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I know that photons are elementary excitations of the quantized electromagnetic field. I have also heard that photons ≠ classical electromagnetic waves as each photon's wavefunction builds up to a classical electromagnetic wave composed of zillions of photons. Adding to the fact that a photon has a wave-like energy frequency makes me confused as to how to exactly visualize as an elementary excitation of the quantized electromagnetic field. Is a photon like a disturbance of electromagnetic vector arrows that compose the quantum field, and this is how it gets its wave-like properties?

Sorry if my understanding is screwed up. I'm a bit of an amateur in the field of quantum mechanics. Any answers at all would be greatly appreciated.

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  • $\begingroup$ Not really an answer to your question, but it might help - How can a red light photon be different from a blue light photon? $\endgroup$
    – mmesser314
    Sep 16, 2023 at 3:27
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    $\begingroup$ This might be better - What exactly is a photon? $\endgroup$
    – mmesser314
    Sep 16, 2023 at 3:28
  • $\begingroup$ In the "standard model" everything is either a field or an excitation of the field, they only have 2 choices. All excitations are defined as particles .... but I would not use the standard model as a definer of what is a particle. A better definition might be a that all particles have to have mass ... therefore the photon is not a particle! $\endgroup$ Sep 16, 2023 at 14:37

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The first thing we need to understand is that quantum mechanics is a formalism. In other words, it is a mathematical language in terms of which we model the physical world. There is a difference between physics and formalism. The problem with quantum physics is that it is very difficult to visualize the physical things. So we use the mathematical language to give us some idea of what we are talking about.

When it comes to photons, we cannot really visualize them as physical entities. Instead, we describe them in terms of the concepts from the formalism, like wave functions, state vectors, etc. So when somebody says that a photon is not like an electromagnetic field then they refer to the formalism.

As far as the physics is concerned, we only know that the quantized property of photons are relevant in interactions, because interactions are quantized. This property of interactions has consequences for the fields that are produced by them.

If we perform an experiment where we use such an interaction repeatedly to produce single photons and we make measurements on these photons, we'll find that they behave exactly the same as a classical electromagnetic field would behave. Based on this result (and ignoring the concepts from formalism) we can say that a single photon obeys the same dynamics that a classical electromagnetic field would obey. Therefore, from a purely physics perspective (avoiding any misleading issues from the formalism) we can say that a photon is a single excitation of an electromagnetic field.

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