Photons are not particles of light, but particular micro-incidents of sight.
I think that the idea that photons are concrete entities is ultimately a misguided notion. Rather than literal particles or waves traveling through a vacuum, photons make more sense as a measure of micro-phenomenal stimulation (illumination), which propagates differently depending on what kind of instrument is being illuminated.
Think of atoms like little emoticons, where individual particles or groups can wink or smile at each other, with the expectation of a smile or wink in return. The transaction is instantaneous within any frame of reference, but because frames of reference are nested by scale, there is latency when illumination is shared across disparate scales. The speed of light is not only constant and absolute, it is also instant. It is only the ratios of different sized frames of reference which redefine the scale of time. Planck units would only apply to Planck scales. Larger scales, such as biological scales, would have a different formulation of light, where cells are the relevant unit instead of atoms, and photosynthetic chemistry defines the character of illumination.
To begin with, it is necessary to come to grips with the worldview which is implied by Einstein’s Special Relativity. In doing so, I think that it can be said that actually, There Is No ‘Speed of Light’.
At least not in the way that most people would think of it, if they did ever think of it. There is a speed at which a state of illumination radiates from molecule to molecule or body to body which depends on physical qualities of the bodies in question, but I think that it is correct to say that light does not travel ‘through’ a vacuum at all, but figuratively jumps from within bodies through perception and imitative participation. It is the behavior of matter which waves and scatters, not independent projectiles or fields in space. Light, warmth, color, motion, are experiences, not objects.
Albert Einstein postulated that the speed of light with respect to any inertial frame is independent of the motion of the light source, and explored the consequences of that postulate by deriving the special theory of relativity and showing that the parameter c had relevance outside of the context of light and electromagnetism. After centuries of increasingly precise measurements, in 1975 the speed of light was known to be 299,792,458 m/s with a measurement uncertainty of 4 parts per billion. In 1983, the metre was redefined in the International System of Units (SI) as the distance travelled by light in vacuum in 1 ⁄ 299,792,458 of a second. As a result, the numerical value of c in metres per second is now fixed exactly by the definition of the metre.
The thing that makes light interesting to me is in the first sentence above: “the speed of light with respect to any inertial frame is independent of the motion of the light source”. This is that business of how velocities are roughly added among moving objects, but not with light. Light is always faster than any object, no matter how fast the object is moving. It is this property which leads me to suspect that light is not just the physical phenomenon which happens to be faster than all others, it is that light points to a maximum possible speed in terms of c defining the ontology of speed itself.
What I think special relativity tells us is that contrary to this conception of light,
what is actually going on looks like this:
This is the tricky part because although my rendition of the entire beam appearing instantaneously is, I think, correct within this hypothetical setup of a human scale train, if this train were millions of times larger, then it could be argued that the beam would actually grow non-instantaneously compared to a human sized observer (i.e. miniscule). Rather than thinking of being able to see light moving, I think we have to anchor ourselves in the fixed Einsteinian constant of c, and understand that the latency which we observe (in a radio transmission between a distant spacecraft and the control center on Earth, for example), is not the result of waves of ‘energy’ traveling through space from antenna to antenna, but rather a reflection of the relative scales of the events involved. When we talk to the spacecraft we have to use a much larger ‘here-and-now’ compared to our own native human scaled time, so that the nesting of smaller and larger nows is reflected as scaled experiences of delay. This is just how matter makes sense of itself on different scales. It is not the speed of light, it is the speed of speed or the speed of sense, matter, or time.
The picture that I propose would be more accurate is this:
As our naive perception suggests, there is no concretely real ‘beam’ of light, rather there is a spot of light present at the target, as well as an illumination at the flashlight source, and in our eyes, and (not pictured) in our upscaled human mind.
In other words, when we think of light as having a speed, we are not really understanding the full ramifications of special relativity and are merely projecting our Newtonian-Cartesian prejudices onto something which is not classical. The reason that it is not classical, however, I propose, is because visible light is not a projectile at all, but rather access to visual sensitivity, i.e. an extension of self-experience to incorporate the appearance of non-self in the visual range of perception (as opposed to tactile, aural, olfactory, emotional, or intellectual).
Conventional assumptions about light infer a particle-wave-beam of ‘energy’ traveling literally through space independently.
The multisense conjecture suggests participatory events which occur at each local material site. Each local perception embodies the local condition and perspective as a gestalt capitulation which includes traces of its relation with the other events.
This gestalt capitulation (and I know this sounds like gobbledygook to most everyone but me) can be understood as an apocatastatic algebra (reconstitution, restitution,or restoration to the original or primordial condition) of elliptical simultaneity (elliptical in this sense meaning intuitive gesture which is unspecified yet adequately informative to the receiver; ellipsis ‘…’, ‘see what I mean?’) rather than linear process. It’s the opposite of a linear process – perception is the end point of all process the beginning point of all participation.
Think of this more like feeling your fingers by touching them together. They are all part of your hand in one sense, on one level, but separate on another. Multisense realism proposes that the entire cosmos is like the hand, with each event growing like fingers, each of which are growing fingers, etc. What we experience as matter and bodies is where the fingers touch each other and feel that they are not identical.
Sense, then, or in this case light** is an event communicating essential connection and essential disconnection. Light is like the fingers feeling that they are part of the same hand, making sense of each other in a way which reveals both the conditional truth of their separation (transparency and illumination passing through dense material realism), the unconditional truth of their unity (in rich experiential qualia aka personal significance, poetic ‘light’,’warmth’, ‘divinity’), and the spatio-temporal modulation between the two (precise topological-algebraic formalism)
**heat, motion, sound, force, change, etc are all different qualities of the same thing
I doctored up this illustration to support my answer to how the double slit experiment works (Quora). The main point that I am trying to make (and I think it is, if true, a fundamental, history-of-the-world-changing scientific idea) is that if we suppose that our own sense of perception and participation in the universe has its ancestry in a primitive/primordial form* of sense, then the lowest levels of microcosm may look much different than we assume.
This model, which I am calling quorum mechanics or post-particle physics suggests that rather than a mechanical projection of particles from a source to observers, all QM interactions are a two way street.
Perhaps that can only be a one-way street at any given moment, but either way, the idea is that all forms of physical being can experience change in its own disposition and through this sensitivity can also infer exterior dispositions through comparing their own dispositions. This comparison is projected subjectively as a an invariant disposition, or “position” objectively.
I don’t know that anyone has fully understood the radical simplicity of this idea and its implications for tying consciousness together with the cosmos, solving the Hard Problem and Explanatory Gap, but I hope that this picture above helps. I’m not even looking at the angles here of the EPR paradox, I’m just taking the arrows out of the space between the observers and source, and making all three into sub-servers experiencing others through their own local range of the infinity within.
My model has some similarities to Relational quantum mechanics (wikipedia.org) and if I stretch it, also to Wheeler–Feynman absorber theory, (because I think that ‘time’ is nested regularities of disposition), but ultimately goes far beyond either one. As far as I know, my model is the only model which suggests a simple and plausible explanation for both matter and experience in the cosmos.
*rather than arising magically at some level of physiological description for no real reason.
(original diagram cannibalized from the EPR Wikipedia entry)
Reinterpreting the Double Slit Experiment
In considering the wave-particle nature of quantum functions and the double slit experiment, I suggest a different interpretation of the pattern and the underlying phenomenon. If we suppose that there are no particles or waves traveling through space at all (bear with me, it gets worse), then the interference pattern becomes a coherence pattern of detection and identification: sense.
I call this photon-agnostic proposition ‘quorum mechanics’. I know that it sounds infuriatingly ridiculous to anyone with even a passing familiarity with physics, especially coming from someone who did not arrive at this hypothesis through physics, but consider that light, like color, or heat is in the eye of the beholder.
I have a few real world examples that I like to throw around to help unsettle the sense of certainty we have in this fundamental worldview of energy as independent stuff packets, so that a new idea can be considered impartially. If you understand what I’m trying to say, then you will realize (unless I’m missing something obvious – which is certainly possible) that this energy-signal topology would not contradict any experimental data (photoelectric effect, Compton scattering, double slit), just offer another interpretation.
1. Beams of light are invisible in a vacuum, as are electrical sparks. A laser ‘beam’ creates a dot on its target – a beam shaped region is only suggested when particulates in the atmosphere between the source and the target are illuminated. Our only experience of light is in the effects it has on matter and the effects they have, in turn, on the matter that makes up our nervous system. If photons were anything like particles of a substance, a flashlight would likely emit them in a form more like a bolt of lightning, with paths illuminated and branching as they collide with the gazillion other interfering photons. Only by defining photons in the most insubstantial terms can we imagine that they can be described by either term, ‘particle’ or ‘wave’.
2. Microwave ovens cook without heat. No hot air, not hot oven, a microwave propagates a focused condition of electronic enthusiasm which water molecules pick up on and are inspired to jiggle and spin along with, rubbing the other molecules next to them, spreading the enthusiasm tangibly as friction. I think it could be said that it’s a technology which signals food to cook itself.
3. Waves are not necessarily real as independent phenomena. Think of a wave in a crowd. There is no physical collision forcing people out of their seats when the wave hits them. Instead, each individual node synchronizes themselves voluntarily by anticipating and executing an internalized participation of the group motion. Maybe light works the same way – node to node and not independent projections through space.
4. Waves are a context-dependent interpretation. On one level an ocean wave is an experience of bobbing up and down for something floating on it. On another level it’s a ripple propagating out to become a curling, crashing volume of seawater on the shore. What the wave is depends on what your view is. A sphere works the same way. If you are small enough and close enough to the surface, a sphere is a plane. In the same way, the particle and wave nature of light depends not only on our view of it, but what we’re viewing’s view of it.
5. Photon particles don’t accumulate anywhere. You don’t find any photon precipitates – no glowing crusts of pure light to scrape off of light bulbs. If light came in particles which could be considered in any way independent of their source or target, they would probably wind up in pools or chunks somewhere wouldn’t they? At best a photon could be considered a currency of exchange between atoms, and like currency, my hunch is that the physical form itself is irrelevant and maybe not necessary at all.
6. Electricity works indirectly in this way. We don’t put electrons in one end of a wire and have them come out the other side. It’s the flow of electrons as a whole which is overriding the discrete nature of the conducting atoms. What comes out is matter trying to act like the action that was initiated on the other side of the conductor, in the closest approximation it can. It is more of a pantomime or imitation that simple communication of ‘information’.
What this means is that we don’t see microwaves because our eyes lack the ability to detect them, and we don’t feel microwaves because our skin lacks the sensitivity…’we’ don’t see microwaves because for ‘us’, they don’t exist. What we see as visible light does not ‘exist’ either, but rather is an experience of sense, an isomorphic recapitulation shared between the sense-motive experiences of eyeball, retina, optic nerve, cortex, image, and external surfaces, actively illuminating matter, passively illuminating matter, spatial relations, between them, etc.
We don’t see light, we see brightness, image, color, visual pattern. None of these things are suggested or predicted by a photon model. Only by understanding how sense scales all the way down the microcosm and up the macrocosm do the double slit experiments make sense. What we are looking at is signal coherence between an illuminated object (like an electrically excited semiconductor or filament) and two targets arranged to interfere with each other. Our own eye or camera is the fourth object in the experiment.
Each node is an interpretation site of the event which is in turn interpreted/imitated, (in whatever way it can through the limitations of what it is) by the other nodes. Our eye, brain, and mind is participating in the experiment as much as the equipment we assume we are using to test it. That’s why we get all this observer effect and uncertainty principle strangeness in our results, because we are testing for something which has no external reality. Light is nothing more than a feeling we can see, and when we see the double slit experiment, we are seeing matter represent itself. It’s as much the mask that separates the slit being represented as the ‘light’ we presume is streaming through it.
I understand your objections. I don’t want to waste time trying to convince anyone this is possible or plausible, but I would be very interested in hearing if anyone has any concrete evidence that photons must physically exist (and not just that we observe a material tool acting like we think it would when we assume they exist), particularly real world common sense examples. If instead we understand photons as logical sense patterns which shape the way matter detects and interprets itself rather than an inert, invisible, intangible, probabilistically invoked nothingness, then the riddle of consciousness and life in a deterministic universe has a new point of reconciliation. As it stands now, our view of these micro-nothings imply that with no mass or charge they somehow accidentally gives rise to all visible, tangible, somethingness.
I think that my conjecture explains why the speed of light travels at c. Think of c not as a velocity, but rather the opposite of stillness. When something is still, it can be defined as being in the same place through a duration of time. When something is c, it is not moving, it’s just in more than one place at the same time. In between stillness and c, you have phenomena progressing across successive places through a duration of time.
My view is that phenomena at c are subjective and interior experiences – potentially everywhere, anywhere, and nowhere depending on the limitations, configurations, and interactions of the slower-than-c experience-objects. When objects change, they create an experience of space and time which is vicariously experienced by other objects. There is no objectively real continuum of space, time, or spacetime, it’s all just understanding of other subjects objective relations to each other and to the interior processes thereof.
Latency and signal attenuation are two of the devices which energy uses to generate the inference of time and space, which is why light doesn’t seem to travel infinitely fast – it respects the sense of object relations to accurately reflect itself in the contexts and conditions that it creates. What we observe in the double slit experiment is not a wavelike distribution of particles, but a waving of perception itself, qualitatively flattened by design of the experiment to allow only the most public-facing, quantitative expression of the event.
I think that this view can help us reconcile quality and quantity, deep private simplicity with flat public complexity, feeling through time with objects across space, and a model of mind and matter as constructive and destructive interference patterns within a neutral monism* of sense.
Mind, or subjectivity is sense becoming aware of itself, while matter or objects are that which sense doesn’t identify with personally. Sense is the symmetry of self-similarity and difference which allows both protagonists inside-out orientation of subject and the occidental-materialist view of the universe as a public outside-looking-in view.
The constructive augmentation of sense through subjectivity gives rise to private accumulations of deeper and richer subjective qualities through a creation of ‘time’ (significance). The destructive cancellation of sense through objectivity equates to a qualitative flattening through the evanescence, entropy, or loss of significance of objects across space.
It may be the case that matter can only be experienced when a subject detects other subjects or parts of subjects from a different inertial frame so that objects are always the back side of what subjects can experience of themselves. We cannot see our own matter-side and all matter sides are what can only be seen from an objective perspective.
This means that matter is an epiphenomenon of subjectivity rather than a direct equivalent or reflection of it. Objects are a second order logic, requiring both subjectivity and the underlap of sense between the native inertial frame and the objectively perceived frame. Subjects are lower order logic, requiring only that sense make sense of itself – ie, experience can occur without another inertial frame, as non-representational emotion, awareness, etc.
*A neutral monism would be neither mind nor matter but I think that the reality is more of an involuted monism, where mind, matter, and sense are all sense, only each in a different sense.