Oxford University Press's
Academic Insights for the Thinking World

  • Author: Art Hobson

Quantum fields

Some say everything is made of atoms, but this is far from true. Light, radio, and other radiations aren’t made of atoms. Protons, neutrons, and electrons aren’t made of atoms, although atoms are made of them. Most importantly, 95% of the universe’s energy comes in the form of dark matter and dark energy, and these aren’t made of atoms. The central message of our most fundamental physical theory, namely quantum physics, is that everything is made of quantized fields.

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Schrödinger’s cat, aka quantum measurement problem

It’s been 116 years since Max Planck introduced the quantum idea, yet experts still disagree about quantum fundamentals. My previous post on the wave-particle duality problem, argued the universe is made of fields, not particles, and that photons, electrons, and other quanta are extended bundles of field energy that often act in particle-like ways.

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Is the universe made of fields or particles?

A few ancient Greek philosophers seriously considered this question and concluded that everything is made of tiny particles moving in empty space. The key 17th-century scientist Isaac Newton agreed, but a century later, Thomas Young’s experiments convinced him and others that light, at least, was a wave, and Michael Faraday and James Maxwell showed that light and other radiations such as infrared and radio are waves in a universal “electromagnetic field.”

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