Take the 2-minute tour ×
Physics Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for active researchers, academics and students of physics. It's 100% free, no registration required.

I'm not sure if this has been answered before, but I figured this would be the right forum to find out. I'm not by any means an expert in physics, just someone who's interested in understanding more about the universe.

I've heard it stated that light behaves like both a particle and a wave. Something about that statement bothered me, and I started thinking about it. Whenever we describe light (or to generalize, any type of EMR) we use its wave properties (frequency and wavelength). So what if, for argument's sake, we say EMR is just a wave and we discard the notion of it also behaving like a particle?

A wave must travel through a medium. But we know light can travel through a vacuum, so what is the medium? Could the medium be spacetime itself? We know that spacetime can be warped and stretched by mass, so why couldn't it vibrate?

Consider a tank of water. Low-frequency waves you would make by disturbing the surface don't penetrate the walls of the tank. But higher-frequency waves like sound can be felt/heard through the glass. To me, this is analagous to certain wavelengths of EMR being able to penetrate certain densities of mass - the way visible light doesn't pass through your body but x-rays do.

We say that photons contribute energy to atoms when they strike them. Could it be that the atoms are being excited by the vibration of spacetime, the way the sand on a beach is moved when a wave reaches the shore? Think about radio waves - the wave travels easily through less-dense media (air, houses, us) but when it reaches a denser "shore" (the antenna) the particles on the shore become excited and translate that energy into a different form (the movement of electrons through the antenna).

share|improve this question
    
    
Related : physics.stackexchange.com/questions/466/… –  Kitchi Mar 2 '13 at 19:54
    
Don't use analogies too much - although they may be helpful at some point, they are usually impeding further understanding - unless they are devised by someone deeply proficient in the theory, who is aware of their drawbacks. –  peterph Mar 2 '13 at 22:19

1 Answer 1

up vote 0 down vote accepted

I'm firmly of the opinion that the best way to think of the 'wave-particle duality' of quantum mechanics is to simply accept that photons, electrons, etc are neither particles, nor waves; what is 'real' is that they are described by a wave-function governed by the laws of quantum mechanics. This wave-function has properties which remind us, in the macroscopic world, as waves in some ways and particles in other ways.

A wave must travel through a medium.

This is false. Maxwell's equations from which the wave equation for EMR is derived need not make reference to a medium.

We know that spacetime can be warped and stretched by mass, so why couldn't it vibrate?

You're right! But the vibrations of spacetime itself actually yield another type of wave: gravitational waves.

share|improve this answer
    
Thanks for the replies! I'm new here, and any chance to expand my knowledge is always welcome. –  Scott Vandezande Mar 3 '13 at 6:55

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.