Common misconceptions in physics (BOOK)

Science is a dialog with Nature, but whereas Nature is unique, science has been traditionally divided into blocks. Scientists, philosophers, and librarians talk about physical sciences, life sciences, social sciences... with each branch being further subdivided into disciplines.

This division means that the formalism and methods used in nuclear physics are different from those used in anatomy, for instance. Of course, there are interdisciplinary sciences such as biophysics and quantum chemistry that build bridges between disciplines, but the bridges consist simply of applying the formalism and methods of one discipline to the subject of study of the other; effectively, Huan-Xiang Zhou begins his Q&A by defining biophysics [1] as the study of biological systems and biological processes using physics-based methods or based on physical principles, whereas Ira N. Levine states in the first chapter of his textbook [2] that Quantum chemistry applies quantum mechanics to problems in chemistry. The bottom line is that neither biophysics is a true unification of biology and physics, nor does quantum chemistry unify physics and chemistry.

Not only is there no true unification, but these interdisciplinary sciences are internally inconsistent because they combine elements of disjoint disciplines. Consider quantum chemistry, the incompatibility between chemistry and quantum mechanics was highlighted by Ilya Prigogine [3]:

Quantum mechanics, in its orthodox form, corresponds to a deterministic time-reversible description. This is not so for chemistry. Chemical reactions correspond to irreversible processes creating entropy. That is, of course, a very basic aspect of chemistry, which shows that it is not reducible to classical dynamics or quantum mechanics.

We will discuss this incompatibility in depth throughout this book, what we want to comment on now is that not only do we find inconsistencies in the boundaries between disciplines, we also find inconsistencies in traditional disciplines. Richard P. Feynman, Robert B. Leighton, and Matthew Sands write in the section 28-1 of the second volume of The Feynman Lectures on Physics [4]:

Now we want to discuss a serious trouble---the failure of the classical electromagnetic theory. You can appreciate that there is a failure of all classical physics because of the quantum-mechanical effects. Classical mechanics is a mathematically consistent theory; it just doesn't agree with experience. It is interesting, though, that the classical theory of electromagnetism is an unsatisfactory theory all by itself. There are difficulties associated with the ideas of Maxwell's theory which are not solved by and not directly associated with quantum mechanics. You may say, ``Perhaps there's no use worrying about these difficulties. Since the quantum mechanics is going to change the laws of electrodynamics, we should wait to see what difficulties there are after the modification.'' However, when electromagnetism is joined to quantum mechanics, the difficulties remain. So it will not be a waste of our time now to look at what these difficulties are. Also, they are of great historical importance. Furthermore, you may get some feeling of accomplishment from being able to go far enough with the theory to see everything—including all of its troubles.

A scientific theory can be more or less accurate and its scope may be more or less general, but internal consistency is a necessary condition for a theory to be satisfactory, because an inconsistent theory can predict one thing and its opposite. An inconsistent theory is only permissible as a preliminary research stage that will eventually be replaced by a completely consistent theory.

Classical electrodynamics is only one example of unsatisfactory theory, we can find dozens of unsatisfactory theories in many branches of physics, chemistry, biology, geology, economics, and sociology. If we want to develop a consistent and unified picture of Nature, then we must identify the difficulties, inconsistencies, and incompatibilities in current disciplines, because Nature is unique and consistent.

Popular science books written by physicists, physics textbooks, and the professional physics literature contain misleading or easily misinterpreted claims. Some claims are unique to a single author or a small group, but other misleading claims are repeated by thousands of scientists, engineers, philosophers, and journalists.

In this book, I want to show that some widely accepted claims found in textbooks, encyclopedias, and articles do not support a detailed and rigorous analysis, and that such misconceptions and myths are preventing a fundamental understanding of Nature.

The chapters in this book are organized roughly on a historical timeline, from classical electrodynamics to quantum field theory and the Standard Model. In a sense, this is also an organization from the most elementary myths and misconceptions to the most advanced. This book is intended to be pedagogical and readable by a wide non-expert audience. However, all the myths and misconceptions are technical in nature and I could not completely omit equations and details that are essential to understanding why those widely accepted claims in physics are not true. Readers interested in more technical details will find some appendices with further information.


TABLE OF CONTENTS:

1 INTRODUCTION
PART I CLASSICAL PHYSICS
2 ELECTRODYNAMICS
  2.1 ACTION-AT-A-DISTANCE
  2.2 LAGRANGIANS AND HAMILTONIANS
  2.3 DELAYED INTERACTIONS
  2.4 FORCE
  2.5 RADIATION REACTION
  2.6 MANY-BODY MOTION
3 SPECIAL RELATIVITY
  3.1 TIME AND CLOCKS
  3.2 MASS
  3.3 ENERGY
  3.4 LORENTZ TRANSFORMATIONS
  3.5 COVARIANT FORMALISM
4 THERMODYNAMICS
  4.1 WHAT IS IN A NAME?
  4.2 HEAT
  4.3 THE SECOND LAW
  4.4 ENTROPIES
  4.5 THERMODYNAMICS OF IRREVERSIBLE PROCESSES
  4.6 RELATIVISTIC THERMODYNAMICS
5 GENERAL RELATIVITY
  5.1 FIRST MISCELLANY
   5.1.1 ACTION-AT-DISTANCE
   5.1.2 LAGRANGIANS AND HAMILTONIANS
   5.1.3 DELAYED INTERACTIONS
   5.1.4 FORCE
   5.1.5 RADIATION REACTION
   5.1.6 MANY-BODY MOTION
   5.1.7 TIME AND CLOCKS
   5.1.8 MASS
   5.1.9 ENERGY
   5.1.10 LORENTZ TRANSFORMATIONS
   5.1.11 COVARIANT FORMALISM
   5.1.12 WHAT IS IN A NAME?
  5.2 NEWTONIAN LIMIT
  5.3 SPIN-2 FIELD
  5.4 BLACK HOLES
6 STATISTICAL MECHANICS
  6.1 FOUNDATIONS
  6.2 REDUCTIONISM AND THE THERMODYNAMIC LIMIT
  6.3 NEGATIVE TEMPERATURES AND HEAT CAPACITIES
  6.4 THE ARROW OF TIME
PART II QUANTUM PHYSICS
7 QUANTUM MECHANICS
  7.1 SECOND MISCELLANY
   7.1.1 MASS
   7.1.2 ENERGY
   7.1.3 LORENTZ TRANSFORMATIONS
   7.1.4 COVARIANT FORMALISM
   7.1.5 WHAT IS IN A NAME?
   7.1.6 HEAT
   7.1.7 THE SECOND LAW, ENTROPIES, AND FOUNDATIONS
   7.1.8 THE ARROW OF TIME
  7.2 WAVE-PARTICLE DUALITY
  7.3 THE HEISENBERG UNCERTAINTY PRINCIPLE
  7.4 INTERPRETATIONS, FORMULATIONS, AND PICTURES
  7.5 RANDOM OR DETERMINISTIC?
  7.6 REALITY AND ORBITALS
  7.7 CLASSICALITY AND CORRESPONDENCE PRINCIPLE
  7.8 THE SHAPE OF ATOMS
  7.9 THE QUANTUM ARROW OF TIME
  7.10 RELATIVISTIC QUANTUM MECHANICS I
  7.11 RELATIVISTIC QUANTUM MECHANICS II
8 QUANTUM FIELD THEORY
  8.1 THIRD MISCELLANY
   8.1.1 ACTION-AT-DISTANCE
   8.1.2 LAGRANGIANS AND HAMILTONIANS
   8.1.3 DELAYED INTERACTIONS
   8.1.4 MANY-BODY MOTION AND HAAG'S THEOREM
   8.1.5 COVARIANT FORMALISM
   8.1.6 THE ARROW OF TIME
   8.1.7 ZITTERBEWEGUNG
  8.2 WHAT HAS BEEN EXPERIMENTALLY CONFIRMED AND WHAT IS ASSUMED?
  8.3 THE TRUE NATURE OF QUANTUM FIELD THEORY
  8.4 THERE ARE ONLY FIELDS
  8.5 NON-RELATIVISTIC LIMIT
PART III APPENDICES AND REFERENCES
A FIELDS FROM DIRECT-PARTICLE INTERACTIONS
B STEP FUNCTIONS AND TIME SYMMETRY
C VELOCITY OPERATORS IN THE SCHRÖDINGER PICTURE
D SECOND QUANTIZATION FROM FIRST
E THE FOUR WAY TO ANTIPARTICLES
F THE CLASSICAL SCHRÖDINGER EQUATION
G COSMOLOGY
H LIST OF MISCONCEPTIONS
I WHAT IS NEXT?
REFERENCES



NOTES:

  1. Q&A: What is biophysics? 2002: BMC Biology 9(13), 1–4. Zhou, Huan-Xiang.
  2. Quantum Chemistry; fifth edition 2000: Prentice-Hall, Inc.; New Jersey. Levine, Ira N.
  3. Chemical Kinetics and Dynamics 2003: Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 988, 128–132. Prigogine, Ilya.
  4. The Feynman Lectures On Physics, Vol 2; Mainly Electromagnetism And Matter; Second Printing 1964: Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, Inc.; Reading, Massachusetts. Feynman, Richard P.; Leighton, Robert B.; Sands, Matthew.