Absolutely Small: How Quantum Theory Explains Our Everyday World

By Michael D. Fayer | Go to book overview

5
Light:
Waves or Particles?

THE EXPLANATION OF THE photoelectric effect discussed in Chapter 4 required a new theoretical description of the interferometer experiment discussed in connection with Figure 3.4. Understanding the interferometer experiment in a manner that does not contradict the description of the photoelectric effect requires the big leap into thinking quantum mechanically rather than thinking classically. In discussing absolute size in Chapter 2, the idea was introduced that for a system that is small in an absolute sense, a measurement will make an unavoidable nonnegligible disturbance. However, we did not discuss the nature or consequences of such a disturbance. Now, we need to come to grips with the true character of matter and what happens when we make measurements.

The problem we have is that light waves were used to explain the interference phenomenon in Figure 3.4, but “particles of light,” quanta called photons, were used to explain the photoelectric effect in connection with Figures 4.3 and 4.4. The classical mathematical description of light waves employed Maxwell’s equations to quantitatively describe interference. The mathematical entity that repre

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