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Can Reality Be Represented In Dual Aspects?

More from Dr. Mrittunjoy Guha Majumdar

The world of Physics saw a quantum revolution that quite literally saw a quantum leap, breaking asunder centuries-old ideas of reality and establishing new ones. From the Annus Mirabilis 1905 to the middle of the twentieth century, luminaries such as Planck, Einstein, de Broglie, Compton, Bohr, and many others strove to understand different aspects of the realm of quantum physics.

Wave/Particle Duality. Image courtesy of Pete | Flickr

There were some aspects that defied intuition and visualization, especially given that the quantum picture was fundamentally at variance from the classical picture, be it the probabilistic dynamics being seen therein to ideas such as `spooky action at a distance and the whole debate on what is real and whether reality depends on our measurements.

One major concept that came to the fore in those early years was that of the wave-particle duality. Wave-particle duality describes the reality of every quantum entity being able to be described as either a wave or a particle. It highlights that the classical concepts of a `particle’ or `wave’ cannot completely describe the behaviour of quantum entities.

Albert Einstein once famously wrote: “It seems as though we must use sometimes the one theory and sometimes the other, while at times we may use either. We are faced with a new kind of difficulty. We have two contradictory pictures of reality; separately, neither of them fully explains the phenomena of light, but together they do.”

Neils Bohr saw this duality and paradox as a metaphysical side of nature that is fundamental. In his conceptualization, a quantum entity can show particle-like or wave-like behaviour depending on the physical settings we are observing it in. This was substantiated by the developments over the previous two centuries while looking at light, which showed wave-like interference patterns and particle-like effects such as the Photoelectric effect depending on the kind of experiment that was being undertaken.

While Bohr thought that one might have to look more closely at the principle of causality in space-time itself to understand quantum mechanics, having spoken about this at great length in the paper “On the Notions of Causality and Complementarity“, Heisenberg could still visualize causality with the introduction of the concept of second quantization that generated the concept of fields that do exist in ordinary space-time.

Although light had been discussed at great length over the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, in the context of its dual nature, it was in 1924 that Louis-Victor de Broglie formulated the de Broglie hypothesis showing that matter, that had been regarded as particulate in its composition, also had a wave-like nature.

Over the years, we have seen the wave-like nature even on large objects, such as C60 fullerenes in 1999 and Tetraphenylporphyrin (H2TPP) in 2003 at the University of Vienna. Thereon, there were many explanations for this inherent duality, including the de Broglie–Bohm theory that spoke of a pilot wave associated with every entity whose particulate aspect would ‘ride’ the wave, thereby reconciling the two dual aspects of the entity.

While Bohmian mechanics has had proponents and critics over the years, another area of Physics that definitely had a far stronger claim to removing these ambiguities was Quantum Field Theory. The idea of a “quantum field”, which pervades all space, allows solutions to the operative equations to follow the wave equation, while the irreducible representations of the Lorentz group permitted by the field are labelled as ‘particle’.

The first-ever photograph of light as both a particle and wave was taken by scientists at the École Polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne in 2015. In this experiment, a stream of electrons was shot close to a nanowire, which carried confined light that sped up or slowed down when interacting with the electrons. These changes could be tracked by an ultrafast microscope, and thereby one could see the standing wave that acts as a fingerprint of the wave nature of light, while the exchange of energy between photons and electrons happened in packets (quanta) of energy, thereby showing both the wave-like and particle-like aspects of light.

While the interpretation and visualization of the wave-particle duality have encompassed everything from the only-wave to only-particle to both-wave-and-particle pictures, what intrigues me the most is the possibility of the fourth: neither wave nor particle interpretation. Certain physicists have argued that quantum entities are neither particles nor waves but rather only some apparent intermediate between them.

Arthur Eddington coined the name wavicle to describe entities in 1928. There has been widespread discussion on everything from the non-physicality of a zero-dimensional mathematical point or even the un-normalizable Dirac Delta function is used to represent particles. Conversely, the infinitely spread out momentum states also cannot be normalized, as highlighted by Nobel Laureate Roger Penrose in his work “The Road to Reality: A Complete Guide to the Laws of the Universe”.

In ancient India, we have had the logical argument of the Catuṣkoṭi (चतुष्कोटि) that is an indivisible quaternity which has seen applications in various Dharmic and Buddhist traditions of logic and epistemology as well as in Pyrrhonism. This four-cornered system of argumentation involves the systematic examination of each of the four possibilities of a proposition P: P, not P, P and not-P, neither P nor not-P.

R. H. Robinson, in his work “Some Logical Aspects of Nagarjuna’s System“, speaks of Nagarjuna’s application of the fourth in this quaternary, saying that “This double refutation is called the Middle Path”. Even in the Nasadiya Sukta, we see the double refutation, in that case of existence and non-existence both, to describe the ultimate reality.

The application of the double refutation in the case of the physical world, in terms of modern Physics, is seen in the case of quantum dualities. In the recent past, there have been conceptualized experiments that show that light is neither a particle nor a wave, such as in Luiz Carlos Ryff’s work “Neither Particle-like nor Wave-like Behaviour of a Photon“, published in Causality and Locality in Modern Physics by Springer in 1998. There have been concepts such as that of a Quanton by Mario Bunge that tries to look beyond waves and particles as well.

However, the key question here is: if the wave-particle duality is actually found to be a non-duality, can we associate a third conceptual element with explaining it? One may feel that this negation can be done ad infinitem, as the Madhyamaka proponents or Buddhists or even Vedantin would do to establish that reality is beyond binaries and dualities finally. But since we talk of the physical sciences, one must rely on actual empirical findings and not just theorizing.

After all, even String theory, arguably the most complete and mathematically consistent “Theory of Everything“, is not accepted as one conclusively since it still lacks experimental backing. Nevertheless, we are reaching new frontiers in Physics, both experimentally and theoretically. Let us hope we can soon empirically establish on firm grounds the fundamental role of duality and non-duality in describing our physical reality.

Featured image courtesy of Pete|Flickr
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Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

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The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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