The world is made of identifiable things.
Here is a salt shaker. There is the moon. A pebble. Made of molecules. There are particles of light - called photons. Of sound - called phonons. All identifiable things. Made of identifiable things.
Identifiable things are but bundles of identifiable attributes. The attributes make the identification. Attributes, themselves, have identity.
The idea of identity is so elemental that one does not examine it. But that the universe falls into identifiably distinct elements is remarkable. Why isn't it all a vast soup?
Perhaps it is! Identity may be an illusion.
The thought derives from this remarkable finding of experiment:
Identity is lost when something is not observed.
Although it is not at all intuitive the concept acquires sensible meaning on reflection. To observe is to identify; hence to grant identity. What is counter intuitive is that without observation identity is lost.
A particle does not carry its destiny with it. If we assume that it does we get contradictions to experiment. Experiment shows us that until an attribute materializes in measurement, particles do not have the attribute!
My presentation is a simple physical demonstration of this effect: a case where identity is lost if not captured by observation.
In particular a photon will be shown to lose one of its identifying attributes if it is not observed.
For the success of the demonstration these two physical findings must be appreciated:
A. Photons are particles of light. We know that light consists of particles because they are countable. Detectors, also called counters, count them. Light comes in units. The more there are, the brighter the light.
B. Besides the property of color, photons carry another property called polarization. Although color forms a continuous spectrum of possibilities, polarization has only two possibilities in its spectrum. Two polarizations - say horizontal and vertical - comprise the entire spectrum possible. Any other direction in a plane may be resolved into these two.
Just as a glass prism is a device used to display the entire spectrum of color that a photon may have, there is something that displays the entire spectrum of polarization that a photon may have. A calcite crystal does this.
I will demonstrate how this property of polarization, which any photon possesses when measured, can be lost when it is not measured.
The physical significance of this effect is monumental. The structure of quantum theory was built in order to accommodate it. The philosophical significance is equally stunning.
Here's how the demonstration will go.
A: Light consists of particles. They can be counted.
A calcite crystal displays the polarization spectrum. Such crystals are found not uncommonly in nature. They go by the name of iceland spar.
Here is the promised loss of identity demonstration in three steps.
With detectors absent we observe that it is not resolved. The skew nature of the photon is preserved. (#3)
Conclusion: Polarization identity as marked by the detectors is lost when the detectors are absent!
Detailed explanations will be offered at the meeting.
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© m chester 1996 Occidental CA