Analogy Failure

By | November 7, 2018

The mistake that people make in thinking about quantum phenomena is attempting to analogize it. Your understanding doesn’t have to be fully mathematical (I don’t understand all of the math), but it also can’t be metaphorical as there simply isn’t a valid macro-level metaphor for much that occurs (or is mathematically represented) in the quantum realm.

For instance, spin. Or more accurately, “spin quantum number.” What does this mean? Well, nothing’s spinning. Not really, anyway. There is a completely different number that represents orbital angular momentum that is totally unrelated. And yes, the names of both particles and properties is often confusing. You’d think something labeled “spin” would involve actual spinning as we think of it. But no. “Spin” is a mathematical construct of something that is happening in reality but that maps to nothing we can think of as an analogy to anything you’d witness in everyday life.

(For instance, why the electron is not spinning in the sense of rotating: for it to have the magnetic moment it in fact does, an electron’s outer “surface” would have to be rotating 100 times the speed of light.)

“Spin” is a vector in ordinary space applied to complex space — space that can only be represented by a complex number. Ain’t no visualizing that no matter how hard you try. It is not just difficult. It is impossible. That’s why so many explanations of quantum phenomena are terrible. There simply is not any analogy that will assist in understanding. They only obfuscate what we understand and don’t illuminate anything.