# Playing with amplitudes

Pre-script (dated 26 June 2020): This post got mutilated by the removal of some material by the dark force. You should be able to follow the main story line, however. If anything, the lack of illustrations might actually help you to think things through for yourself. In any case, we now have different views on these concepts as part of our realist interpretation of quantum mechanics, so we recommend you read our recent papers instead of these old blog posts.

Original post:

Let’s play a bit with the stuff we found in our previous post. This is going to be unconventional, or experimental, if you want. The idea is to give you… Well… Some ideas. So you can play yourself. ðŸ™‚ Let’s go.

Let’s first look at Feynman’s (simplified) formula for the amplitude of a photon to go from point aÂ to point b. If we identify point aÂ by the position vector r1Â and point bÂ by the position vectorÂ r2, and using Dirac’s fancyÂ bra-ketÂ notation, then it’s written as:

So we have a vector dot product here: pâˆ™r12Â = |p|âˆ™|r12|Â·Â cosÎ¸ = pâˆ™r12Â·cosÎ±. The angle here (Î±) is the angle between theÂ pÂ andÂ r12Â vector. All good. Well… No. We’ve got a problem. When it comes to calculating probabilities, the Î± angle doesn’t matter: |eiÂ·Î¸/r|2Â = 1/r2. Hence, for the probability, we get: P = |Â âŒ©r2|r1âŒª |2Â =Â 1/r122. Always ! Now that’s strange. The Î¸ =Â pâˆ™r12/Ä§Â argument gives us a different phase depending on the angle (Î±) between p and r12. But… Well… Think of it:Â cosÎ± goes from 1 to 0 when Î± goes from 0 to Â±90Â° and, of course, is negative when p and r12Â have opposite directions but… Well… According to this formula, the probabilitiesÂ doÂ not depend on the direction of the momentum. That’s just weird, I think. Did Feynman, in his iconicÂ Lectures, give us a meaningless formula?

Maybe. We may also note this function looks like the elementary wavefunction for any particle, which we wrote as:

Ïˆ(x, t) = aÂ·eâˆ’iâˆ™Î¸Â =Â aÂ·eâˆ’iâˆ™(Eâˆ™t âˆ’Â pâˆ™x)/Ä§= aÂ·eâˆ’iâˆ™(Eâˆ™t)/Ä§Â·eiâˆ™(pâˆ™x)/Ä§

The only difference is that the âŒ©r2|r1âŒª sort of abstracts away from time, so… Well… Let’s get a feel for the quantities. Let’s think of a photon carryingÂ some typical amount of energy. Hence, let’s talk visible light and, therefore, photons of a few eV only – say 5.625 eV = 5.625Ã—1.6Ã—10âˆ’19Â J = 9Ã—10âˆ’19Â J. Hence, their momentum is equal to p = E/c = (9Ã—10âˆ’19Â NÂ·m)/(3Ã—105Â m/s) = 3Ã—10âˆ’24Â NÂ·s. That’s tiny but that’s only becauseÂ newtonsÂ andÂ secondsÂ are enormous units at the (sub-)atomic scale. As for the distance, we may want to use the thickness of a playing card as a starter, as that’s what Young used when establishing the experimentalÂ fact of light interfering with itself. Now, playing cards in Young’s time were obviously rougher than those today, but let’s take the smaller distance: modern cards are as thin as 0.3 mm. Still, that distance is associated with a value ofÂ Î¸ that is equal to 13.6 million. Hence, theÂ densityÂ of our wavefunction is enormous at this scale, and it’s a bit of a miracle that Young could see any interference at all ! As shown in the table below, we only get meaningful values (remember:Â Î¸ is a phase angle) when we go down to the nanometerÂ scale (10âˆ’9Â m) or, even better, theÂ angstroms scale ((10âˆ’9Â m).Â

So… Well… Again: what can we do with Feynman’s formula? Perhaps he didn’t give us a propagatorÂ function but something that is more general (read: more meaningful) at our (limited) level of knowledge. As I’ve been reading Feynman for quite a while now – like three or four years ðŸ™‚ – I think… Well… Yes. That’s it. Feynman wants us to think about it. ðŸ™‚ Are you joking again, Mr. Feynman?Â ðŸ™‚Â So let’s assume the reasonable thing: let’s assume it gives us the amplitude to go from point a toÂ point bÂ by the position vectorÂ along some path r.Â So, then, in line with what we wrote in our previous post, let’s say pÂ·rÂ (momentum over a distance) is the action (S) we’d associate with this particular path (r) and then see where we get. So let’s writeÂ the formula like this:

ÏˆÂ =Â aÂ·eiÂ·Î¸Â = (1/r)Â·eiÂ·S/Ä§Â =Â eiÂ·pâˆ™r/Ä§/r

We’ll use an index to denote the various paths: r0Â is the straight-line path and riÂ is any (other) path.Â Now, quantum mechanics tells us we should calculate this amplitudeÂ for every possible path. The illustration below shows the straight-line path and two nearby paths. So each of these paths is associated with some amount of action, which we measure in PlanckÂ units:Â Î¸ =Â S/Ä§.Â

The time interval is given by tÂ = t0Â =Â r0/c, for all paths. Why is the time interval the same for all paths? Because we think of a photon going from some specificÂ point in space and in timeÂ to some otherÂ specificÂ point in space and in time. Indeed, when everything is said and done, we do think of light as traveling from pointÂ a to pointÂ bÂ at the speed of light (c). In fact, all of the weird stuff here is all about trying to explain howÂ it does that. ðŸ™‚

Now, if we would think of the photon actually traveling along this or that path, then this implies its velocityÂ along any of the nonlinear paths will be largerÂ thanÂ c, which is OK. That’s just the weirdness of quantum mechanics, and you should actuallyÂ notÂ think of the photon actually traveling along one of these paths anyway although we’ll often put it that way. Think of something fuzzier, whatever that may be. ðŸ™‚

So the action is energy times time, or momentum times distance. Hence, the difference in action between two paths iÂ andÂ jÂ is given by:

Î´SÂ = pÂ·rjÂ âˆ’Â pÂ·riÂ = pÂ·(rjÂ âˆ’ ri) = pÂ·Î”r

I’ll explain theÂ Î´S <Â 2Ï€Ä§/3 thing in a moment. Let’s first pause and think about theÂ uncertainty and how we’re modeling it. We can effectively think of the variation in SÂ as some uncertaintyÂ in the action: Î´SÂ = Î”S = pÂ·Î”r. However, if SÂ is also equal to energy times time (SÂ = EÂ·t), and we insist tÂ is the same for all paths, then we must have some uncertainty in the energy, right? Hence, we can write Î´SÂ as Î”S = Î”EÂ·t. But, of course, E =Â E =Â mÂ·c2Â = pÂ·c, so we will have an uncertainty in the momentum as well. Hence, the variation inÂ SÂ should be written as:

Î´SÂ = Î”SÂ = Î”pÂ·Î”r

That’s just logical thinking: if we, somehow, entertain the idea of a photon going from someÂ specificÂ point in spacetime to some otherÂ specificÂ point in spacetime along various paths, then the variation, or uncertainty,Â in the action will effectively combine some uncertainty in the momentum and the distance. We can calculate Î”p as Î”E/c, so we get the following:

Î´SÂ = Î”SÂ = Î”pÂ·Î”r =Â Î”EÂ·Î”r/c = Î”EÂ·Î”t with Î”t =Â Î”r/c

So we have the two expressions for the Uncertainty Principle here: Î”SÂ = Î”pÂ·Î”r =Â Î”EÂ·Î”t. Just be careful with the interpretation of Î”t: it’s just the equivalent of Î”r. We just express the uncertainty in distance in secondsÂ using the (absolute) speed of light. We are notÂ changing our spacetime interval: we’re still looking at a photon going fromÂ aÂ toÂ bÂ inÂ tÂ seconds,Â exactly. Let’s now look at theÂ Î´S <Â 2Ï€Ä§/3 thing. If we’re addingÂ twoÂ amplitudes (twoÂ arrowsÂ or vectors, so to speak) and we want the magnitude of the result to be larger than the magnitude of the two contributions, then the angle between them should be smaller than 120 degrees, so that’s 2Ï€/3 rad. The illustration below shows how you can figure that out geometrically.Hence, if S0Â is the action for r0, then S1Â = S0Â + Ä§Â and S2Â = S0Â + 2Â·Ä§ are still good, but S3Â = S0Â + 3Â·Ä§Â isÂ notÂ good. Why? Because the difference in the phase angles is Î”Î¸Â =Â S1/Ä§Â âˆ’Â S0/Ä§Â = (S0Â + Ä§)/Ä§Â âˆ’Â S0/Ä§ = 1 andÂ Î”Î¸ =Â S2/Ä§Â âˆ’Â S0/Ä§Â = (S0Â + 2Â·Ä§)/Ä§Â âˆ’Â S0/Ä§ = 2 respectively, so that’s 57.3Â°Â and 114.6Â°Â respectively and that’s, effectively,Â lessÂ than 120Â°. In contrast,Â for the next path, we find that Î”Î¸Â =Â S3/Ä§Â âˆ’Â S0/Ä§Â = (S0Â + 3Â·Ä§)/Ä§Â âˆ’Â S0/Ä§ = 3, so that’s 171.9Â°. So that amplitude gives us a negative contribution.

Let’s do some calculations using a spreadsheet. To simplify things, we will assume we measure everything (time, distance, force, mass, energy, action,…) in Planck units. Hence, we can simply write:Â SnÂ = S0Â + n. Of course, nÂ = 1, 2,… etcetera, right? Well… Maybe not. We areÂ measuringÂ action in units ofÂ Ä§, butÂ do we actually think actionÂ comesÂ in units ofÂ Ä§?Â I am not sure. It would make sense, intuitively, butâ€¦ Wellâ€¦ Thereâ€™s uncertainty on the energy (E) and the momentum (p) of our photon, right? And how accurately can we measure the distance? So thereâ€™s some randomness everywhere. ðŸ˜¦ So let’s leave that question open as for now.

We will also assume that the phase angle forÂ S0Â is equal to 0 (or some multiple of 2Ï€, if you want). That’s just a matter of choosing the origin of time. This makes it really easy: Î”SnÂ =Â SnÂ âˆ’ S0Â = n, and the associated phase angle Î¸nÂ = Î”Î¸nÂ is the same. In short, the amplitude for each path reduces to ÏˆnÂ = eiÂ·n/r0. So we need to add these firstÂ andÂ thenÂ calculate the magnitude, which we can then square to get a probability. Of course, there is also the issue of normalization (probabilities have to add up to one) but let’s tackle that later. For the calculations, we use Euler’s rÂ·eiÂ·Î¸Â = rÂ·(cosÎ¸ + iÂ·sinÎ¸) = rÂ·cosÎ¸ + iÂ·rÂ·sinÎ¸ formula. Needless to say, |rÂ·eiÂ·Î¸|2Â = |r|2Â·|eiÂ·Î¸|2Â = |r|2Â·(cos2Î¸ + sin2Î¸) = r. Finally, when adding complex numbers, we add the real and imaginary parts respectively, and we’ll denote the Ïˆ0Â + Ïˆ1Â +Ïˆ2Â + … sum as Î¨.

Now, we also need to see how our Î”SÂ = Î”pÂ·Î”rÂ works out. We may want to assume that the uncertainty in p and in r will both be proportional to the overall uncertainty in the action. For example, we could try writing the following:Â Î”SnÂ = Î”pnÂ·Î”rnÂ =Â nÂ·Î”p1Â·Î”r1. It also makes sense that you may want Î”pnÂ and Î”rnÂ to be proportional to Î”p1Â and Î”r1Â respectively. Combining both, the assumption would be this:

Î”pnÂ =Â âˆšnÂ·Î”p1Â andÂ Î”rnÂ =Â âˆšnÂ·Î”r1

So now we just need to decide how we will distribute Î”S1Â =Â Ä§Â = 1 over Î”p1Â and Î”r1Â respectively. For example, if we’d assume Î”p1Â = 1, then Î”r1Â = Ä§/Î”p1Â = 1/1 = 1. These are the calculations. I will let you analyze them. ðŸ™‚Well… We get a weird result. It reminds me ofÂ Feynman’s explanation of the partial reflection of light, shown below, but… Well… That doesn’t make much sense, does it?

Hmm… Maybe it does. ðŸ™‚ Look at the graph more carefully. The peaks sort of oscillate out so… Well… That might make sense… ðŸ™‚

Does it? Are we doingÂ something wrongÂ here? These amplitudes should reflect the ones that are reflected in those nice animations (like this one, for example, which is part of thatâ€™s part of the Wikipedia article on Feynmanâ€™s path integral formulation of quantum mechanics). So what’s wrong, if anything? Well… Our paths differ by some fixed amount of action, which doesn’t quite reflect the geometric approach that’s used in those animations. The graph below shows how the distanceÂ rÂ varies as a function ofÂ n.Â

If we’d use a model in which the distance wouldÂ increaseÂ linearly or, preferably, exponentially, then we’d get the result we want to get, right?

Well… Maybe. Let’s try it.Â Hmm… We need to think about the geometry here. Look at the triangle below.Â IfÂ bÂ is the straight-line path (r0), thenÂ acÂ could be one of the crooked paths (rn). To simplify, we’ll assume isosceles triangles, soÂ aÂ equalsÂ cÂ and, hence, rnÂ = 2Â·a = 2Â·c. We will also assume theÂ successive paths are separated by the same vertical distance (h =Â h1) right in the middle, so hbÂ =Â hnÂ = nÂ·h1.Â It is then easy to show the following:This gives the following graph for rnÂ = 10 and h1Â = 0.01.

Is this the right step increase? Not sure. We can vary the values in our spreadsheet. Let’s first build it. TheÂ photon will have to travel faster in order to cover the extra distance in the same time, so its momentum will be higher. Let’s think about the velocity. Let’s start with the first path (nÂ = 1). In order to cover the extraÂ distance Î”r1, the velocity c1Â must be equal to (r0Â + Î”r1)/tÂ = r0/tÂ + Î”r1/t =Â cÂ + Î”r1/tÂ = c0Â + Î”r1/t. We can write c1Â as c1Â =Â c0Â + Î”c1, so Î”c1Â = Î”r1/t.Â Now, theÂ ratioÂ of p1Â  and p0Â will be equal to theÂ ratioÂ of c1Â andÂ c0Â because p1/p0Â = (mc1)/mc0) = c1/c0. Hence, we have the following formula for p1:

p1Â = p0Â·c1/c0Â = p0Â·(c0Â + Î”c1)/c0Â = p0Â·[1 + Î”r1/(c0Â·t) = p0Â·(1 + Î”r1/r0)

ForÂ pn, the logic is the same, so we write:

pnÂ = p0Â·cn/c0Â = p0Â·(c0Â + Î”cn)/c0Â = p0Â·[1 + Î”rn/(c0Â·t) = p0Â·(1 + Î”rn/r0)

Let’s do the calculations, and let’s use meaningful values, so the nanometer scale and actual values for Planck’s constant and the photon momentum. The results are shown below.Â

Pretty interesting. In fact, this looksÂ reallyÂ good. TheÂ probabilityÂ first swings around wildly, because of these zones of constructive and destructive interference, but then stabilizes. [Of course, I would need to normalize the probabilities, but you get the idea, right?] So… Well… I think we get a veryÂ meaningful result with this model. Sweet ! ðŸ™‚ I’m lovin’ it ! ðŸ™‚ And, here you go, this is (part of) the calculation table, so you can see what I am doing. ðŸ™‚

The graphs below look even better: I just changed the h1/r0Â ratio from 1/100 to 1/10. The probability stabilizes almost immediately. ðŸ™‚ So… Well… It’s not as fancy as the referenced animation, but I think the educational value of this thing here is at least as good ! ðŸ™‚

ðŸ™‚ This is good stuff… ðŸ™‚

Post scriptum (19 September 2017): There is an obvious inconsistency in the model above, and in the calculations. We assume there is a path r1Â = ,Â r2, r2,etcetera, and then we calculate the action for it, and the amplitude, and then we add the amplitude to the sum. But, surely, we should count these paths twice, in two-dimensional space, that is. Think of the graph: we have positive and negative interference zones that are sort of layered around the straight-line path, as shown below.

In three-dimensional space, these lines become surfaces. Hence, rather than adding oneÂ arrow for everyÂ Î´Â Â having oneÂ contribution only, we may want to add… Well… In three-dimensional space, the formula for the surface around the straight-line path would probably look like Ï€Â·hnÂ·r1, right? Hmm… Interesting idea. I changed my spreadsheet to incorporate that idea, and I got the graph below. It’s a nonsensical result, because the probability does swing around, but it gradually spins out of control: it never stabilizes.That’s because we increase theÂ weightÂ of the paths that are further removed from the center. So… Well… We shouldn’t be doing that, I guess. ðŸ™‚ I’ll you look for the right formula, OK? Let me know when you found it. ðŸ™‚

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