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What’s Wrong With the Theory of Elementary Waves

Public discussion of Lewis Little’s  Theory of Elementary Waves  (TEW), a theory of physics once recommended by Harry Binswanger,  has petered out. In its heyday the following now dead or moribund websites promoted the theory:

Lewis Little & Prodos Marinakis :
www.web.archive.org/web/20140105155006/http://elementarywaves.com
(which superseded
www.web.archive.org/web/20070503065754/http://www.yankee.us.com/TEW )
Stephen Speicher www.speicher.com/tew.html

In 2008 Little completed his book, The Theory of Elementary Waves: A New Explanation of Fundamental Physics.  The forward is by Robert Prechter, a stock market analyst.

Jeff Boyd, who worked with Lewis Little from 2010 to 2012, later set up a website promoting TEW. In 2014 Lewis posted to Objectivism Online:  “I would ask anyone interested in learning about my ideas to please ignore anything written by Dr. Boyd.”

I wrote the following in 2001 when discussion about TEW was active and haven’t thought about it since. It may be of use to people misled by the above.

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Here’s what’s wrong with TEW:


# 1.  The fantastic character of the theory’s fundamental
        constituent, the elementary waves.


They are described as real, physical, existing – yet what physical unit measures their amplitude ?  What is their dimension ?  None is given in the theory.


# 2.  In fact the waves must be dimensionless.

The square of their magnitude is a probability, which has no units. (If taken as a factor to obtain an average, it’s a percentage). Thus we have in one of these waves a physical object, with no physical dimension.


# 3.  The theory is manifestly statistical, yet it is claimed to be
        deterministic.


We find “probability” and “Feynman propagator” (which is a probability amplitude) on page after page of the theory’s  exposition.

Where there is a number called a probability, something is being considered random. Pushing that randomness back, say back to emission, won’t get rid of it in the theory. The elementary waves are wedded to probability.

The theory gives no definition of the wave’s amplitude independent of a probability. What waves in an elementary wave is a probability amplitude – a number whose magnitude squared is a probability.

There is nothing wrong with that, by itself. There exists a concept of randomness compatible with causality, one can argue. I suspect all quantum theories will be statistical.

What is wrong is that TEW’s proponents refuse to acknowledge that their own theory is essentially statistical. They claim TEW is a deterministic theory that is merely incomplete.

If so, since the waves are measured by a probability, what becomes of them when the theory finally gets completed, all of it deterministic ?

Do they suddenly disappear ?

If there is no probability inherent in the world, what is it doing inherent in elementary waves ?

If a phenomenon ceases to be considered random because an advance in scientific knowledge allows its prediction, what becomes of the elementary waves of probability that had been mediating that phenomenon ?

The phenomena TEW addresses must be intrinsically random – if the waves are to be part of this world.

TEW rejects randomness for fundamental particle emission such as for photons and electrons. If we accept that such processes are deterministic, that though apparently random they aren’t intrinsically random, then elementary waves can have no real interaction with these processes, because such an interaction involves the essential characteristic of elementary waves, their amplitude – which has no definition independent of a probability amplitude.


# 4.  The ambiguous use of the word “determinism.”

What the theory predicts are probabilities, statistical distributions. The theory is not deterministic, not in the sense of predicting phenomena completely from preceding events.

The theory predicts statistical distributions of trajectories, not individual trajectories. To say predicting probabilities is determinism is to torture the English language.

The theory’s “determinism” consists only in the reality – determinedness if you will – of particle trajectories. Because dice don’t lose their reality while in midair transit from hand to floor, dice games are “deterministic” – in the sense TEW uses the word.


# 5.  The artificial division of the world into targets and detectors

The waves scatter coherently (i.e. in a way such that their future effects add) from each point of what the experimenter considers the detector (e.g. screen), yet incoherently from what he considers the target (e.g. double slits).

But there is nothing in reality to distinguish target from detector. They are just masses. The action of the waves thus depends on the mental state of the experimenter – who might walk out of the room.

Again, the waves cannot be objective.


# 6.  The reification of Feynman diagrams.

Reification is the fallacy of treating an abstraction as something material, concrete.

Feynman diagrams are very much an abstraction. They are a graphical device for calculating particle production rates. They are planar diagrams in which the line lengths are arbitrary. The lines for anti-particles, if understood as trajectories, would depict a particle going backwards in time.

TEW takes this diagram as a graph of the trajectories of real physical particles.

How is the translation accomplished ?  How can a planar topological schematic diagram – not to mention particles going backwards in time – be a spatio-temporal picture of three dimensional metric reality ?

There is no answer in the current exposition of the theory.


# 7.  Waves freighted with a manifold infinity of parameters.

The theory posits an actual infinity of wave parameters. It won’t work otherwise.

Take the particle diffraction experiment. The novelty of the theory is that the screen affects the source (through both slits), rather than that the source affects the screen (through both slits) as in a de Broglie type theory.

In order for this to avoid action at a distance – where coherent waves of the correct frequency instantly appear from screen to source – waves of all frequencies must be traveling (from the screen backwards) so that the particles can be affected by the appropriate frequency.

The screen doesn’t “know” the momentum of the source’s particles. But it can “tell” the source about the slits, via the reverse waves.

Furthermore, these waves continue on and will interact with other objects and measuring devices, involving other parameters besides momentum. One more infinity for each type of parameter.

And that’s not all. For each position in space there is another level of infinity, namely a wave in each direction. Thus a three-fold infinity of waves goes through every place: parameter, frequency, direction.

And these waves are real, physical things.


# 8.  Another of these parameters is an inertial frame.

As Bent Helland points out, the Special Relativity aspect of the theory requires that the velocity of the source particle relative to the detector be one of the physical parameters of the waves coming from the detector.

The problem is that a velocity must be relative to some inertial frame.

Frames are a fiduciary device. Though in a given situation some frames will be more convenient than others, typically one in which some object of interest is at rest, there can be no preferred frame in Special Relativity, with which TEW claims to be consistent (indeed explain).

In his reply to this, Stephen Speicher says that the rest frame of the detector is “reflected” in the waves coming from it.

If so, not only do the waves carry parameters of every possible attribute that a potential source they may chance to interact with could have, they also carry the inertial frame of their most recent interaction.

Again, these elementary waves are fantastic.

Mr. Speicher concludes that “the photon particle will travel at  c  [the speed of light] with respect to the instantaneous rest frame associated with the interaction of a wave with the particle detector.”

The constancy of the speed of light is what wants explaining. The question goes unanswered:  how the coherence can reflect the frame in the first place, unless, as Bent Helland pointed out, we subscribe to the notion of absolute velocity, that is, a preferred frame from which all these velocities are measured.


# 9.  The emission parameter paradox.

This is a chicken and egg problem.

Elementary waves of all frequencies from each point of the detector hit the source. An electron gets emitted in response to the sum of those waves that correspond to its momentum – that is, those waves of wavelength equal to  Plank’s constant divided by that momentum.

The question is, which momentum ?  The electron’s momentum before emission, or after emission ?

How can the emission depend on the electron’s future momentum of which it is the cause ?

Again:  In an electron diffraction experiment, let  p  be the common momentum of the electrons from the source. Whatever the internal workings of the source, the electron’s response to the waves depends on the emitted electron’s momentum. That momentum must be  p  in order to obtain the diffraction pattern. Yet the momentum before emission is not  p.

At what point do the elementary waves engage or latch on to the electron ?  How do the waves know that what we consider the emission momentum, the final  p,  is the one to use ?


# 10. Failure to acknowledge that the concept of a localized photon
         and the results of Double Delayed-Choice experiments are
         incompatible.


If the DDC experiments are valid, either the usual notion of the photon must be abandoned, or locality must be abandoned.

TEW depends on both. (Feynman diagrams require the photon).


# 11. The theory claims to explain all quantum phenomena.

Yet all the applications presented are to emission phenomena:  source – target – detector.  It’s hard to see how the waves could apply to other kinds of quantum phenomena, e.g. the quantized Hall effect.


# 12. The theory claims that only reverse waves can explain
         the famous double slit experiment.


It claims that the Moving Screen Paradox by itself implies (not just is some evidence for or suggests) that the screen, heretofore regarded by science as a passive receptor, must in fact affect the trajectories of what it receives.

The argument in briefest outline:  There must be waves somewhere, look at that pattern on the screen – just like a diffraction pattern (setting aside that it builds up one particle at a time rather than appears all at once). The waves cannot go forward – that’s the usual quantum mess. Eureka, if they go backward that explains everything.

The fallacy is in the first premise:  that there must be waves at all.

Alfred Landé, a famous pioneer in the theory of atomic spectra, following up an idea of William Duane, showed that positing quantized momentum changes of the target (in this case the double-slit screen, and in general any mass density such as a crystal) will yield the distribution of particle hits on the screen – a distribution that only appears to be caused by some sort of interfering waves.

See Alfred Landé’s books:
From Dualism to Unity in Quantum Physics
New Foundations of Quantum Mechanics
Quantum Mechanics in a New Key

While we’re mentioning references, instead of Little’s theory of “vectons” – another construct like his elementary waves, purporting to explain electromagnetic instead of quantum phenomena – we recommend the work of the late Oleg Jefimenko:  Causality, Electromagnetic Induction, and Gravitation.

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In conclusion, the Theory of Elementary Waves is no theory at all. Though some of the problems above are problems of exposition, and others might be deficiencies that could be patched up somehow or other, several are fundamental to the theory:  # 1, 2, 5, 6, 9, 12.

Persuasive endorsements attended this theory’s introduction. The theory does not hold up under examination.

Self-righteousness is no substitute for facts. The bluster and bullyragging of some of TEW’s promoters is totally inappropriate.


How not to criticize TEW

Some TEW critics, notably Travis Norsen, focus on DDC (double delayed-choice) experiments perhaps because, if these experiments are valid, one needn’t look at the details of TEW to show it false. DDC demolishes a wide class of theories that includes TEW as a special case.

In my opinion this is not the best way to criticize TEW. It grants to TEW the status of a substantial theory, when in fact per above it is half-baked and pretentious.

The DDC argument against TEW in outline runs as follows:  DDC experiments must obey Bell’s Inequality if a local hidden variable theory is to explain them. TEW is a local hidden variable theory; and DDC experiments are claimed to violate Bell’s Inequality (that is, the theorem’s assumptions apply yet the inequality doesn’t hold). Therefore TEW never will explain DDC.

A comparatively simple argument. No need to worry over the details of TEW, elementary waves of all frequencies freighted with energy parameters, spin parameters, inertial frames, and God knows what else.

In spite of this, the alleged DDC evidence against local theories should not be the primary reason for rejecting TEW. Though DDC avoids the complex (and obscure) details of TEW, the DDC experiments are complex as well, and physicists continue to debate them.

Even if the experiments were simple and uncontroversial, still they should not be the main argument against TEW. Definition and consistency are more fundamental than agreement with a valid experiment, though of course the latter is necessary.

The basic problem with TEW is that it is undefined and contradictory. Nothing exists to agree with experiment. It’s not really a theory at all. To put it another way: If we found a local explanation of DDC, still TEW would be wrong, still lack any explanatory power.


TEW’s  supporters

TEW’s supporters seem genuinely interested in science but in many cases their enthusiasm is emotionalism, eagerness without much reason.

These people, some by their own admission, cannot evaluate TEW first hand. Their education in physics is almost nil and instead they rely on the late Stephen Speicher as an authority. Two things seduce them:  1. Mr. Speicher writes well and admiringly when he proclaims the rationality of TEW.  2. One wants it to be true – one wants a rational, objective account of Quantum Mechanics and a hero to root for.

Though not really understanding physics, they wax enthusiastic merely because some eloquent people claim TEW is rational and based on observation.  They cheer the team but do not understand the game.

Dr. Little discusses metaphysics and its relation to physics fairly well, pointing out the problems in traditional physics and what’s desirable in a new theory. But his own theory is flawed. The most telling flaw is that the physical units of his theory’s fundamental constituent, the elementary wave, is undefined. (Mr. Speicher once claimed it was energy, then refused to discuss it ! )

Dr. Little and his advocates – using such words as  “rational,”  “objective,”  “induction” – muddy the stream of discourse for any future physicist who tries to introduce a really valid theory.