Wave-Particle Duality

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Fred had some confusing news for his wife, Barbara. He wasn’t sure how long he had been keeping it from her, exactly, but it seemed like a very long time. Fred was scared to tell her because he didn’t know how she would react, though he knew he couldn’t keep his secret indefinitely. It was making him unhappy and worn out. He felt like he was running on borrowed energy, and you can only do that for so long. So one day, on his commute home from work, he decided he would break the news at last. He doubted Barbara would understand, but he felt he had to take his chances. He would roll the dice.

             Fred pulled into his driveway to find that his wife had arrived home just ahead of him. The front door was open, and she stood smiling in their foyer, waving an outstretched hand in his direction. Fred had spent his ride home composing himself for this encounter, and he was determined to follow his course as planned. But the smiling, waving figure framed by the rectangular aperture of his home’s front doorway somehow unnerved him. As he walked up the footpath, he felt less and less coherent, and when he finally crossed the threshold, he outright scattered.  

            Barbara gasped. Fred’s clothes lay in a heap by the door, his body having transmuted into a semi-material effervescence that spread to fill the volume of the house. All at once he was everywhere at once, a cloudy translucent medium permeating the air. Even more remarkably, he sustained a dynamic pattern of disturbances, which continually moved throughout him, reflecting off the ceilings and walls, self-interfering, superposing, constructing and destructing to generate a network of compressions and rarefactions. These compressions and rarefactions were variations in Fred’s density, and corresponding to this density Fred had varying colour, so that his denser regions were indigo and his least dense regions were red. The regions of intermediate density were accordingly orange, yellow, green, blue, and the rest. In this way a multicoloured concert of spectral pulsations meandered softly through Fred, evolving capriciously with time to immerse Barbara in a giant, three-dimensional standing wave. When she moved, she caused little ripples of colour to emanate from her surface. When she inhaled and exhaled, whirls and eddies of rainbow appeared around her face. It was so queer and so beautiful to see her husband dispersed through the house like this, she thought. It was very quiet.

            “Baby?” Barbara called hesitantly into the aether. She watched the sound waves travel from her mouth and incorporate themselves into the peaceful bustle of colour. The reply was a vague, unintelligible whimpering that rose up around her. “Is something the matter?” she asked, concerned.

            “I have to tell you something.” The anxiety and nervousness in Fred’s disembodied voice were palpable. Barbara now saw the cloud getting fuzzy. After a moment it became apparent that miniscule droplets of water were emerging from the colours, and were falling slowly away onto the floor. She surmised that her husband was crying.

            “Go ahead, baby,” she said, gently.

             “I’ve been doing a lot of talking recently.”

            “With who, babe?”

            “The photons,” Fred was an experimental physicist who worked at a lab, “the ones I’ve been isolating, the ones I’ve been talking about. Remember?” 

            “Of course I do, you told me about them,” she was growing more concerned.

            “Do you remember how I told you about wave-particle duality?” He sounded like he was pleading.

            “Of course. Sometimes photons act like particles, and sometimes they act like waves.”

            “But really they’re neither, right?” He sounded desperate.

            “That’s what you said. A photon is neither particle nor wave.”

            “The only reason people expected light to be ‘particles’ or ‘waves’ was because Isaac Newton thought it would be that way. But really it’s neither, and it’s not a ‘mix’. There is no duality. Light is just light. It is what it is.”

            “That’s right, baby, but who cares what Isaac Newton thought? Particles and waves are just old ideas that don’t properly describe light,” the sound of her steady, compassionate voice reassured Fred. “The universe doesn’t require them to be one way or the other, it just lets light behave like light.”

            “I’m like a photon, Barbara, that’s why I like talking to them.”

            “You mean you’re neither a wave nor a particle? Is that what you’re so upset about?”

            “Not exactly. This is about my identity. As a man. It’s like the photons.”

            “So you’re neither a man nor a wave, is that what you’re saying? Cause right now you look a lot more like a wave than a man.”

            “Erm, sort of...”

            This was all very strange, and Barbara was becoming justifiably exasperated. “Baby, what is going on?”

            “I’m getting gender reassignment surgery.”

            And with that Fred condensed suddenly into his old body, and collapsed naked onto the living room couch. Barbara stood in the foyer processing what she had just heard. She had not expected this. She walked into the living room, slowly, since the hardwood was slick with tears.

            “So you’re a woman?” she asked, surprised but seemingly unperturbed.

            “No.”

            “But you’re not a man.”

            “That’s correct.”

            “But you want to have surgery to become like a woman anatomically.”

            “Yes. It’s hard to explain,” was Fred’s reply. “The photons understood,” he added weakly.

            Barbara was a lepidopterist, by the way, and the walls of the living room were lined with dozens of display cases, all filled with brilliant specimens of butterflies and moths.

            “I still love you,” said Fred.

            “I love you too, baby,” replied Barbara.

            “The operation is expensive,” said Fred.

            “It’ll be worth it,” said Barbara, taking a seat beside him. They sat quietly for a while. Waves oscillated noiselessly somewhere, everywhere.

            “I’ve always liked caterpillars more than butterflies,” said Barbara, “even though they’re less popular.”

            “That’s fair,” replied Fred.

            Isaac Newton rolled in his grave. Neither Fred, nor Barbara, nor the photons seemed to care.

About the Author: 
Dr. Rory Fitzpatrick is an unemployed computer programmer who does not believe in science, much less quantum mechanics. His hobbies are microwave cookery, portraiture, and collecting old calculators. He is unmarried. He is clearly only a pen name and a figment of my imagination.

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D is for ... Dice

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