Understanding Photons

A Photon is unique; it has both wave like and particle like properties. It is the only particle in the universe which travels at the speed of light – 186,000 miles per sec. According to science it is physically impossible for anything to travel at the speed of light, because it will require infinite amount of energy to push something to achieve the speed of light. Infinite means infinite, therefore it is just impossible to achieve the speed of light for any object. At the Large Hardon Collider in CERN, Switzerland, it has been possible to achieve 99.999% of the speed of light – achieving 100% seems impossible.

This really makes you wonder- if it is impossible to achieve the speed of light how come the photons achieve this speed so easily, and to top it all, they seem to be everywhere in the universe. Anything traveling at the speed of light must have infinite energy or mass, but photons zero mass.   If you apply the tool kit of the special theory of relativity to the photon, the implications are profound and breathtaking.  Let us talk about this now

Einstein’s Theory of Special Relativity

The Theory of Special Relativity deals with Space and Time. It is based on the fact that the speed of light is fixed at c = 186,000 miles per second irrespective of the frame of reference. We all experience relative speed. Going in a car at 60mph, we look into another car traveling in the same direction at 55mph, and we see things inside the other car because the relative speed is only 5mph. We don’t have this experience with reference to the speed of light. Light is travelling at 186,000 miles per sec and suppose you are traveling in a car at 60% of the speed of light. Sitting in the car, you would logically expect the light to travel at only 40% of its usual speed, but if you take measurements you will find to your amazement that light is still travelling at 186k miles per sec. The same applies if you increase the speed of the car to 80% of speed of light or slow down to 30% of the speed of light. The speed of light is fixed at 186,000 miles per hour irrespective of the frame of reference

To explain the implications of this theory, Einstein provided a thought experiment, as it was impossible for cars or rockets to reach speeds anywhere close to the speed of light.

You are on earth and your twin brother goes into space in a rocket. You both have the top of the range atomic clocks. Your twin brother’s rocket is traveling at the speed of 0.8c. You at earth measure the speed of the light, you find it be c, your twin brother also measures the speed of light, he will also find the speed to be c. How come? The clock in the rocket slows down and his ruler in the rocket gets compressed and is much shorter so that the speed of light is still c. His spacetime framework is more compressed, but the speed of light is still c. Your twin brother returns to earth. Your clock shows he travelled for 10 years, while his clock shows he travelled for 6 years only.

Your twin brother goes on another trip and now he increases his speed to 0.9999c. He measures the speed of light and he still finds it to be c, the same as you will find on earth. His clock will be running very slowly as compared to your clock on earth. He returns after 50 days according his clock. Your clock on earth will show he has travelled for 10 years. Amazing stuff! His spacetime is extremely compressed.

Here’s an addition to the Einstein thought experiment. Your twin brother enjoys being in space. He goes back for another trip, and now his rocket travels at the speed of light c. He is tries to measure the speed of light, but he is unable to do so. Light travels at c and his rocket is also traveling at speed c, both are going in parallel to each other speed wise. To make a measurement you need light to bounce of an object, but if the rocket and light are going at the same speed, it is impossible to take this measurement. When he returns to earth, your clock shows he has travelled for 10 years, he will find his clock is at a standstill, no time has passed for him. Also, according to him he has covered no distance. You aged 10 years; he felt he did not go anywhere, both time wise and distance wise and therefore did not age at all.

Now replace the rocket and the twin brother with a photon. The photon will have the same experience as your twin brother travelling at speed of light c in a rocket. Here’s what you could say the photon “experienced” the following according to the special theory of relativity.

  • Distance travelled by photon = 0
  • Time experienced by photon = 0 or standstill
  • Energy content of photon = infinity. The formulae for the Lorenz Transformation will confirm this.

What is your experience as an observer stationed on earth tracking a photon traveling for 10 years?

  • Distance traveled by photon = 10 light years
  • Time travelled by photon = 10 years
  • Mass of photon = 0
  • Speed of light = c

According to the photon, it feels it is at a standstill not covering any distance. However, the observer feels the photon is covering a large distance traveling at the speed of light. How do we interpret this information? Based on the information we have understood, we can make the following important conclusions

  1. The photon travels only in the presence of the observer. If there is no observer, then the photon remains at a standstill. An observer is a prerequisite for the photon to travel. In our earlier discussions we have mentioned that the only observer in this universe is the Atma, which is the underlying reality of you, me and every living being. So, whenever a photon comes in the presence of Awareness in any mind – your mind, my mind or the cosmic mind, the photon becomes conscious and then and only then we are aware of the photon. It is this photon which zips around at the speed of light. The perception must take place in the mind first, only then it is possible for the photon to be observed in the physical world. It is this basic reason, why the perception process as taught by Vedanta is the only correct way to understand the phenomenon.


  1. From the photon’s perspective, it is at standstill in time and covers no distance. If time does not move for the photon, it must be outside time and it must be beyond the spacetime framework. If it was within the spacetime framework, time for the photon must change. What does this really mean? Anything beyond time must be in a dormant condition; it could also be called un-manifest condition. What is the “un-manifest” condition? According to Vedanta, it is in its potential form, just like a tree is in an un-manifest, potential condition within a seed. The physical tree still has not come out, but the tree is there in a potential form in the seed. So only a tree will manifest from this seed and nothing else. The photon is also in the same potential form. What potential form does the photon represent? The universe is the “potential” within the photon.


  1. Where does the photon reside in its un-manifest condition? Since the un-manifest photon is beyond the space time frame work and as we explained earlier that the Atma is always beyond time. It is only logical conclude that the un-manifest photon exists within Atma, which is unchanging, limitless, without boundaries. Since Atma is present in everyone, including in you, therefore the un-manifest photon is present within you, within your true reality of Atma. You, as an individual person, do not feel or realize this, because, like everyone else, you are ignorant of your own true nature.


  1. We saw earlier that according to the observer, the energy level or mass of the photon is zero, but according to the photon, the energy level of the photon is infinite. This photon with infinite energy is lying dormant within the Observer or Atma in an un-manifest condition. Now there is no infinite energy, there is only a potential for infinite energy. Whenever the Observer/Atma has the desire to view the universe, this un-manifest photon will come into the observer’s mind, this photon will become conscious and then it will manifest to become the universe we see around us. This manifested universe will have infinite energy.

We know from studying Vedanta that Atma/Brahman is the underlying reality of you and of the universe. It is the Observer of your mind and it is beyond the space time framework. We have also analyzed that from the photon’s point of view, the photon remains in an un-manifest condition in your Atma. When this photon enters your mind, it becomes conscious and manifests itself.


Energy which makes up this Universe

Photons, from their own standpoint, are in an un-manifest condition. They are in their potential state. The potential form of the photon represents the universe; it is not one photon, but a collection of all the photons in the universe.  A good analogy would be that the potential form is like software code that represents all aspects of the universe. Just like the software needs a CPU to manifest itself, the potential form of the photon needs a mind to manifest itself.

When the un-manifest photon meets our minds, it manifests itself and becomes a Vritti, which is like a mental wave within the mind. These mental waves or vrittis are the same as the probability waves which are explained by quantum physics, they are so similar in their functionality. We know from quantum mechanics that the probability waves collapse in the presence of the observing system. In the same way the mental waves of the photon collapse in the presence of Atma, which is the observing system in our minds. Maya Shakti then projects this collapsed wave function as the visible physical universe we see around us.

Put in simple terms, the universe is a manifestation of just the photon. In its un-manifest form, the photon had a potential for infinite energy. This infinite energy is now unleashed into the entire universe.

Types of Energy in the Universe

As we have seen, the photon is the only particle in the universe which travels at the speed of light.  If we apply the theory of special relativity to the photon, the photon will feel it does not travel any distance, that time is at a standstill and that it has an infinite amount of energy. In the presence of the observer or from the point of view of the observer, the picture is very different, infinite energy is distributed all over the world and photons are zooming around the universe at the speed of light.

The photon has an infinite amount of energy, but this finite universe can use only a finite amount of energy. You as an observer can only see a part of the universe and therefore only a finite amount of energy is required. I am guessing that the unused energy of the photon remains in an un-manifest condition.

It must be clearly understood that the only energy available in the universe is the energy provided by photons.

A photon in a wave form is also known as an Electromagnetic Energy Wave (EMV). The known spectrum of light starts from Radio waves (300 Khz) to Gamma rays (3 x 1021) Hz. This spectrum of energy covers the universe. It is the source for everything. All objects are made up of energy and this energy comes with the manifestation of the photon in the presence of the observer or Atma.

The energy described above is the physical or visible energy. Keeping the size of the universe and estimating the number of galaxies, cosmologists have estimated the composition of the universe in this way –

  • Dark energy – 79%
  • Dark matter – 26%
  • Visible Matter – 5%

Only 5% of the energy is used to create the visible galaxies. We must note that 73% of the visible universe is made of hydrogen, 23% Helium and 2% is made of the remaining elements. The cosmologist still has no clue what this dark energy/matter is. They have not seen it nor identified it. It’s just an assumption to explain how the energy needed to fuel the expansion of the universe is “created”.

Dark energy, Dark matter and the Visible Matter, all have the roots in the infinite energy source of the photons in the un-manifested Atma.