Everything is going to be alright!

(A very simple, very short Tragicomedy in two Nightmares and a Sad Ending.)

First Nightmare

A sunny evening. After a stressful day at the Physics Department you are in your motor-boat, driving towards the open sea.

You stop the engine, sit down on a deck chair and start reading your book “How Universes Emerge”. After a while you feel disturbed by the seesaw. You decide to glide with the waves. You will simply gather pace until the boat speed equals the wave speed, and then you will leave the steering to the autopilot. Then there won’t be any seesaw bothering you.

No sooner thought than done! You accelerate slowly. In no time the boat will be fast enough. Just a moment, just a little moment ... But – how strange, nothing changes. Though you can feel the acceleration, the waves don’t slow down! What is going on here? Still wave after wave rolls along the boat with seemingly undiminished speed. You pull down the accelerator – nothing changes. Full speed! – no change. Now you become scared. You look around; where are you actually? Can that be waves? Can that be water? Is it possible that there is not any ocean at all? Maybe you are just a moment away from falling into the fathomless abyss at the edge of the world, as the ancestors believed?

Drenched in sweat you wake up.

Second Nightmare

You are walking along the seashore. Gentle wave fronts beat against the quay wall. Around some buoys you can see beautiful interference patterns on the water surface, sparkling in the sun. Pensively you meditate on the fact that in the course of the millenniums the waves are going to wear away the wall, slowly and steadily. All of a sudden, however, you are startled out of your reverie by a loud noise: You lift up your eyes and see that a hefty lump of concrete is being knocked out of the wall and flies away. And after a short time there is the same noise once more, and again a large chunk of the wall takes wing. And again. And whenever this happens, an entire wave front disappears as far as your eyes are able to follow it. Exactly the same happens with the next wave front: it knocks out a lump of concrete from the wall and disappears at the same time.

You are confused and at a loss. Like in the dream before, you ask yourself what’s going on here anyhow. What disrupts the wall under your feet into pieces? Is the earth going to devour you in a moment?

You wake up – however this time not completely. Still half dreaming, you think of your last dream, you remember that there was not any real ocean, not any real water or wave, but merely a strange kind of something that behaved like a wave. Now, however, you see that this cannot be true either: something which behaves like a wave could never be able to break such lumps out of a wall! Indeed, this would only be possible if that which you have taken for a wave would turn into a massive lump of hard matter at the moment of its impact on the wall.

Still, how can it initially have existed as a wave – you have, after all, seen an interference pattern around the buoys – and thereafter turn into a hard lump of matter, at the same moment disappearing everywhere else?

It is tantalizing. You are not dreaming anymore, however you still cannot wake up completely. You cannot wake up...  cannot wake up... simply not wake up... never again wake up....

Sad Ending

You are in a psychiatric hospital. You have not yet recovered from the shock of the second nightmare, and the doctors say you never will. It was just too much for you, too confusing. You sit there, non-stop murmuring. If one concentrates, one can recognize some preposterous words: Complementarity, wave-particle dualism, interfering probability amplitudes, reduction of the wave function, non-local connections...  Some of the other inmates nod insightfully, but nobody else has the slightest idea what all that should mean...  Doctors and nurses call you fondly “our brainiac“ – with some respect, because of your strange pathology.

Note for non-physicists

Nightmare 1 is the story of Special Relativity.
(Ocean = ether, water waves = light, boat trip = Michelson-Morley Experiment).

Nightmare 2 is about the fact that light waves can behave like particles, when they interact with matter – at least according to the Einstein interpretation of the Photoelectric Effect, and about the generally accepted opinion that waves can simply disappear – in fact all waves except the one that eventually becomes the observed (measured) event. (Since Max Born interpreted the amplitude square in the Schrödinger Equation as probability density, this disappearence is seen as indispensable interpretation standard, though the existence of the waves is proven by their interference.)

The Sad Ending tells about the deplorable condition of the interpretation of physical reality since the Theory of Relativity and Quantum Theory. Still there is no hope in sight that the Dadaistic phase of the physical worldview could come to an end. (Of course this does not apply to the formalisms of RT and QT – they are certainly beyond any doubt; The interpretation, however, is utterly wrong – or, to put it correctly, it does not even exist.)