The trouble with understanding Particle – Wave duality

I was just in conversation with a Buddhist scholar here at Stanford, talking about existence and identity, and had a theory on why it may be so hard for for humans to rationalize, envision, or understand the particle-wave duality nature of all matter around us: Identity and evolution.


The Buddhist philosophy on identity is that we identify too much with ‘I’, setting ourselves apart from other objects ‘they’. I am a male, I am white, I like lima beans (true). I am not a lemur, I am here, I am not there, etc. I’ve thought about this a lot lately, identity and ego, and have been trying to nullify it as best I can in myself. Because most of my identity isn’t really that helpful – if I decide ‘I don’t like this movie’ 25% in, I will stop paying attention and may miss something good or important etc etc. From the west’s ‘I think, therefore I am’ , the error is in taking identity with thinking: ‘I think.’ In any case, I’m establishing that I am trying, as in the Buddhist tradition, to question and properly define existence.


From an evolutionary standpoint, identity is very useful. If the lion is approaching, it is useful to say ‘that’ lion (which is not me), and is approaching ‘me’, probably with intents that will impede my ability to reproduce. When resources are scarce, it is useful (evolutionarily) for me to hoard them for ‘me’ and ‘my family,’ in order to reproduce. Thus identity with form has definite evolutionary advantages, and so we may be ‘hardwired’ with this specific identity.

Quantum Physics and particle-wave duality:

But in the real world, there is no border to ‘me.’ Particles of matter are not local, but spread out infinitely in space, so the notion of ‘I’ being here and ‘you’ being there is not actually true. In Quantum Mechanics, if one puts an electron in a box and closes the lid, the electron takes up the full volume of the box (in truth takes up space out to infinity, but mostly in the box). Its only when we look at the electron does it collapse to a local position, and even that is arguable (maybe it only interacts locally). This is duality: that particles travel as (non-local) waves, and interact as particles. No one can understand or envision it, its simply true.


I posit that the reason we can’t understand duality is because of billions of years of evolution, training us to identify ourselves as distinct from others, and our environment, in order to capitalize our situation. If we judged non-locality of ourselves, the notion of this thing is better than that, this location is better than that one.. becomes undefined as we are in both locations at once.

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