# Neil deGrasse Tyson says that electrons "teleport" between energy levels?

https://blog.afach.de/?p=62

Discusses the error Neil deGrasse Tyson made when talking about electronic transitions (video included there). Tyson clearly said in his Cosmos series that electrons disappear from one level and appear in the other one.

The guy in the page discusses that this is wrong, because there is no proof of that, and because it breaks simplest rules of relativity, and because it contradicts the simplest quantum model.

Is his argument correct? And why would Tyson do such a horrible mistake?

• And why would Neil Tyson do such a horrible mistake? Oversimplification. Btw, I've skimmed article and there is a mistake: the wavefunction is not zero only at infinity. Commented Aug 3, 2014 at 15:11
• Perhaps this page en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atomic_electron_transition will help clarify "reality" ? Commented Aug 3, 2014 at 15:12
• @jinawee Where else? Commented Aug 3, 2014 at 15:20
• For the hydrogen atom in the ground state, the wavefunction is zero at the center of mass. In general, you would have to use numerical methods, see this chart: teacher.pas.rochester.edu/PHY237/Exams/Exam2/Exam2_files/… Anyway, I don't think "to teleport between energy levels" has sense in modern QM, since energy levels aren't identified with any position. Commented Aug 3, 2014 at 15:24
• @jinawee: the graphs you show are the probability of finding the electron between $r$ and $r + dr$, which is $P(r) = \psi\psi^*4\pi r^2$. The wavefunction is not zero at $r = 0$. For example the $1s$ is $\psi(r) = Ae^{-r/a_0}$ and this is actually a maximum at $r = 0$. Commented Aug 3, 2014 at 16:07

Tyson claims that an electron disappears from one orbital and appears in another and claims that this is like going from the second floor of a building to the fourth floor without existing in between. This doesn't actually happen. What happens instead is that each possible state of the system has a continuous amplitude associated with it. In a transition from state 1 to state 2, the amplitude of state 1 continuously decreases over time while that of state 2 continuously increases. These states overlap in space and so there is no mysterious magical mystery about an electron hopping from one place to another or anything like that. There is just continuous evolution of continuous amplitudes of the discrete set of states in which the electron can be found upon measurement.

The confusion about this kind of issue is a result of the mess that is usually made of discussing how quantum mechanics should be understood when it comes to measurement. The standard story is that the state of a quantum system jumps or collapses into one of the possible outcomes on measurement, but this is false. A more accurate description goes like this. A measurement has to create information that can be freely copied so that where is was previously present only in one system it latterly becomes present in many. It is not necessarily true that the system that was originally measured has its state copied. The state can be wiped instead, it can be reset to some default state. But the measurement result itself has to be able to be copied, otherwise you can't discuss it because to know about it you have to copy it into your brain. And information that can be copied in this way is discrete and the copying process prevents interference, see

Even this paper is not as clear as it should be. The author should state that in fact the state doesn't jump or collapse, it just evolves according to the appropriate equations of motion. The observer is often present in multiple states after the measurement but he can't experience any state other than the one he is in because the copying process prevents interference between the different versions of the measurement result.