The complementarity of wave- and particle-like viewpoints on EM wave propagation

In 1995, W.E. Lamb Jr. wrote the following on the nature of the photon: “There is no such thing as a photon. Only a comedy of errors and historical accidents led to its popularity among physicists and optical scientists. I admit that the word is short and convenient. Its use is also habit forming. Similarly, one might find it convenient to speak of the “aether” or “vacuum” to stand for empty space, even if no such thing existed. There are very good substitute words for “photon”, (e.g., “radiation” or “light”), and for “photonics” (e.g., “optics” or “quantum optics”). Similar objections are possible to use of the word “phonon”, which dates from 1932. Objects like electrons, neutrinos of finite rest mass, or helium atoms can, under suitable conditions, be considered to be particles, since their theories then have viable non-relativistic and non-quantum limits.”[1]

The opinion of a Nobel Prize laureate carries some weight, of course, but we think the concept of a photon makes sense. As the electron moves from one (potential) energy state to another – from one atomic or molecular orbital to another – it builds an oscillating electromagnetic field which has an integrity of its own and, therefore, is not only wave-like but also particle-like.

We, therefore, dedicated the fifth chapter of our re-write of Feynman’s Lectures to a dual analysis of EM radiation (and, yes, this post is just an announcement of the paper so you are supposed to click the link to read it). It is, basically, an overview of a rather particular expression of Maxwell’s equations which Feynman uses to discuss the laws of radiation. I wonder how to – possibly – ‘transform’ or ‘transpose’ this framework so it might apply to deep electron orbitals and – possibly – proton-neutron oscillations.


[1] W.E. Lamb Jr., Anti-photon, in: Applied Physics B volume 60, pages 77–84 (1995).