from the prism to be re-simulated by other objects nearby, including the eye of a human observer. The fact that gravity and electromagnetism can alter and bend the ‘path’ of light could be an aspect of signal processing rather than a physical manipulation of a stream of light particles.
3. A microwave oven cooks without heat. I think it could be said that it’s a technology which signals food to cook itself. No hot air, no hot oven, a microwave oven propagates a focused condition of electronic enthusiasm which water molecules pick up on and are inspired to jiggle and spin to, rubbing the other molecules next to them, causing cooking by friction.
4. Think of it as a cosmic currency, say a deposit into a bank account of energy which transforms the quanta of the account. A debit for a credit, nothing more. No coins flying through the air. No sacks of cash bouncing off of the walls of the bank vault - just pure information shared between the inside of one object to (and through) the insides of others.
5. Think about how objects glow when they are heated. They become more translucent. If light were a projectile which enters the eye, I would expect hot coals to look like branching tendrils of bright smoke or something, I would expect photons to accumulate in puddles or deposits of holographic crystals. Not like this:
Seems more like ice cubes. Which would make sense if we are looking in to the charcoal - seeing the activity and energy going on in there. Our own visual system, from cornea to retina to optic nerve and visual cortex are reproducing the experience of the hot coals to the best of their human capabilities.
6. If photons were actually particles traveling through space, wouldn’t turning on a flashlight look more like lightning?
Shouldn’t a sunrise cause some sort of sonic boom or noise of thunder of some sort as it’s quintillions of photons slam into the atmosphere from 93 million miles away going the speed of light? Why is it utterly silent?
Maybe because there are no particles traveling through space into our eyeballs - it’s our eyes that are able to see the activity of the sun. It’s a shared phenomena between the atoms of the sun and the atoms which make up our brain and nervous system - this is what ‘we’ are - the subjective of our living nervous systems - atoms, molecules, cells, tissues and organs.
Our lives, it seems, are the inside of systems larger than our bodies. Gravitational systems of enormous planetary masses interacting with each other may very well provide the timing for novel shifts and evolving trajectories in personal and social conditions. The subjective realm is an infra-material universe - as primitive as atoms communicating, and as sophisticated as the social dramas and myths, the archetypes and zeitgeists of human civilization.
Think of all of our language about light and how we understand it as a metaphor for awareness, intelligence, intuition. Enlightenment. Illumination. Brilliance. Bright. Clarity. Transparency. Seeing the light.