Light as a Potential Field

by on Mar.24, 2010, under thoughts

Last night, a friend of mine proposed an interesting way to think about light.  Although, it wasn’t until later that I actually understood what he was proposing.  When he said it, I really wasn’t sure what he meant.  Let me first try to describe the idea as it was described to me:

Imagine that light is neither a particle nor a wave.  Instead, we only see light because there is a potential path for light to travel between whatever object we’re looking at, and our eyes.  So then, what is dark?  Dark is the impossibility of light.

Now, I had a couple problems with this.  First off, if this is the case, then where does the light come from?  The only answer I was given was basically “we don’t know”.  But, I think I’ve solved the puzzle that is this proposition.  Again, let’s imagine that light is neither a particle nor a wave.  Instead, think of light as a field of potential.  If you don’t know what a potential field is, think about gravity or voltage.  We can describe both of these as a type of potential, and observe the potential compared to other places in the field.  These fields are not local fields, they are everywhere, but they are very weak away form the sources.

So, what is the source for light’s potential field?  Well, this is going to sound goofy, but light sources.  When describing a potential field, we can think of two different things that could set up the field: sources or sinks.  With voltage, with think about potential sources and sinks.  Electrons are sources, and protons are sinks.  With gravity, we really only think about sinks, and everything is a sink.  Everything will move toward a gravitational sink due to gravity.  With light, we can have both — potential sources: the sun, light bulbs, etc.; potential sinks: black dye, etc.

However, I’m not sure if this really gets rid of the idea of particles and waves.  For example, with gravity, we currently know that mass somehow affects other mass, but we’re not quite sure how.  We theorize, however, that there is a particle, the higgs boson, that “carries” gravity.  The same goes for voltage: we need charged particles in order to interact with the field.  How, then, do objects and our eyes interact with the field in order to affect and see light?

This is only one of the problems I have with this theory.  If potential fields are caused by particle interactions, then we’re really not changing the way we think about light.  I also have to wonder if math would work out if this were the case.  For example, would energy and mass still be related by the famous e=mc˛?  How else would this affect math we’ve experimentally determined to be true?

Or does that really matter?  We know that Newton’s law of gravity, F=(Gm1m2)/r2, works very well to compute the gravitational force. However, it is not the complete picture.  Perhaps it’s the same with light: we’ve discovered equations that accurately predict certain things, but we’re not looking at the complete picture until we assume that light is a potential field.

Besides that, can we test this theory?  Any scientific theory that can’t be tested is basically useless.  The example that comes to mind is String Theory.  With String Theory, we have beautiful math that could describe a bunch of things.  However, the theory is very convoluted, and we haven’t been able to come up with a way to test it.  So, it’s a useless theory.  Why, then, are people working on it?  Well, people who believe in String Theory are looking for a way to test it.  But, that’s beside the point.  If we can’t test the theory that light is a potential field, it has no use to us, and there’s not much point in looking at it, even.

On top of all this, I have to question what difference this view of light would make.  How would viewing light as a potential field alter how we view the universe?  If the answer is that this would greatly change the way we look at the universe, then perhaps we should look into this a bit.  If it proves to be true, we could learn a lot about our universe.

However, until then, this is just a fun thought experiment, and an interesting example of what is, and what isn’t a valid scientific theory.  As a final note, I should say that this idea was proposed to me not as a scientific question, but as a philosophical one.  Just need to point that out.

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