Article ID: CBB001252229

Virtual Processes and Quantum Tunnelling as Fictions (2012)


Arthur, Richard T. W. (Author)

Science and Education
Volume: 21, no. 10
Issue: 10
Pages: 1461-1473

Publication Date: 2012
Edition Details: Part of a special issue, “Mario Bunge: Evaluations of His Systematic Philosophy”
Language: English

In this paper it is argued that virtual processes are dispensable fictions. The argument proceeds by a comparison with the phenomenon of quantum tunnelling. Building on an analysis of Lévy-Leblond and Balibar, it is argued that, although the phenomenon known as quantum tunnelling certainly occurs and is at the basis of many paradigmatic quantum effects, the implied conceptualization of it as a free particle burrowing through a potential barrier is flawed. An alpha particle, for example, does not exist as a free particle inside a uranium nucleus and then burrow through the massive potential barrier of the repulsive Coulomb potential: rather, it can be interpreted as existing in a bound state which gives it a corresponding (absolutely tiny, but) finite probability of appearing on the other side of the barrier. If the part of the state function representing the transmission through the barrier is conceived as representing a particle trajectory, the particle will have imaginary momentum and negative kinetic energy. A similar analysis then applies to virtual processes. For example, if (as in Hawking's conception of black hole radiation) one imagines a pair of particles created at the Schwarzschild radius, one of which drops into the black hole, at its creation that particle will have imaginary momentum and negative kinetic energy; so will the pion that is imagined as mediating the nuclear exchange force on the standard model. In each case, it is argued, the phenomenon can be understood in terms of a finite probability of transmission predicted by quantum theory, without appealing to particle trajectories. The idea that a particle penetrates a barrier that it does not have the energy to surmount, or that a pair of particles is virtually produced one on either side of the Schwarzschild radius, in defiance of energy conservation, should be discarded as unphysical.

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Article Matthews, Michael R. (2012) Mario Bunge, Systematic Philosophy and Science Education: An Introduction. Science and Education (pp. 1393-1403). unapi

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Authors & Contributors
Kaiser, David Isaac
Matthews, Michael R.
Rédei, Miklós
Svozil, K.
Huggett, N.
Tavel, Morton
Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part B: Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics
Science and Education
British Journal for the Philosophy of Science
Journal for General Philosophy of Science
Metascience: An International Review Journal for the History, Philosophy and Social Studies of Science
Endeavour: Review of the Progress of Science
Rutgers University Press
Cambridge University Press
MIT Press
State University of New York Press
Philosophy of science
Quantum mechanics
Fields and field theory
Statistical mechanics
Bunge, Mario
Bohr, Niels Henrik David
Kant, Immanuel
Everett, Hugh, III
Beck, Guido
Time Periods
20th century
21st century
19th century
Latin America

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