Dancing Wu Li Quack

The tenet of Eastern mysticism is the “universal soul,” which is present in all things, including inanimate objects, making them alive. The extremely counter-intuitive nature of the quantum theory makes it a fertile ground for the mystics to exploit, and Gary Zukav is an indisputable lord of such exploitation. He uses a famous experiment in physics – the double-slit experiment – to masterfully convince his readers that photon, the particle of light, is alive as the Eastern theosophy has been telling us for millennia! His argument is so convincing that even some professional physicists buy it. However, as this post shows, Zukav’s argument is preposterously wrong.

OneHoleLet a wave – any kind of wave: water wave, sound wave, radio wave, etc. – approach a stopping screen (say from the left) with two closely spaced holes through which the wave can pass. Block either one of the holes and let a detector on the right of the screen capture this wave. For example, if the wave is light and the detector is a photographic plate, you will see the blob on the right on the plate.

TwoHolesNow open both holes. For a light wave, you may expect to see two blobs similar to the one on the right above next to each other. But the image you’ll see on the photographic plate will be as shown on the left. It appears as though the single blob is  divided into vertical strips. This is a well-known phenomenon, called interference effect, and it is a property of all waves.

Einstein in 1905 showed that light consists of particles called photons, which subsequently were detected and formed one of the cornerstones of the quantum theory. Now repeat the double-slit experiment, but instead of shining light on the stopping screen, send photons one by one. With one hole open, you reproduce the image on the right above on the photographic plate if you wait long enough. And when you open both holes and wait long enough, the image on the left is produced. Zukav is intrigued, as is everyone – including professional physicists – who encounters the phenomenon for the first time. Before explaining the phenomenon, let’s see what Zukav takes from this experiment. On page 62 of The Dancing Wu Li Masters we read:

The question is, How did the photon in the first experiment know that the second slit was not open? Think about it. If both slits are open, there are always alternating bands of illuminated and dark areas. This means that there are always areas where the photons never go … When we fired our photon and it went through the first slit, how did it ‘know’ that it could go to an area that must be dark if the other slit were open? In other words, how did the photon know that the other slit was closed? There is no definite answer to this question. Some physicists speculate that photons may be conscious!

This question, with the word “know” at its beginning already hints at a conscious photon. And the “physicists” that Zukav refers to may have a PhD in physics, but have long abandoned the field and plunged into mysticism and parapsychology.

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