Upon researching the double-slit experiment, it seems to me that electrons are somehow cloaked in wavelike behavior (not at all like my previous idea that electrons were waves and somehow were also particles). To elaborate, the hypothetical scenario that electrons behave as waves and only waves bound observed electron behavior when measuring definite characteristics of particles (like position, momentum, energy, etc.). It’s almost as if the electron’s wavelike characteristics emerge when unobserved to wrap around the definite particle characteristics.

In order for me to accept wave-particle duality the way that it's been presented is if this works the other way around. So, does the hypothetical scenario that electrons behave as just particles bound the electron’s observed behavior as a wave?

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    $\begingroup$ This old question's many answers are relevant physics.stackexchange.com/questions/46237/… $\endgroup$
    – anna v
    Feb 21 at 19:27
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    $\begingroup$ Electrons are neither waves nor particles. They can sometimes behave like waves or particles behave. Waves and particles are classical concepts. Electrons are quanta. $\endgroup$
    – Ghoster
    Feb 21 at 19:55
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    $\begingroup$ Don't think about electrons/photons ... think in terms of the EM field. $\endgroup$ Feb 21 at 22:13

2 Answers 2


There's no occult "truth". There are, however, reproducible and predictable experiments. Experiments sensitive to wave-like properties observe waves, while experiments sensitive to particle-like properties observe particles.


This confusion stems from old and incomplete versions of quantum mechanics. The present-day theory that nature is described by local quantum fields simply holds that electrons are described by such a quantum field, which is not a wave and certainly not a point particle.

What is it, then? Unfortunately that is a bit complicated. Schroedinger would have liked it better if his old idea of just having a wave describing nature had worked, but it does not, at least not when there are interactions and observations. Roughly speaking, a quantum field can be described as a wave function of many coordinates, or as a wave function of a wave function (called wave functional), or more abstractly as a occupation number state in a Hilbert space. These are equivalent descriptions (and probably there are a few more) that are all more complex to understand than just a wave function.

Actually a wave function is equivalent to one of the states a quantum field can be in, namely a state with just one quantum in it, so to say with one single particle. But not a particle together with slits, detectors, observers, counters, and all that, as we have in an experiment. For that you need more quanta, i.e. higher states of the quantum field. Still, this means a wave function is not completely wrong, at least for only one particle in the entire universe it is correct.

The point-particle concept, on the other hand, is definitely wrong. It would lead to infinite self-energy for charged particles, or runaway solutions if they radiate, or collapsing atoms (if they radiate), and other kinds of inconsistencies and infinities that are much worse than those in quantum mechanics (where they at least can be regulated and renormalized).

So in conclusion, a quantum field is the answer and then no paradox is left, but if you must choose between a wave or a point particle, a wave is better.


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