Classical Physics vs. Quantum Physics

Physics, can be divided into 2 distinct divisions or phases

  • Classical Physics
  • Quantum Physics

Classical physics started with Newton, who made many different discoveries and formulated many different laws, which are relevant even today. Newton’s laws did not focus on atomic level objects but on macro objects we can see around us. Based on these laws, people believed that the universe was a giant machine, where one can easily predict the motion of the planets and the objects therein. This way they knew exactly what was happening in this universe and in some way could even predict all the future movements of celestial bodies. Physicists thought they knew everything in the universe and there was nothing new to discover. 

In the early 20th century, things took a dramatic turn. As physicists started understanding atoms etc., they found none of the classical laws were applicable to level. Classical physics became outdated at the atomic and sub-atomic levels. To understand and explain the happenings in the realm of the sub-atomic, quantum physics was born.

Things in the sub-atomic level, behave in unpredictable ways. Quantum physics is trying its best to provide a proper explanation which is rooted in science and supported by experiments.  Sometimes, a particle is a ‘wave’ and at some other times it is a ‘particle’. This discovery marked the starting point of quantum physics. Quantum physics has explored this contradiction over the past century. Many questions have been successfully answered, but with every answer new question come up. And so, the search for answers doesn’t seem to end. 

In many ways quantum physics is like Vedanta. Vedanta teaches us that the mind is made of waves or ‘vrittis’ and these ‘mind waves’ become the objects which we see around us in this physical universe. Are the ‘waves’ described by quantum physics the same as the ‘waves’ in the mind? I strongly believe both are the same and this may be the common ground between quantum physics and Vedanta.

What is Quantum Physics – A Brief Overview?

We’ll give a quick overview of quantum physics by highlighting some of the key developments that are relevant to this article.

Light is a Wave:

In 1805, Thomas Young demonstrated that Light was a wave. He used the famous double slit experiment. There was a light source and in front of it there was barrier and this barrier had two slits. On the other side of the barrier was a photographic plate to study the light’s propagation through the slits. The result on the photographic plate clearly showed that light

was not a particle but a wave? If it was a particle, there would be only 2 bands on the plate, but the plate showed multiple bands, proving that the light was a wave which passed through the two slits and then combined to from all the different bands. Watch the following video in YouTube

Light is a Particle

In 1905 Einstein published a paper on ‘Photoelectric Effect’ phenomenon, which showed that the light is a particle. In 1921, Einstein got a Nobel Prize for this discovery. It is surprising that he got the Nobel Prize for this discovery and not for the ‘Theory of Relativity’, for which he is better known. In this experiment, you shine light (which is a wave) on a photoconductive metal and you get light reflected on the other side. On studying or observing this reflected light, Einstein found that the reflected light was not a wave, but it was made up of packets of energy. Each packet is a unit of fixed energy and this packet is known as a photon and has all the characteristics of a particle. 

Matter is both Wave and Particle

So, light exhibits properties both of a ‘wave’ and of a ‘particle’. In 1923, de Broglie, a French doctoral student made a bold assertion that not only light, but all matter must have both ‘wave’ and ‘particle’ properties. Here matter means matter, including, you, me, planets, cars, in fact any living or nonliving object in this universe. The tree in front of you is a particle and using the de Broglie formula; you can also calculate the wavelength of the tree based on its energy content. In 1927, the de Broglie hypothesis was proven experimentally – thus, all matter is both a wave and a particle. This is amazing, but people need to grasp that everything in this universe has both a ‘particle and ‘wave’ property. In 1929, de Broglie was awarded the Nobel Prize for his theory. He was the only one to ever receive a Nobel Prize based on his doctoral thesis.

We know ‘particle’ resides in the world out there (we see it everywhere), but where does the ‘wave’ reside? This is the million-dollar question which is still to be answered. What is the connection between the wave part and the particle part of matter?

Schrodinger’s Wave Function

Like Newton’s law of motion is the heart of the classical physics, Schrodinger’s wave function is the heart of quantum physics.  To understand the ‘wave’ part of the de Broglie theory, Schrodinger formulated a complex equation for the wave function. Schrodinger’s equation represents a physical system and this physical system always consists of:  

  • Observed system – The observed system is a wave function, and this wave function is the wave component of the wave/matter duality as postulated by de Broglie.
  • Observing system – When this observing system interacts with the observed system at any given time, the wave function of the observed system collapses to become a particle.

In other words, when the wave function comes in the presence of the observing system, the wave function collapses and become a particle. It would seem an observing system is necessary for the wave function to collapse to become a particle. Quantum physics never explains who and what is the observing system, which has the power to collapse a wavefunction and create a particle.

This is exactly what is taught by Vedanta. This connection between wave and particle is at the heart of Vedanta. Vedanta teaches us that there are 3 types of universes:

  1. Seed Universe
  2. Subtle Universe made up of mental waves or ‘Vrittis’
  3. Gross Universe – The world we see out there

Every object in the universe needs a ‘seed’. For a plant or a tree to grow, there must be a seed. In the same way this universe and all the objects therein must have a ‘seed’. Under the right conditions this seed germinates to become the subtle universe. The subtle universe is made up of mental waves or ‘vrittis’. Each object in this universe has a unique waveform.

If you think about it, the mental waveform taught by Vedanta is the same wave function which is explained by de Broglie and Schrodinger. When this mental waveform comes in the presence of the observing system which is our Atma or inner core, this waveform collapses to become the gross universe out there. This is exactly like the Schrodinger wave function. The observing system in Schrodinger wave function is nothing but Atma. Only Atma has the power and capacity to collapse any mental wave function. It is just impossible for matter out there to collapse any wave function.

In my article ‘Vedanta and Quantum Physics’, I have given a detailed explanation to show that the wave function mentioned in quantum physics is same as the mental waves or ‘vrittis’ which is taught by Vedanta.

Classical Physics vs. Quantum Physics

Science tells us that the laws which operate in the classical world do not work in the quantum world and laws which operate in the quantum world do not work in the classical world. From this statement, it would seem both are functioning in different worlds. Why does this happen? What is the difference between these two worlds? We have just seen that there is a fully functioning subtle universe and a fully functioning gross universe. The subtle universe is made up of ‘vrittis’ or waveforms which is operating within the individual mind and the cosmic mind. The gross universe is the universe which is made of objects out there.

Since the focus of quantum physics is on understanding the wave/particle duality. This would mean that the focus of quantum physics is on the subtle universe, while the focus of classical physics is on the gross universe. We know that the gross world is made up of gross objects only and laws of classical physics apply to this realm. The subtle universe is made up of mental waves and the laws of quantum physics apply to this realm. Therefore, the focus of quantum physics is on mental waves while the focus of classical physics is gross objects.

Mental waves and gross objects are very different. By studying the gross objects, there is no way classical physics can learn about mental waves. It is for this reason that the laws of quantum physics do not apply to the gross/physical world, only the classical laws will work in the physical world. The same reasoning will apply to the subtle universe; the classical laws will not be suitable, only the quantum laws will work in the subtle universe.

To conclude classical physics is concerned with the physical universe out there, while quantum physics is concerned with the subtle universe which is functioning within are minds. They operate in two mutually exclusive realms.

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