Thursday, December 4, 2014

Wave Function Collapse Explained by Quantum Siphoning

It's almost five years since I posted my original article on Quantum Siphoning and I think it's time for a second look. The idea is to explain the collapse of the wave function by means of normal time evolution. Specifically, how does the very weak "wave function" of the light from a distant star induce the reduction of silver bromide ("collapse of the wavefunction") on a photographic plate?

The traditional explanation is that this phenomenon proves the existence of photons, because the energy of the wave has to be concentrated in a point in order to provide:

a) the positive energy needed to account for the energy difference between silver bromide and metallic silver; and,

b) the additional energy needed to overcome the "bump" of promoting an electron into the conduction band.

The traditional picture looks like this:

 And they say you can't explain this with classical electromagnetism because the classical wave is far to weak to concentrate enough energy in that one little silver atom. Hence the photon.

I don't buy it. The first problem with this argument is that the thermodynamics is flawed. The photographic plate is not a device which captures energy and converts it to chemical form. The energy is already present in the plate in chemical form. Yes, it's true that the standard enthalpy of metallic silver is greater than that of silver bromide. But to calculate the spontaneity of the reaction you need to take into account the concentrations. The silver concentrations in an exposed photographic plate are parts per trillion. At those concentrations, the free energy of the reactions actually tilts the other way! I've done the calculation here. You don't need the energy of the "photon" to drive the reaction. The energy is already available in the chemistry of the plate.

But what about the "activation energy"...the bump of energy needed to get the electron into the conduction band, the intermediate stage of the process? That's where Quantum Siphoning comes in. The energy released when the target silver atom gets reduced is pumped back into the crystal to break up the silver bromide bonds. But how can it do that?

I couldn't figure this out for the longest time because I was trapped in the paradigm of a single electron getting transferred from one site in the crystal to another. But that's not what electrons are. They aren't particles with their own distinct identities. They are a collective wave function with multiple excitations. Anyone who knows about quantum field theory knows this is true.You simply can't describe an atom with two electrons by saying "this electron is here and that one is there". They are both excitations of a single wave function.

And the funny thing is, the same is true on some level for the x-trillion silver atoms which are part of a single silver bromide crystal. You can't say that a photon comes along and knocks an electron out of a single silver atom. What you can say is that a wave passes through the crystal and disturbs the wave function of the whole crystal so it is driven, ever so slightly, into a superposition of states where there is some amplitude that "an electron" is in the conduction band.

This is where people have trouble understanding where I'm going next. And the reason they have trouble is the way quantum mechanics is taught, from a strictly Copenhagen perspective of particles and quantum leaps. Nobody tells them about the equally-valid Schroedinger picture of wave functions and time evolution, which gives exactly the same results for all kinds of ordinary things, including the black body spectrum, the photo-electric effect, and even the Compton effect. I explain the connection between the two pictures in a series of blogposts starting here.

What people don't understand is that everything an atom does in its interactions with ordinary thermal light can be understood by looking at the superpositions of states calculated by the Schroedinger equation, and applying the charge density interpretation to the resulting wave functions, instead of Copenhagen's "probability density". People don't know this!

But it's much worse than that. They certainly don't know the full implications of the wave function picture, as I've listed two paragraphs back. That is not so surprising. What is horrifying to me is that they don't even know the basic and obvious fact that is you take the superposition of the s and p states of a hydrogen atom, you get an oscillating charge other words, and antenna.

They don't know this...and when I tell them, they don't believe it. Even though its an obvious consequence of the well-known solutions of the Schroedinger equation.

And if they don't believe that the Schroedinger equations gives you a hydrogen atom with an oscillating charge distribution, then how are they going to believe that the very same tiny oscillating charge behaves exactly like a classical antenna? That's the calculation I did in those articles I pointed out above, comparing the Copenhagen picture to the Schroedinger interpretation.

And yet there is nothing that should be terribly controversial about anything I have said so far in this article. It's certainly unfashionable to talk about charge densities instead of probabilities, but there is nothing objectively wrong with it. What is appalling to me is that it is so very unfashionable that educated physicists scoff at the very notion that applying Maxwell's equations to the charge density picture gives you correct quantum-mechanical results. But it most certainly does.

So how does all this apply to the photographic plate? It's really very simple. The trillion-or-so silver atoms in the silver bromide crystal are little receiving antennas. The presence of a very week electromagnetic wave drives them ever so slightly into the excited state. What state is that? It's a state where the conduction band is ever-so-slightly excited.

Now there is one particular silver atom which is the target site, the site which we hope to convert to metallic silver. The presence of charge density in the conduction band will naturally couple to this target atom. And this coupling turns that special site antenna. Just like the trillion little silver bromide antennas...but with a difference. Those silver bromide sites were receiving antennas. This target silver atom is...a transmitting antenna. Just as an atom being driven from a lower energy state to a higher energy state functions as a receiving antenna, so does an atom capturing an electron from a higher energy state into a lower energy state function as a transmitting antenna. I explain how these things work in this blogpost about the Crystal Radio.

The very weak electromagnetic wave is gone. It disturbed the silver bromide crystal to a very tiny extent, leaving a small amount of energy distributed among the ground state (silver bromide) and the two other states...the conduction band and the reduced silver site. And the combination of those two states creates a tiny classical antenna...a transmitting antenna buried in the middle of that micro-crystal. And now Quantum Siphoning takes over.

I always knew that the target silver atom would re-transmit energy at the optical frequency. I just never knew how the silver bromide "molecule" could re-capture that energy, which was going out in all directions. Until I realized it's not a single silver-bromide site which is's the whole silver-bromide crystal. Each silver-bromide site within that crystal is a receiving antenna, and those receiving antennas surround the target silver atom, which is transmitting. It's a perfect classical siphon. As the electron amplitude flows into the target silver atom, the conduction band is being depleted. But the energy released at the target site, in the form of re-radiated e-m waves, is captured by the surrounding silver-bromide sites...thereby replenishing the conduction band.

There is no photon. There is no collapse of the wave function. There is nothing but the ordinary, natural time-evolution of the Schroedinger function, working together with Maxwell's equations.

It's a perfect classical siphon.