What is an electron?
Back when I went to high school just at the dawning of the crazy 1960s, the model we were shown of an atom’:http://www.sr.bham.ac.uk/xmm/images/atom/atom_350_234.gif was that of an object with a dense nucleus made up of little balls called neutrons and protons, with tiny balls orbiting the nucleus much as the planets of the solar system orbit the Sun. Of course, even at that time particle physicists knew that the atom looked nothing remotely like that simplified representation. In fact, if we had eyes that could see at the Planck scale, what an atom would really look like would truly blow our minds. When they developed the tools to look, what they saw blew the minds of the nuclear physicists studying it. Words just seem inadequate to describe everything that’s really going on at the quantum mechanical level.
The now famous double slit experiment gives us a hint that electrons are unlike anything we know of in the medium-scale world in which we evolved. When we add in a measurement and then see what happens if we do or do not record the data of the measurement, the double slit experiment becomes hugely bizarre. Our consciousness controls the reality of subatomic particles. The wave of potentialities of an electron or photon does not collapse simply because a measuring device looked at it. It is only affected if WE look at what the measuring device recorded, or if we set up a data recorder so that we COULD look at some point in the future.
We have senses finely tuned for survival in this world, where our hunter-gatherer ancestors needed to avoid lions and tigers and crocodiles, find food and shelter, seduce mates, nurture offspring, etc. We didn’t evolve needing to interact with things that are measured in angstrom units or Planck lengths, or things at the scale of billions of light years, and so we can’t even begin to see things at those levels. And when you begin to use instruments to measure and report what’s going on at those levela, you might be thankful we don’t see it.
How electrons really behave defies common sense and is difficult to put into words. Electrons are definitely not particles. They aren’t waves in our understanding of that word. Yet they behave somewhat like a particle and somewhat like a wave. So what the heck are electrons? And, as Dr. Quantum asks, what the bleep does an observer have to do with any of that?