The History of Quantum Physics
The critical developments in quantum physics that are of greatest importance to information philosophy are not the works of the so-called "founders of quantum mechanics" in the late nineteen-twenties. Instead, they are the work of Albert Einstein between 1905 and 1917 that established the presence of irreducible chance in the universe, whenever matter and radiation interact. Quite apart from his great theories of special and general relativity, Einstein was one of the most important creators of quantum mechanics. His three 1905 papers on relativity, Brownian motion, and the light-quantum hypothesis (mischaracterized by many historians as the photo-electric effect), not only quantize the radiation field (Planck had only quantized matter, the virtual oscillators), but they also show on a careful reading that Einstein was concerned about faster-than-light actions thirty years before his Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen paper popularized the mysteries and paradoxes of quantum nonlocality and entanglement. Despite his foundational work quantizing radiation, Einstein rarely gets any credit for his contributions. There are a number of important reasons for this, which lead historians of quantum theory to start with Planck's quantum of action, then jump over Einstein's 1905 papers and his 1909 work on wave-particle duality to Niels Bohr's "old quantum theory" of the atom in 1913. Today, Bohr's "quantum jump" of an electron between stationary states is described as emitting or absorbing a "photon" of energy hν. In actuality, Bohr fought against Einstein's light-quantum hypothesis until the mid-1920's. Besides quantizing energy and seeing the interchangeability of radiation and matter, E = mc2, Einstein was the first scientist to see many of the most fundamental aspects of quantum physics, e.g., nonlocality and instantaneous action-at-a-distance (1905), wave-particle duality (1909), statistical elementary processes that introduce indeterminism and acausality whenever matter and radiation interact (1916-17), coherence, interference, and the indistinguishability of elementary particles (1925), and the non-separability and entanglement of interacting particles (1935). Ironically, and even tragically, Einstein could never accept most of his quantum discoveries, because they conflicted with his basic idea that nature is best described by a continuous field theory using differential equations that are functions of "local" variables, primarily the space-time four-vector of his general relativistic theory. Einstein's idea of a "local" reality is one where "action-at-a-distance" is limited to causal effects that propagate at or below the speed of light, according to his theory of relativity. Einstein's believed that quantum theory, as good as it is (and he saw nothing better), is "incomplete" because its statistical predictions (phenomenally accurate in the limit of large numbers of identical experiments - "ensembles" Einstein called them), tell us nothing about individual systems. Even worse, he thought that the wave functions of entangled systems predict faster-than-light correlations of properties between events in a space-like separation, violating his theory of relativity. This was the heart of his famous EPR paradox paper in 1935, but we shall see that Einstein was already concerned about faster-than-light transfer of energy in his earliest paper on quantum theory.
The light-quantum hypothesis (1905)
A profound formal distinction exists between the theoretical concepts which physicists have formed regarding gases and other ponderable bodies and the Maxwellian theory of electromagnetic processes in so-called empty space. While we consider the state of a body to be completely determined by the positions and velocities of a very large, yet finite, number of atoms and electrons, we make use of continuous spatial functions to describe the electromagnetic state of a given volume, and a finite number of parameters cannot be regarded as sufficient for the complete determination of such a state. According to the Maxwellian theory, energy is to be considered a continuous spatial function in the case of all purely electromagnetic phenomena including light, while the energy of a ponderable object should, according to the present conceptions of physicists, be represented as a sum carried over the atoms and electrons. The energy of a ponderable body cannot be subdivided into arbitrarily many or arbitrarily small parts, while the energy of a beam of light from a point source (according to the Maxwellian theory of light or, more generally, according to any wave theory) is continuously spread over an ever increasing volume. The wave theory of light, which operates with continuous spatial functions, has worked well in the representation of purely optical phenomena and will probably never be replaced by another theory. It should be kept in mind, however, that the optical observations refer to time averages rather than instantaneous values. In spite of the complete experimental confirmation of the theory as applied to diffraction, reflection, refraction, dispersion, etc., it is still conceivable that the theory of light which operates with continuous spatial functions may lead to contradictions with experience when it is applied to the phenomena of emission and transformation of light. It seems to me that the observations associated with blackbody radiation, fluorescence, the production of cathode rays by ultraviolet light, and other related phenomena connected with the emission or transformation of light are more readily understood if one assumes that the energy of light is discontinuously distributed in space. In accordance with the assumption to be considered here, the energy of a light ray spreading out from a point source is not continuously distributed over an increasing space but consists of a finite number of energy quanta which are localized at points in space, which move without dividing, and which can only be produced and absorbed as complete units. We therefore arrive at the conclusion: the greater the energy density and the wavelength of a radiation, the more useful do the theoretical principles we have employed turn out to be; for small wavelengths and small radiation densities, however, these principles fail us completely. [W]e further conclude that: Monochromatic radiation of low density (within the range of validity of Wien's radiation formula) behaves thermodynamically as though it consisted of a number of independent energy quanta. [T]he energy of a light ray spreading out from a point source is not continuously distributed over an increasing space but consists of a finite number of energy quanta which are localized at points in space, which move without dividing, and which can only be produced and absorbed as complete units. The usual conception, that the energy of light is continuously distributed over the space through which it propagates, encounters very serious difficulties when one attempts to explain the photoelectric phenomena, According to the concept that the incident light consists of energy quanta..., however, one can conceive of the ejection of electrons by light in the following way. Energy quanta penetrate into the surface layer of the body, and their energy is transformed, at least in part, into kinetic energy of electrons. The simplest way to imagine this is that a light quantum delivers its entire energy to a single electron; we shall assume that this is what happens.
Wave-particle duality (1909)Einstein greatly expanded his light-quantum hypothesis in a presentation at the Salzburg conference in September, 1909. He argued that the interaction of radiation and matter involved elementary processes that are not reversible, a deep insight into the irreversibility of natural processes. While incoming spherical waves of radiation are mathematically possible, they are not practically achievable. Nature appears to be asymmetric in time. He speculates that the continuous electromagnetic field might be made up of large numbers of light quanta - singular points in the field that superimpose to create the wavelike behavior. Although he could not formulate a mathematical theory that does justice to both the oscillatory and quantum structures - the wave and particle pictures, Einstein argued that they are compatible over a decade before wave mechanics and quantum mechanics. And because gases behave statistically, he knows that the connection between wave and particles may involve probabilistic behavior, which he will prove in 1916.
When light was shown to exhibit interference and diffraction, it seemed almost certain that light should be considered a wave. The greatest advance in theoretical optics since the introduction of the oscillation theory was Maxwell's brilliant discovery that light can be understood as an electromagnetic process...One became used to treating electric and magnetic fields as fundamental concepts that did not require a mechanical interpretation. This path leads to the so-called relativity theory. I only wish to bring in one of its consequences, for it brings with it certain modifications of the fundamental ideas of physics. It turns out that the inertial mass of an object decreases by L / c2 when that object emits radiation of energy L...the inertial mass of an object is diminished by the emission of light.Perhaps the major reason for historians of quantum mechanics (writing since the The energy given up was part of the mass of the object. One can further conclude that every absorption or release of energy brings with it an increase or decrease in the mass of the object under consideration. Energy and mass seem to be just as equivalent as heat and mechanical energy. Relativity theory has changed our views on light. Light is conceived not as a manifestation of the state of some hypothetical medium, but rather as an independent entity like matter. Moreover, this theory shares with the corpuscular theory of light the unusual property that light carries inertial mass from the emitting to the absorbing object. Relativity theory does not alter our conception of radiation's structure; in particular, it does not affect the distribution of energy in radiation-filled space. Nevertheless, with respect to this question, I believe that we stand at the beginning of a development of the greatest importance that cannot yet be surveyed. The statements that follow are largely my personal opinion, or the results of considerations that have not yet been checked enough by others. If I present them here in spite of their uncertainty, the reason is not an excessive faith in my own views, but rather the hope to induce one or another of you to deal with the questions considered. In the kinetic theory of molecules, for every process in which only a few elementary particles participate (e.g., molecular collisions), the inverse process also exists. But that is not the case for the elementary processes of radiation. According to our prevailing theory, an oscillating ion generates a spherical wave that propagates outwards. The inverse process does not exist as an elementary process. A converging spherical wave is mathematically possible, to be sure; but to approach its realization requires a vast number of emitting entities. The elementary process of emission is not invertible. In this, I believe, our oscillation theory does not hit the mark. Newton's emission theory of light seems to contain more truth with respect to this point than the oscillation theory since, first of all, the energy given to a light particle is not scattered over infinite space, but remains available for an elementary process of absorption. Consider the laws governing the production of secondary cathode radiation by X-rays. If primary cathode rays impinge on a metal plate P1, they produce X-rays. If these X-rays impinge on a second metal plate P2, cathode rays are again produced whose speed is of the same order as that of the primary cathode rays. Copenhagen Interpretation) to largely ignore Einstein is that he was the single most important critic of the quantum mechanics formulated in the late 1920's by Niels Bohr, Werner Heisenberg, Max Born, Pascual Jordan, Wolfgang Pauli, and Paul DIrac, whose work became the "standard orthodox" interpretation of quantum mechanics. So Einstein today is remembered more for his attacks than for his truly extraordinary fundamental contributions to quantum theory. Einstein's major objection was that quantum mechanics is a statistical theory, one that predicts probable results for a large number of experiments, but nothing about specific events, like the exact time of a radioactive decay or the direction of spontaneous emission of a photon. This "chance" behavior of individual systems was something that Einstein himself pointed out in his early papers. But without the ability to predict individual events with certainty, he maintained that quantum mechanics must remain an incomplete theory. Quantum mechanics can specify only as many physical variables as classical mechanics. Because of the indeterminacy principle, only one of each pair of non-commuting observables (momentum or position, for example) can be specified precisely. In this sense, classical theory is more complete. But rather than simply accept Einstein's description and terminology, Bohr, Heisenberg and others engaged in linguistic debates, claiming that quantum theory is itself "complete." They simply denied that more could be known about an underlying reality. A second concern for Einstein was that the wave function ψ for an isolated free particle evolves in time to occupy all space. All positions become equally probable. Yet when we observe the particle, it is always located at some particular place. This does not prove that the particle had a particular place before the observation, but Einstein had a commitment to "elements of reality" that he thought no one could doubt. One of those elements is a particle's position. He asked the question, "Does the particle have a precise position the moment before it is measured?" The Copenhagen answer was sometimes "no," more often "don't know." If there is only one possible prior position for the particle, its path in four-dimensional space-time is fixed and determinate independently of the time. Complete path information is constant for all time. Quantum theory, by contrast, allows alternative possibilities (with calculable probabilities) that are critical if there is to be more than one possible future.