Paradoxes In Modern Physics

Noted by Dr. Truth

Paradox #1. The Mass of Light

Noted: Nov 29, 2001, 9:30 a.m.

    Let us do a brief thought experiment. Consider a small box containing just a single atom and a light wave [photon] which is at the right frequency to be absorbed and re-emitted by the atom. Let the box have perfectly reflecting walls so that the light wave [photon] can't be absorbed by the walls of the box. Now the light wave [photon] from time to time will be absorbed by the atom, then its energy is part of the atom. At other times the light wave will be moving freely about the box.

      Now conventional physics, including Special Relativity, says that E=mc² . Thus each time the energy of the light wave [photon] is added to the atom, conventional physics tells us that along with the addition of the energy, comes an add-on mass increase of m=E/c². But conventional physics also tells us that although ordinary electromagnetic fields have energy and thus mass, photons don't have mass. So the atom increases in mass each time the light wave [photon] is absorbed, and the mass of the atom goes down each time the light wave [photon] is emitted. But the light wave [photon] itself supposedly has no mass.

     Therefore, we have the mass inside the box going up and down, depending on whether the light wave [photon] is free moving, or is bound up in the atom. This apparent violation of mass conservation should alert any reasoning person that we have a paradox.

      The apparent contradiction arising from the use of these conventional physics rules shows that one of the rules of conventional physics used here must be wrong. Either mass conservation is not true; or light waves have mass, a fact not previously recognized; or the mass of atoms doesn't change according to Einstein's famous equation. Considering the possibilities I favor the idea that light waves have mass, even though photons supposedly don't. This problem with the photon may be an argument against the existence of the photon. Other arguments against the reality of photons will appear later on this page.

Paradox #2: A Problem with Photon Spin

Noted: 1986

        The conventional view of Modern Physics is that light travels from place to place in little energy packets called photons.  Quantum theory supposes that each time a photon is emitted or absorbed by an atom there is an exchange between atom and photon of one unit of angular momentum [simply understood as one unit of SPIN].  Assuming this simple interaction and nothing else, conservation of angular momentum then supposes that each photon must have one unit of SPIN.  
        But there is a problem with this simple picture. Imagine a photon emitted near the boundary of a strong region of gravity such as a black hole, with the photon going upward.  We know that light climbing out of a region of strong gravity will loose energy. [This is called the gravitational red-shift because light waves stretch and become redder.]  

        The energy of a photon is conventionally given by the equation E=hν =hc/λ , where E is energy, h is Plank's Constant, and  ν is the frequency of the photon's vibration, c is the speed of light, and  λ is the wavelength of the light.  So as the photon climbs out of the gravity region it looses energy E and as it does so the frequency  ν drops [the number of vibrations per second decreases] and the wavelength λ  grows.  But at the same time as the photon is climbing out of the gravity region the SPIN goes unchanged, because the SPIN of all photons is the same, always being one unit of angular momentum.  And the SPIN [or angular momentum] of the photon doesn't depend on the photon's energy.  So the photon looses energy as it climbs, but its SPIN is unchanged.  If the strength of gravity is great enough, then the photon can loose all of its energy climbing out of the gravity region.  Then we are left with a photon still having one unit of SPIN [angular momentum] but zero energy.  So we have SPIN with no energy, a non-existent particle with SPIN.  This seems to present us with a serious problem.

       [Of significance here is an awareness that quantum theory supposes that a photon can only be approximately located, within an uncertainty given by its wavelength.  For example, a light wave of green light has a wavelength of about one 2,000,000th of a meter, or about one 51,000th of an inch.  A photon of green light always has a location uncertain by approximately this amount.]

       We would like to imagine how the photon can dispose of all its energy and still have SPIN. Imagine that as the photon looses energy its wavelength expands [and so its uncertain location gets more fuzzy] until the limit of exactly zero energy is reached.  There the wavelength becomes infinite [the location is then undefined], and at that point quantum theory says that the photon is everywhere and nowhere all at the same time.  So the photon evaporates.  Where does the SPIN go?  Perhaps the SPIN attaches itself to some other particle in that infinite region.  If such could happen then there would be events all over the universe of SPIN appearing out of nowhere as photons with zero energy deposit their SPIN onto atoms and molecules throughout space.Another possibility is that the SPIN might be added to the angular momentum of the whole universe, in which case nobody would notice.

       After considering various possibilities I am of the opinion that the SPIN problem of the photon is one more indication that we don't yet really understand light, that light doesn't really travel from place to place in coherent little lumps of energy called photons.  It may well be that the great 19th century physicist Poincaré was right, when he argued that photons are convenient fictions invented by men's minds with no independent reality at all.

Paradox Number 3: Questioning Special Relativity, Part 1.

Noted: Early 2000

        Einstein's Special Theory of Relativity has long been known to be counter-intuitive.  But Special Relativity also supposes some things that look very much like contradictions.  

     For simplicity lets, for the moment, only consider the length contraction that supposedly occurs as an object is observed with a relative velocity that is a substantial fraction of the speed of light.  The apparent length contraction supposedly depends only on relative velocity.  

     In the following thought experiment, let there be a meter stick sitting at the Earth's South Pole, with several observers all overhead going by at different relative speeds, and all motion being parallel with the length of the meter stick.

    Consider what Special Relativity predicts for five observers all looking down on the same meter stick.   

      1) An observer at rest above the meter stick sees the meter stick with a length of exactly one meter.

      2) An observer going by at half the speed of light looks down at the same meter stick and sees the meter stick is shrunk to only 0.866 of the length it has when seen at rest.

      3) An observer going by at 0.90 of the speed of light looking down sees this same meter stick as having a length of 0.436 of the length it has when seen at rest.

      4) An observer going by at 0.97 of the speed of light looking down sees this same meter stick as having a length of 0.243 of the length it has when seen at rest.

      5) An observer going by at 0.995 of the speed of light sees this same meter stick as having a length of 0.0998 of the length it has when seen at rest.

      So what is the true length of the meter stick?  Does it have a length at all?  Does length have any real meaning if Special Relativity is true?

     These various observers, with motion parallel to the length of the meter stick, are all looking at the same meter stick, yet they disagree about its length! In ordinary experience objects do have dimensions, and those dimensions don't depend on the motion of the observer.   So these observations are definitely counter-intuitive.   And if we think of length and other dimensions of objects as objectively real properties, then a dimension that depends on how the observer is moving seems to be a contradiction, and thus we are presented with a paradox.
     The length contraction and clock rate slowing supposed by Special Relativity are necessary so that all observers, even those moving at a substantial fraction of the speed of light, will find the same value for the measured speed of light.   The noted Michelson-Morely experiment was generally supposed to affirm the invariance of the speed of light as seen by observers with differing motions.

     Many observations allegedly affirm the accuracy of Special Relativity as a model of the real world.  And most modern analysts suggest that the predicted effects of Special Relativity are real.  But does the meter stick at rest at the Earth's South Pole really and truly change length depending on the relative velocity of an observer passing by [or are we dealing with appearances only]?

     Einstein and others have supposed that in our example each observer makes a measurement, and that each measurement is a truly valid measurement, just as valid as any other observer's measurement.  That is, Einstein supposed that there is no preferred viewpoint and no preferred reference frame.   Each observer then has an equally good measurement.  But they disagree about the length of the same meter stick!

     It seems to me that this set of discordant observations represents a logical contradiction, and therefore an impossibility, demonstrating that this usage of and understanding of Special Relativity can not represent the real world.   Either Special Relativity is misapplied in supposing these observations or, Special Relativity does not describe the real world and so is an erroneous theory.

     To discover the reality of what may be going on with Special Relativity and thus to escape from this apparent paradox we should perhaps look further into Einstein's Special Relativity.