Friday, November 25, 2016

Silicone oil droplets provide a physical realization of pilot wave theories

The standard theory of quantum mechanics leaves a bit to be desired. As Richard Feynman put it, “I think I can safely say that no one understands quantum mechanics.” This is because observations of experiments have led us to a theory that contradicts common sense. The wave function contains all the information that is knowable about a particle, yet it can only be used to calculate probabilities of where a particle will likely turn up. It can’t give us an actual account of where the particle went or where it will be at some later time.

Some have suggested that this theory is incomplete. Maybe something is going on beneath the radar of standard quantum theory and somehow producing the appearance of randomness and uncertainty without actually being random or uncertain. Theories of this sort are called hidden variable theories because they propose entities that aren’t observable. One such theory is pilot wave theory, first proposed by de Broglie, but later developed by Bohm. The idea here is that a particle oscillates, creating a wave. It then interacts with the wave and this complex interaction determines its motion.

In this video, physics educator Derek Muller uses silicone oil droplets to depict what the quantum world may look like, at least according to one interpretation of quantum mechanics.


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