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How Can an Electron Be in More Than One Place at the Same Time?

A single electron CAN have a pretty specific location at a special moment in time, the moment that it interacts with another particle and creates a physical change in our universe (more later). However, an electron has no specific location when it acts as a wave in a quantum field. A wave can also be called an excitation or a disturbance of the field. In any event, the electron, when in the wave state, is spread out over a region of space.

However, upon interaction with something else in our universe, it will assume a pretty specific location. (This is, by convention, called the moment in which the electron is “measured.”) And the location in which the electron will be found upon interaction, is more probable where the amplitude of the electron wave is highest. Its PERMITTED locations are calculated using Schrodinger’s Wave Equation. Its PROBABLE locations are calculated as the square of the amplitudes of Schrodinger’s Wave Equation.

[Note: Schrodinger’s Equation is used to calculate the probable locations of a group of electrons. Using it to calculate the location of a single electron would be something like using the average height of women to predict the height of the next woman you see – not too sensible nor accurate. The average height of a women, however, would be helpful in predicting the heights that you’re likely to find in a random sample of all women. Same thing with Schrodinger’s Equation—it makes more sense to use it to predict the probable locations of a group of electrons.]

Returning to a single electron… by definition, the location of the electron won’t be found until it’s detected. It might be detected, for example, by a “cathode ray tube,” which includes a screen, the same kind of screen as on our TVs. The electron wave interacts with a spot on the detector screen; its energy is absorbed by the screen; and the screen gives off a tiny flash of light. A computer hooked up to the screen could record the location of the flash.

In this way, a single electron could be recorded at a specific location. However, the location is specific only in our macroscopic world. This would become clear if one looked at the flash with an overwhelmingly powerful microscope, stronger than we can currently even dream up the design of. If one used this microscope to look at the exact location of the electron as it hit the screen, the location wouldn’t be an exact point. Instead, at best, the electron would vibrate within a tiny space at the Planck-length scale. This is because of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle.

It’s important to note that when in the wave state, and prior to detection, it’s not just that we don’t know where the electron is. It actually has no specific location. Once it interacts with another particle, however, it randomly assumes a (fuzzy) specific location within the permitted locations specified by Schrodinger’s Equation. (Only when detecting a group of electrons can it be seen that the calculated probabilities have somehow guided the locations that the individuals in the group assumed.)

The electron has, at the moment of interaction, created information as to its whereabouts. Once that information is created, our universe has experienced physical change. Our universe works on the principle that that which has created a physical change (created information) goes into the past. And, now, that change will be a factor in creating the future.


What is the difference between an electron and a photon?

I had the same question. When I researched this at @Electricity is energy [the real title of the article is “Electricity Is NOT Energy”], I found out that electrons are tiny particles of matter. They are the bits of matter within an atom that vibrate around the nucleus of an atom. Electrons can also fly about freely or travel slowly and are not just found within atoms. In a copper wire, for example, they can be found loose, outside atoms, traveling slowly, a few inches per minute. 

Electrons have a negative charge, which means only that they move away from other negatively charged matter (other electrons) and are drawn to positively charged matter (protons, often ones in the nuclei of atoms). 

But photons are units (packets of energy) of an electromagnetic wave. They are not bits of matter. A type of photon that we experience very intimately all the time is the photons of visible light. These hit our retina and cause chemical changes or hit a photographic plate. In both cases, the photons create chemical changes which ultimately create images. 

Light is just one type of electromagnetic energy. Other types of electromagnetic energy are X-rays (a high-energy wave), waves that carry radio signals and TV signals, microwaves in a microwave oven, etc. All of the bits of energy that are associated with these waves are photons. 

Photons have neither negative nor positive charge. They are not matter and have no mass. They travel the speed of light when in a vacuum like in outer space (which is not a complete vacuum, really). But they can travel much slower when traveling through a medium like water or even air. 

Photons and electrons interact to create flows of electricity. Both are involved. Electricity is not merely a flow of electrons in a wire; it is also a flow of photons in an electromagnetic wave.