Mis-using Louis de Broglie’s wave-particle duality hypothesis.
Posted on April 17th, 2015
Bodhi Dhanapala, Quebec, Canada.
[This is an English version of a Sinhala article submitted to Vidusara in reply to Dr. Nalin de Silva’s Sinhala article in the Lankaweb, 2nd April 2015 entitled “de Broolie’s prathibhaava” ද බෘලිගේ ප්රතිභාව]
As a science teacher, I recently confronted the many “science” articles written in the Vidusara by Dr. Nalin de Silva with great consternation and worry. Furthermore, all of Dr. Silva’s articles begin with an “introduction” of Prof. Amaratunga and other contributors written with a sarcastic, highly derogatory tone unheard of in academic discussions since ancient times, as seen in the discourses of the Buddha that should surely be the role model for us. Other writers are people who are claimed by Dr. Silva to report little tit bits picked up from other’s or books without understanding them ( “අවබෝධයකින් තොරව කිසිවකුගෙන් හෝ පොතපතින් හෝ අහුලාගත් අදහසක් අනෙක් අයට පැවසීම ය”). But Dr. Silva may be some one in a glass house throwing stones at others.
As a village youngster who learnt science in Sinhala, I felt it was my duty to present the correct picture for the benefit of the Sinhala reader. However, Dr. Nalin de Silva presents this as “Mr. Dhanapala merely wanted to present my (i.e., Dr. Silva’s) so-called ignorance. One of the examples he selected was my designation of a mass for a photon. I have said from the beginning that the rest mass of a photon is zero. However, I stated that I designate a mass to the photon in moving inertial frames”. (Here I have given a free translation of Dr. Silva’s Sinhalese text: “බෝධි ධනපාල මහතාට අවභ්ය වූයේ මගේ ඊනියා නොදැනුවත්කම ප්රදර්ශනය කිරීම ය. ඔහු ඒ සඳහා යොදාගත් එක් උදාහරණයක් වූයේ මා ෆෝටෝනයකට ස්කන්ධයක් පැණවීම ය. මා මුල සිට ම කියා සිටියේ ෆෝටෝනයක නිශ්චලතා ස්කන්ධය ශූන්ය බව ය. එහෙත් වෙනත් අවස්ථිති සමුද්දේශ රාමුවක ෆෝටෝනයකට ස්කන්ධයක් නියම කරන බව ද මම පැවසුවෙමි.”)
As a prelude, let us clear up some trivial claims that have arisen out of this correspondence. Some correspondents (e.g., Ranjth Soyza) tried to claim that all that Dr. Nalin de Silva is saying when he claims that science, mathematics and all abstract thinking are “Patta-Pal-Boru”, is that our knowledge is “culture dependent”. This may be true of the social sciences. But if we take the hard sciences and those directly derived from them (physics, chemistry, biochemistry, geology, thermodynamics, engineering etc.,) then can any one give some examples of “culture-relative” scientific truths? When geophysics says that the earth is a spheroid, is that only true in some cultures? Let the culture relativists give us some specific examples.
Returning to Dr. Silva’s heavy photon, let us note that modern textbooks pointedly refuse to use the words “rest mass” of a photon, since a photon is never at rest. The name “invariant mass” is used as it will not mislead any reader.
I live in a Canadian province which uses French as its majority language, and I hear its pronunciation from native french-speaking professors. I need to say that the Sinhlala rendering “de Brooli” used by Dr. Silva for the name de Broglie is incorrect, while the form “de Broy” is closer to the truth. Of course, a name may be sinhalized, just as “Gregory” becomes “Girigoris” and “Erdapfel” becomes “arthaapal”. But some warning should be given to the reader. The correct pronunciation may be heard at
After introducing the highly misleading name “rest mass” for the photon, Dr. Silva further says: “What is de Brooli’s hypothesis? Planck, Einstein and others had said since 1900 to 1905 that waves have particle properties. The other side of this should be that particles are declared to have wave properties. But there is no sign that anybody even thought of it till 1927. This idea occurred to de Brooli.” (this is a free translation of “ද බෘලිගේ හිතළුව කුමක් ද? තරංගවලට අංශු ගුණ ඇති බව ප්ලෑන්ක්, අයින්ස්ටයින් ආදීහු 1900 දී 1905 දී වකවානුවල කියා තිබුණ හ. මෙහි අනෙක් පැත්ත විය යුතුව තිබුණේ අංශුවලට තරංග ගුණ ඇති බව ප්රකාශ කිරීම ය. එහෙත් 1927 පමණ වන තුරු කිසිවකු ඒ ගැන හිතා තිබූ බවක් සඳහන් නො වේ. ද බෘලිට ඒ අදහස ඇති විය”).
Before we rectify Dr. Silva’s physics errors, we need to rectify Dr. Silva’s errors even in matters like vital historical dates and times defining the birth of quantum mechanics. De Broglie had already submitted his thesis by 1924. Walthar Bothe and Hans Geiger had shown experimentally, by 1925 the conservation of energy and mass. Schrodinger had established his famous wave equation in 1925. By 1926 Max Born had interpreted the square of the wavefunction to be the probability for the observation of quantum events. But Dr. Silva fails vital history and misreports de Broglie’s seminal contribution, putting it off to 1927, while he was so ready to pick on other contributors to Vidusra for their alleged inaccuracies.
While starting with a title devoted to a scientific topic, Dr. Silve uses the ruse of bringing in discussions of Kalama Sutta or some other discourse of the Buddha as a debating ploy. In our April 1st article we argued (inspired by an article by Prof. Dharmawardana) that Dr. Silva has actually either misrepresented Buddhism or misunderstood it, falling into some type of “Dhithupadhana” misconception, where he claimed that all ordinary people (i.e., pruthagjana, viz., those who have not acquired the special wisdom possessed by Buddhist seers) know only falsehoods (“musa”), and hence can only utter falsehoods. Given that Dr. Silva himself is a “pruthagjana”, using a self-referential statement that negates itself shows the writer’s incapacity of being logical. Hence we do not tire the reader further with Dr. Silva’s discussions that lead to his rejection of all abstract analyses as well as mathematics as “Patta-Pal-Boru”. Although he dare not say so, these presumably include the “pattichcha samuthpada” and other abstract formulations abundant in Buddhist psychology.
Dr. Silva accepts that the invariant mass of the photon is zero. However, in general he assigns by fiat a non-zero mass m=hv/c**2 for the photon, where v is the frequency of the light, with velocity c, and h is a constant named after Planck. His reasoning only needs the use (or misuse) of the two equations E=mc**2 and E=hv to set m=hv/c**2. So why does Dr. Silva need to invoke de Broglie? Is it because some people put their hand round their own head to scratch their own nose? Or was it another debating diversion (like the discussions of Buddhism) to get more wiggle room for himself? Even Einstein is said to have stated that E=mc**2 is basically an energy-matter conservation law rather than a law for setting the masses of quantum particles. If Einstein’s equation sets the masses of quantum excitations, why does one invoke a Higgs field for that purpose? As Dr. Silva states at the start of many of his articles, some authors write without a clear understanding of what they write.
If the invariant mass m0=0, then according to E=mc**2, the particle’s energy should be zero, which is not so in general. The maximum speed (of any particle) is c in any frame, and the four quantities (momentum, i.e., px, py, pz) and E should transform as a four-component vector. Taking m=0 is the one choice for the photon which is consistent with that and the deeper symmetry considerations (like gauge symmetry), CPT invariance etc., that I discussed in my previous article. Dr. Silva has ignored all these and attempted to impose his own wishful think in choosing a finite “mass” for the photon. In General Relativity the mass is a function of 10 components of a tensor, and the simple setting m=hv/c**2 as the mass of a photon is Dr. Silva’s dangerous simplification of nature.
Instead of discussing the gauge-symmetry and other implications of his proposal, Dr. Silva has re-worked a standard elementary exercise found in the well-known text book by Taylor and Wheeler. It will work for any finite mass m, and does not establish that the photon can, or cannot have a mass. Prof. Tennakoon (an ex-Director of the Institute of Fundamental Studies, Kandy) remarked in an e-mail rejoinder that “all this boils down to the following statement. ‘Photon rest mass is zero, its energy E measured in an inertial frame can be written as E= hv/c**2 in mass units’. Note that E and therefore v are not Lorentz Invariants, but the rest mass is an invariant”.
So, Dr. Nalin the Silva has given a “I have coconuts in the sack” type of answer when asked “where are you going”?
It may be true that you can buy one ton of bricks using a 1000 rupee note. But that does not mean that the rupee note has a weight of one ton. Just because the energy of a photon has a mass equivalent of hv/c**2 does not imply that the photon is a massive particle. Stating that the photon has a mass sounds as absurd to a physicist as the claim that the earth is flat.
Dr. Silva stated that I took the case of the “photon mass” to demonstrate his physics errors. I like to remind him that he took Prof. Amaratunga to task for making a distinction between mass and energy for quantum particles, displaying E=mc**2 as his trump card, whereas such a distinction is entirely correct. So perhaps Dr. Silva has forgotten the many physics errors that I brought to light. But I am sure the discerning reader has not forgotten them.
If Dr. Silva was to propose a new way of doing quantum electrodynamics using a finite photon mass, with the mass equivalent of the energy manifesting as a particle mass, then such new theories should not be announced in the Vidusara. A proper place would a peer-reviewed research journal. If that does not work, he can follow his colleague Dr. Jayasumana and publish his new hypothesis in the same journal as Jayasumana et al., after paying 1500 Swiss francs or what ever the going rate is, with no questions asked by any bothersome referees.
Bodhi Dhanapala, Quebec, Canada.