(Quantum) Resonance

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I am a bit fed up with some stuff I keep hearing about and I’d like to get things off my chest. I apologise in advance for the seemingly angry tone of this blog, but I just feel compelled to write about it.

So here we go.  It’s about “resonance”. Suddenly, I keep seeing articles, vlogs, TV news, online debates, etc, about how the main thing in the universe is the phenomenon of resonance. Everything vibrates. And, this is supposed to be a great new discovery. Don’t ask me why this proliferation of things about resonance is happening now (I really don’t know, maybe it’s the latest fad from the scientifically illiterate opinion-shapers of the Silicon Valley, or something along those lines).

Photo by Designecologist: https://www.pexels.com/photo/woman-standing-on-sunflower-field-2783143/

Photo by Designecologist

Anyway, we all resonate, the hippies were right, and even consciousness (yeah, that’s it) is really all about resonance. Come to think of it, atoms and photons resonate, so they must be conscious too (panpsychism). While we are at it, Planck was wrong about quantum physics, and 528Hz is the frequency of love, which is everywhere – you can use it to enhance the growth of your plants. It’s just that the scientific establishment (i.e., people like me) don’t want you to know any of this. Why? Because it’s dangerous, man.

I could bullshit like this forever (honestly, just ask my wife), but the readers of my blogs will surely know that I find it far more interesting to tell you about things as they are for real. The people saying things like in my last paragraph, are unaware that in physics, thanks to quantum physics first and foremost, it really is all about resonance. But resonance not as some fluffy, lovey-dovey, hippie thing, but as a properly defined physical concept.

I will say more about it in a minute, but – as far as various conspiracies are concerned – when is it that we scientists have ever hidden anything from the public because it’s dangerous? Hello??? Have you seen the movie Oppenheimer? I mean it doesn’t get more dangerous than the atomic bomb and we physicist still let it loose on the mankind. Why – on Earth – would we be hiding things like resonance from anyone?

I did warn you about getting things off my chest…And while I am at it, why do we have all these popular podcasters (you know who you are) telling us about consciousness, absence of reality and quantum mechanics – what the duck do they know about any of it? Even some practitioners are confused about it, let alone people who aren’t physicists.

Anyway, back to resonance. A Dutch physicist Christian Huygens was once ill, lying in bed (mid seventeenth century), when he noticed that two of his clocks (they only had Grandfather’s clocks back then), positioned on the same wall opposite his bed, started to oscillate in sync. No matter how out of tune they started, they would always end up oscillating “in phase”.  Huygens, being a man of science, would experiment by putting them on separate walls, starting the pendula randomly, upon which he would observe that they no longer got to be in sync. The only possible conclusion: each clock produces vibrations which get transmitted by the wall and then to the other clock. This is how they get synchronised. When they are far apart, this no longer works and the vibrations die down before reaching the other clock.

A similar thing is observed when you have two tuning forks close to one another (have a look at YouTube). You hit one fork and you see that, shortly afterwards, the other one starts to vibrate too. This is only true if they are of the same frequency (in other words they are what is in the technical jargon known as being “on resonance”). Otherwise, nothing happens. In this case, it is the air in-between that picks up the vibrations and transmits them – at the speed of sound – to the other fork.

Now, simple as this might be, it actually forms the basis of the deepest understanding of the universe through quantum field theory. Quantum field theory is all about harmonic oscillators like the grandfather’s clocks, only quantum! The universe is made up of a stupendously large number of quantum harmonic oscillators each representing a degree of freedom of the respective underlying field (the electromagnetic, the electron field and so on). We’ve talked about it before when I argued that everything is a quantum wave. The position and velocity of the quantum pendulum are q-numbers, but the equation of motion is the same as the classical one.

Take an atom absorbing (or emitting) a photon. An electron inside an atom is a harmonic oscillator. A photon is an excitation of the electromagnetic field which is another harmonic oscillator. These two oscillators couple to one another through what is known as the dipole-electric field coupling. The details of this don’t really matter and you can look it all up if you really want to know, but the crux of the matter is that it’s the same as two tuning forks.

The analogy is – in fact – perfect, to the point that exactly the same mathematics (the SAME mathematics) is used in both cases. Consequently, when the frequency of the photon is not the same as the frequency of the electron, the two are not in tune, and the atom cannot be excited by the photon (the photon is off resonance). They are simply not in sync (I am cutting corners here, it’s a bit more complicated, but I don’t want to bore you with the details).

Huygens would have understood the quantum physics of the light-atom interaction immediately.

When we excite an atom, it then emits a photon which can then be absorbed by another distant atom (if they are all of the same frequency, in other words “on resonance”). The atoms are then also like the two grandfather’s clocks, with the electromagnetic field in-between playing the role of the wall that allows the energy (photons) to propagate in-between (albeit, photons go at the speed of light, not sound). All interactions in quantum physics are described this way. There are particles (pendula) which interact with other particles (other pendula) through mediators (which are, surprise surprise, chains of yet more coupled pendula!).

OK, so it seems that I am advocating the same thing as the New Age Gurus I was dissing at the beginning of the blog. Why am I then so against them? Well, for two reasons, really. One is that they don’t know that physics is already all about resonance and are presenting their views as original and earth shattering. They need to educate themselves better and study harder: physics has already been at it for more than 300 years. More importantly, I am annoyed because they extrapolate the resonance story to the domain in which it no longer makes any sense at all.

Take this wacky theory, for instance. I vibrate at many frequencies (almost a continuum) and one of them happens to be 528Hz (this is 528 vibrations in one second – about 10 times faster than your average washing machine). When these vibrations propagate through the air, you can pick them up and – like Huygens’ clock, start to vibrate yourself. Since, 528Hz is the frequency of love (???), we are now in love with each other. Here we go – I’ve just explained to you how people fall in love. (I’ve actually been asked to comment on this on TV – I kid you not).

What a load of bollocks this is (not what I said on TV, mind you – I was more polite 😊). This is so bad that I don’t even know where to begin (and note, luckily, that you are not on resonance with your washing machine otherwise you would fall in love with it). So, I won’t. I’ll just leave it at that.

But don’t get me wrong. Science does have a pretty good explanation for the phenomenon of falling in love (HINT: it’s in evolutionary biology). Sure, we don’t understand all the details, but maybe, just maybe, quantum physics will also play a role (that’s got to be the case, if you ask me). However, the detailed explanation for falling in love, ultimately reducing the relevant biology to physics, will be far less simplistic, and far more awesome, counter-intuitive and beautiful than any of the pop-psychologists, neuro-scientists, computer scientists-turned-podcasters, hippies, and the like, can ever even begin to imagine.

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