I'm no Physicist, so please excuse my ignorance. I'm sure there will be plenty of scenarios in which what I am about to say comes crashing down, but that's why I'm asking the question really.

In BBC4's recent documentary about Quantum Physics by Jim Al Khalili, the double slit experiment was shown. It was explained how the electron behaves both like a wave and a particle. As I was watching I could only think of one hypothesis for this:

The appearance of the single electron at the electron gun disturbs "space" (whatever that is!), a bit like a drop in a pool of water. This causes "space" to ripple, and it is the "rippled space" "along which" the electron particle travels.

Somehow I naively think this can explain the behaviour seen on the screen, so my question is has this hypothesis been tested and rejected before? Or maybe it's flawed from the outset. Has it ever been entertained before if only briefly and by whom?

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    $\begingroup$ en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pilot_wave $\endgroup$ Dec 14, 2014 at 19:57
  • $\begingroup$ The problem is explaining why space is not disturbed in this way if you measure which slit the electron went through, since in that case the double-slit interference pattern is not seen on the screen--see the discussion of both cases on this page. $\endgroup$
    – Hypnosifl
    Dec 14, 2014 at 20:14
  • $\begingroup$ Jan Dvorak beat me to my comment. $\endgroup$
    – WillO
    Dec 14, 2014 at 20:44
  • $\begingroup$ @JanDvorak + @ WillO thanks for the link. Very interesting! $\endgroup$
    – user67727
    Dec 14, 2014 at 21:10
  • $\begingroup$ @Hypnosifl (thinking aloud...) going back to the original hypothesis would suggest that "space" is rippled at the point of detection, which cancels out the effects of the original ripple. Maybe interaction points cause local space ripples. What would happen with a series of two double slit experiments with detectors only at the first pair of slits? $\endgroup$
    – user67727
    Dec 14, 2014 at 21:13

2 Answers 2


The correct answer is that the electron doesn't behave like either a particle or a wave. The quantum field that gives rise to electrons can change its quantum state in a way that is observed in the double slit experiment. It can also change in many other ways in addition to that.

Modern physics does not talk about particles as independent quantities. Neither does it talk about waves. We have a new and better concept that covers all of these phenomena and much more with very high precision. It's kind of time to let the naive idea of particles and waves fade away into the mythology of days past. Neither simplification of reality has any use in cases where a full quantum mechanical description is necessary.


Physicists training as well as science must work with certainties. On the other hand, Young's theory quite old. In the meantime, we know that fields are quantized. Maybe the fringes behind an edge or a slit are images of the electromagnetic field between the photon (or electron) and the edges.

I expand my answer citating @DanielSank :"Metals have relatively mobile electrons. Therefore, when an electromagnetic wave comes in, the electrons can move around easily under the influence of that wave's electric field. That means that an incoming wave causes the electrons to oscillate at the same frequency as the wave itself." it is the answer to this question that isn't related to the double slit phenomena, but it hits the point perfect. We have to pay attention to the interactions between surface and EM radiation.

  • $\begingroup$ @HF: who told you that "Physicists training as well as science must work with certainties"? The collapse hypothesis is a certainty? We emit hypotheses and as long as we don't have something better, we work with them, until, eventually, we come to a clash. Then we look around and ask which one can be wrong. Another thing: what does help the quantized field in explaining the double slit experiment? $\endgroup$
    – Sofia
    Dec 14, 2014 at 21:41
  • $\begingroup$ @Sofia My answer starts with science and scientists behavior. When an idea is prevailed, it will be for a long time no longer be questioned. Science needs certainties or you has to start every discussion with basics. This what I told in my answer at the beginning. Particles have uncertainty in their interactions, no doubt. $\endgroup$ Dec 15, 2014 at 4:46

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