What, then, IS light?
On the previous page we have seen what light is not. Now let us see what it is.
There is something very strange about our customary way of thinking about light. Although we can never see light leave an object and then travel through the vacuum of space to enter our eye or some other optical instrument we nevertheless persist in thinking of light as ‘travelling’ in that way. Plainly, however, what we see, in the very first instance, is the light itself, in all its various ranges from deep infrared and radio to far ultraviolet and gamma, and then, from the information that is in the light, we project the dimensions of our physical world, much in the way that, from the patterns and sequences of pixels on a television screen, e viewer projects the world of a video scenario. And from the way the objects we observe behave in that field of observational information, from the way they are distanced, the way they move, bump into one another and influence one another in so many different ways, we project all the dimensions of space, time, size, mass, solidity and everything else we can know about those objects in terms of their physical qualities and properties. This covers everything and defines relativity according to the literal interpretation of that word.
But then, in an amazing mental turnabout, we customarily reverse this order of priority in our knowledge of the world of objects and persuade ourselves that we can know nothing of the existence of those objects until, in some cases, aeons after leaving them, the light from those objects reaches us. Whatever makes us think like that! Mostly, it is because sunlight forms beams in dusty rooms, objects cast shadows, and so on. What seemed to confirm this ‘travelling’ concept of light is that in 1676 it was discovered by an astronomer, Olaus Römer, that as we see bodies move away from us, so the intervals between events on those bodies become longer and longer (well known as the Doppler effect). This was summarily interpreted as Römer’s discovery of the ‘speed of light’. What Römer actually discovered, however, in its most economical interpretation, was that in observation these units of distance and time are constantly related in what has since been measured as the ratio of approximately three hundred million metres to the second (or, more precisely, nowadays, 2.99792458 × 108 metres to the second or 3.3 nanoseconds for every metre).
Thus we follow the convention, now embedded in contemporary science by Einstein, of describing the constant c as ‘the speed of light in a vacuum’. Logically, this is nonsense, not only because a vacuum cannot be regarded as a reference-zero for a speed, constant or otherwise, but also because it puts the now of external things behind and beyond our actual observations of them. When we see a distant star, although there is no way we can know of that star’s existence until we actually see it, we con ourselves into thinking that what we see is not the real star but only an after-image of what that star once was at some moment which, relative to us, is now long past. It scarcely occurs to us that since all distances are times, the further away an object is, the earlier is the time it registers right now in our visual interaction with it. There is no more necessity to think of this time difference as due to something ‘travelling’ towards us in space than to think of something ‘travelling’ through space to bring us our birthdays. In that same way, when we look at a distant star, its actual now is not something going on somewhere in the future. Its now is precisely the same now as it is for us, the very same moment at which we and it are interacting, despite the fact that the time the object registers in that same imteractional now is different from ours [i].
Our traditional notion of light, therefore, as something ‘travelling’ inscrutably in space has torn modern physics away from its roots in commonsense perception and put physical reality into realms apart where it has become a playground for theoreticians and metaphysicians. POAMS reverses this classical inversion of our knowledge by banishing that theoretical nether-world and restoring to science the original, more natural and logical order of priorities. It advocates the systematic removal of all the competing traditional theories about what we think physical reality is, as some ubiquitous deity might be presumed to see it behind and beyond our observations of it. It brings observation to the fore, as befits the Theory of Relativity. In this way, POAMS relocates our physical science on the basis of the simplest and most minimal logical interpretations of what we actually and directly perceive with our senses and ancillary instrument systems. Basic to this observationist (relativist) agenda is to reinterpret what is traditionally called ‘the constant speed c of light in space’ in the way that the Cambridge mathematician, Herman Bondi does. This is simply as a constant ratio of length-units to time-units in our observational projections of optical phenomena, analogous to the constant 39.37 inches to the metre in the measuring of length, and 2.2046226 pounds to the kilogram in the measuring of weight. We might also mention the constant , c2 relating units of mass and energy which, like c, and other constants in general, is obviously the same for all observers in all states of motion or rest.
The relativist programme for science that this presents is that pioneered, originally, by the philosophers Berkeley, Hume and Kant. Brought to near fruition in the work of Einstein’s mentor, Ernst Mach, this relativism has been developed further by the POAMS group of natural philosophers. It defines an empirical purism, or radical relativism, the physical implications of which, for modern relativistic and quantum physics, have been explored in depth, largely off-stage, for more than fifty years. Carried through consistently, this ‘Copernican revolution’ in our ideas of space and time produces a slimmed-down and logically consistent version of relativity which also incorporates, at its very root, the elements of quantum physics. This unifies the notoriously divided Relativity and Quantum Theory which, in the customary way of thinking have resisted all but the most contrived attempts at logical reconciliation. The details of this synthesis are as published in this website.
So, what is light? In its full spectral range, from deepest infrared to farthest ultraviolet and gamma, it is the ultimate information, in quantum ‘pixels’, from which is projected all our knowledge of an external world, the world consisting of so many things both like and unlike us, from atoms and living cells to stars and galaxies. The same applies not only to sight but also to our other senses, tactile, auditory, olfactory, etc., all of which analyse down, ultimately, to the same quantum data that we receive in vision. Objective reality in this observer-projected world is supplied by communication, involving other observers, instruments and other sources of observational data supplied by telescopes, microscopes, voltmeters, cat-scanners, bubble-chambers, etc., and creatures with sense-ranges vastly different from ours. Objective perception is therefore, essentially, a communal activity, involving language in all its various linguistic and behavioural forms. What objectivity is not is the dark and dismal, abstract underworld of mechanistic physics which exists nowhere but in the minds of theoreticians.
Finally, then, light is simply time, the temporal unfolding of patterns and sequences of quantum data transacted not only between objects and observers, but also between observers and observers and between objects and objects, all in that same interactive now of the holographic matrix we know as The Real World.
[i] See the description of relativistic ‘time-slides’ in A. D. Osborne, The Nature of Time. To appear, 2010.