Archive for
January 2019

Comments for Sunday, January 6, 2019, thru Saturday, January 12, 2019:

January 9, 2019 - I think I may make a belated New Years resolution to stop mentioning photons on this web page until I actually have something to write about.  I've tried about 15 times to get started on a scientific paper about how photons work, but I never get beyond the first couple pages before I realize that I didn't start in the right place, and I need to explain something else before I write what I started writing about.

Last week, someone mentioned to me a science-fiction book about time dilation, and, when I gave up on the latest try at my photon paper, I researched the sci-fi book.  It's called "Variable Star" by Robert Heinlein and Spider Robinson (actually, 99.999% of it was written by Robinson, but Heinlein gets top billing because he had the original idea and his name sells more books).  It looks interesting, but as I browsed through the first part of it I became more interested what it said about Spider Robinson and the books Robinson wrote by himself.  Of particular interest was a book titled "Callahan's Crosstime Saloon."  I checked my local library and, by pure happenstance, they had a book titled "The Callahan Chronicles" available in audio book form.  It contains three books by Spider Robinson, the first of which is "Callahan's Crosstime Saloon."  So, I borrowed that book and started listening to it on my MP3 player.

It turns out it is a book of short stories.  I listened to "The Guy with the Eyes," which is the first story Robinson ever had published (in 1973) and the first one in the book.  It's a very different sci-fi story, all of it taking place in a bar called "Callahan's Place" on Long Island, probably around 1973.  The sci-fi element comes out as part of the discussions between patrons of the bar.  The next short story in the book was "The Time-Traveler."  It also takes place entirely within Callahan's Place.  There isn't really any science fiction in it at all.  It's about someone who comes into the bar after having been locked up in a Central American prison for ten years with no access to news from the outside. When he was locked up in 1963, it was an entirely different world.  There was no war in Viet Nam, no one was even thinking about traveling to the moon, the Kennedy brothers were alive and well, no one was taking LSD, etc., etc., plus the guy's wife was still alive.  It's a fascinating story of how much the world can change in ten years.  It is as if the guy had time traveled 10 years into the future.

It made me wonder about how Donald Trump's hate mongering is changing the world.  It seems you won't have to wait ten years to see all the differences he is making.   None for the better. 

Each short story took about an hour.  I'm tempted to listen to many more.  The audio book consists of 18 MP3 files, and I've only listened to the first two.           

Meanwhile, someone just contacted me about possibly doing a TV appearance to talk about the anthrax attacks of 2001.  That also breaks my train of thought.  The on-camera interview may never happen, but then again it might.  Time will tell. 

January 7, 2019
- I awoke this morning thinking I was going to start working on a paper about light, a paper tentatively titled "The Logic of Light," where I would step through what is known about photons and how the pieces of what we know seem to fit together.  But then, while eating breakfast, I decided the book I was reading on my Kindle wasn't worth my time, and I switched over to start reading another book - a book I borrowed from the library yesterday.

The book I stopped reading was a psychology book John Cleese mentioned in his autobiography.  I found the book just too tedious, filled with paragraphs that go on for more than a page and just say the same things over and over.  To make matters worse, the first 7% of the book is all about reactions to the first edition of the book.  Who wants to read about reactions before reading what was being reacted to?  Plus, the book wasn't about what I thought it was going to be about.  I thought it was going to be about different ways of thinking (logically versus emotionally), but instead its about different types of intelligence (i.e., skills).   

So, I stopped reading it and started reading a science book about how automation is affecting society that I borrowed from the library a week ago, because it seemed interesting and it had been a New York Times bestseller.  Then, when I signed onto my computer after breakfast, I found another library book I'd place on hold awhile ago had been automatically borrowed.  It's another psychology book, and another book that made it to the New York Times' best seller list.  It's about how habits we acquire can be very beneficial.  I probably thought it would be an interesting read because I deliberately develop habits that are beneficial for me, such going to the gym four times a week, going to bed at the same time every night, eating a healthy breakfast and lunch, etc. 

So, do I want to stop reading the automation book and start on the habits book, or should I read something else entirely?

I recently stopped listening to the audio version of a comedian's autobiography that I had burned onto CDs and tried twice to get through.  I stopped the first time after CD #2, and the second time in the middle of CD #4.  It's just 7 CDs long, but I just don't like it.  It isn't funny enough and too much of it is about things that are of absolutely no interest to me.  So, I switched over to a science book that I had at the top of my priority list for audio CDs.  I created the priority list when I realized I regretted burning CDs for the comedian's autobiography.  

But I never created a priority list for the books on my Kindle.  I've got 38 books on my Kindle that I want to read.  I have books about science, travel, humor, writing, moving making, psychology, politics and history, plus some biographies.  Plus, I've got another 20 books that I had started to read at some point in time but then shifted over to some other book for some forgotten reason.  Many of those still seem interesting.

So, instead of working on my paper about "The Logic of Light," I just spent the last 3 hours writing this comment about books.

I think it's because there are still things about photons that I need to understand before I can start writing about them. 
Why do exactly half of the photons get stopped by a polarizing lens while the other half of the photons go through the lens?  There has to be some logical explanation for that.  And the best way for me to figure out the logic is to start writing about it.  But where do I start?  And why aren't there already many books and papers addressing that question?  It seems a question every physicist interested in optics should have already asked and answered.  But, instead, they just write about light consisting of waves, not photons, and they don't seem to care about details that involve photons.  


January 6, 2019
I think I'm done with browsing through old radio shows to see what I might want to listen to when I've got nothing else to do (usually in late afternoon).  So, once again I am waking up in the morning thinking about science mysteries, specifically what a photon looks like and how it works.

The main problem seems to be that there is too much information and even more misinformation to sort through.  And when I find something that seems like it might be worth studying, it quickly becomes clear that the book or paper doesn't always view the problem from the right angle.  Or it is just plain wrong.

I have some basic questions.  For example: Isn't it clear and obvious that photons are crisscrossing paths all the time, but they never collide?  Photons that were emitted by stars billions of years ago travel trillions of miles to reach the Hubble telescope, and they do so without ever changing course and without ever colliding with other photons coming from other directions.  Why don't photons collide with other photons?

Doing some research, I found a source where it is asked why laser beams do not interfere with one another,
No, there will not be an interference pattern. You can find interference patterns at the point where two lasers meet. After the laser beams crossed, you will not observe any effects of the crossing since there are no elemental photon-photon interactions.
That says something about photons.  They do not collide with one another, but there will supposedly appear to be an "interference pattern" at the point where the laser beams cross.  How can you have an "interference pattern" at the point where the beams cross each other, but have absolutely no sign of there having been "interference" along the way when the beams reach their destination?  It seems they somehow went around each other without altering their trajectory.  How is that possible?

Further research finds that others have asked that same question.  It says this on page 3 of the 1990 edition of the book "Polarized Light in Optics and Spectroscopy" by Kliger, Lewis and Randall: 
The corpuscular theory of light was attacked in the mid-1700s by people like Euler and Young. They proposed instead a vibration theory of light. There were several arguments put forward to attack the corpuscular theory. Principally, these were that (1) the mass of the particles composing the light rays would have to be exceedingly small; (2) when two light beams intersected they do not affect each other; and (3) one did not observe "wastage" of light. By wastage it was meant, for example, that one can observe sharp images of stars. If rays of light from the stars were made up of particles, however, they should, over the large distances traveled, impinge on many other particles. This should smear out the image of the star and make stars appear fuzzy.
And this on page 5:
The introduction of the concept of photons produced a dilemma for a theory of light. It appeared that to interpret some experiments one needed a wave theory of light, whereas to interpret other experiments a quantum, or "particle," theory was needed. The solution to this dilemma came from DeBroglie. He pointed out that each of these experiments does not directly demonstrate a property of light per se but demonstrates how light interacts with the experimental apparatus. Thus, light exhibits both wave properties and particle properties, depending on what it interacts with. This view of the wave-particle duality of photons is the view of light most commonly held today.
Hmm.  That's a new view of things.  A photon does not collide with another photon, but it will interact with experimental equipment and thus appear to interact with another photon!

The book then describes a 1985 experiment carried out by Philippe Grangier, Gerard Roger, and Alain Aspect of the Institute of Theoretical and Applied Optics in Orsay, France.  They sent individual photons through a beam splitter, and 50% of the photons went straight while 50% went off at a 90-degree angle, which is the way you would expect particles to behave when hitting a beam splitter.  Then they used Mach-Zehnder interferometer to see if the two beams of photons would interfere with one another if they were brought back together again.  They did, just the way you would expect waves to behave.

So, the photons did not interfere with one another except when put into a device designed to show wave interference.  In other words, the photons did NOT interact with each other, they merely interacted with the experimental device.

The beam splitter part of that experiment brought polarization back to mind.  Why do exactly half of the photons get stopped by a polarizing lens while the other half of the photons go through the lens?  The experiments with 45 degree angle polarized lenses (as described in my December 24 comment) indicate that the photons that are 10 or 20 or 30 or 40 degrees off of vertical do not get stopped, but they evidently do not pass through the lens unaltered.  They must get reoriented in some way, because 50% of those photons will pass through a polarized lens that is angled at 45 degrees.  

But why are light photons so evenly divided between vertical and horizontal?  That doesn't seem natural.  There should be some randomness to it.  Or is there some other aspect to a photon that causes 50% to do one thing while 50% do something else?

I think I need to do what I began doing in last Sunday's comment.  I need to create a list of
things we know about photons.  Last Sunday's examples:
1. We definitely know that light is not a wave like a sound wave.

2. We definitely know light is not a solid particle, like a grain of dust.

3. We know light only exists when moving at "the speed of light."

4. We definitely know light can be polarized at specific angles.

5. We definitely know light partly consists of electrical energy.

6. We definitely know light partly consists of magnetic energy.

7. We know light has a "wavelength" that varies as it is absorbed.

8. We think light has a height that is the same as its wavelength.
And there are a lot more. 

This seems like a good place to mention the science book I'm currently listening to in my car as I drive from place to place.  The book says this on page 8:
Science isn’t just about collecting facts; it’s a logical process for working things out. The point of science is that everyone can look at the data and come to a reasoned conclusion. At first, those conclusions may differ, but then you go and collect more data that helps you decide between one description of the world and another, and eventually the conclusions converge. This is what separates science from other disciplines – a scientific hypothesis must make specific testable predictions. That means that if you have an idea about how you think something works, the next thing to do is to work out what the consequences of your idea would be. In particular, you have to look hard for consequences that you can check for, and especially for consequences that you can prove wrong. If your hypothesis passes every test we can think of, we cautiously agree that this is probably a good model for the way the world works. Science is always trying to prove itself wrong, because that’s the quickest route to finding out what’s actually going on.

You don’t have to be a qualified scientist to experiment with the world. Knowing some basic physical principles will set you on the right track to work a lot of things out for yourself. Sometimes, it doesn’t even have to be an organized process – the jigsaw pieces almost slot themselves into place.  
That seems to be the situation right now in my study of how photons work.  I've got a few pieces that don't seem to fit.  But if I find more pieces, they may actually "slot themselves into place."

Comments for Tuesday, January 1, 2019, thru Saturday, Jan. 5, 2019:

January 3, 2019 - The new year is starting slow.  I just can't get to working on a new paper about light photons.  I keep getting side-tracked.  Yesterday, someone posted a silly argument on the Astrophysics and Physics Facebook group.  The comment began this way:
Travelling at FTL it would take 4.2yrs to reach the nearest star Proxima Centauri. Can we devise a Scale of Travel to gauge the distance travelled to reach a point in the cosmos in a life time.
"FTL" is supposed to be an abbreviation for "Faster Than Light," yet the comment says it would take 4.2 years to reach Proxima Centauri, which is 4.2 light years from Earth.  If you are traveling faster than the speed of light, how can you discuss anything without saying how much faster? 

A couple people responded with comments about "warp speeds" on Star Trek, which didn't help clarify anything.  So, I wrote this:

According to Einstein, the faster you travel, the slower time passes for you, until you reach the speed of light. At the speed of light TIME STOPS. You cannot travel faster than the speed of light.

Proxima Centauri is 4.243 light years from Earth. So, if you could travel at the speed of light to Proxima Centauri and back, you could do it in no time at all. You wouldn't even know you did it, since your brain would not have time to register a single thought. So, what would be the point? Meanwhile, of course, all the people on Earth would have lived their lives and aged 8.486 years (8 years, 5 months and 27 days) while you were gone.

If you traveled at 99.995% of the speed of light, however, you could experience the trip. It would take you 15.5 days to get there and another 15.5 days to get back. So, you would have had a month to enjoy the trip and observe the sights. When you return, you will have aged just 31 days during the trip.

Meanwhile, everyone on Earth would have been waiting for you for 8 years, 6 months and 28 days.
That got me into a discussion with someone else, a discussion that didn't go anywhere.  Meanwhile, the original poster clarified his question somewhat:
FTL means faster which can be by a factor of 10^2 x lightspeed or a few feet per second more the lightspeed. We're trying to figure out the scale of travel, either x? or 10^? to better grasp the system
So, it is evidently a mathematical question?  I couldn't make any sense of it, and I just dropped out of the discussion.

Meanwhile, I was also wasting time by listening to samples of old radio programs.  I downloaded a bunch of them onto my MP3 player.  And I found that the best way to play them is via a portable speaker that makes it sound like it's actually playing on a radio.  You get the bass sounds, instead of just the higher pitched sounds.  There are hundreds of different radio series available, dating from the 1930s to the 1990s.  I was fascinated by something called "Star Terk 2," which is evidently a British comedy radio show from 1987 and 1989.  There are only 12 episodes available, and each begins with an often hilarious parody of "Star Trek" before turning into a totally different comedy show that has nothing to do with Star Trek or science fiction.  I ended up listening to it for hours, but mostly just the first parts.  The second part of the show is mostly comedy sketches, and Captain Kirk and First Officer Spock keep trying to stop that part of the show from taking control.  But the sketch show always takes over.  

This morning I tried doing research into polarized light, but I couldn't find anything that captured my interest, so I ended up browsing through more radio shows, particularly detective shows.  There are 743 episodes of "Yours Truly Johnny Dollar" available, and I'm tempted to download a hundred or so into my MP3 player.  But there are also 118 episodes of "The Adventures of Philip Marlowe" and 83 episodes of "The Adventures of Sam Spade Detective."  And 200 episodes of "Broadway is My Beat."  Each requires about 30 minutes of listening time.   

I need some kind of inspiration to get me started on some science project that will truly grab my interest for awhile.  I won't get that inspiration from listening to old detective shows.  I could try some old science fiction shows.  There are hundreds of those available, too.  I remember listening to "Dimension X" when I was a kid.  And I think I also listened to "X Minus One."  I haven't sampled any of those shows.  When I think about doing so, I immediately start realizing that it probably isn't the best way to spend my time.

Part of the problem may be that I also check Google News several times a day to see if President Trump has just done something really disastrously stupid.


January 1, 2019
- I wish everyone a very happy New Year!

Happy New Year!

© 2019 by Ed Lake