QED - Section 4

I am going to assume that you are familiar with the properties of light in everyday circumstances — things like, light goes in straight lines; it bends when it goes into water; when it is reflected from a surface like a mirror, the angle at which the light hits the surface is equal to the angle at which it leaves the surface; light can be separated into colors; you can see beautiful colors on a mud puddle when there is a little bit of oil on it; a lens focuses light, and so on. I am going to use these phenomena that you are familiar with in order to illustrate the truly strange behavior of light; I am going to explain these familiar phenomena in terms of the theory of quantum electrodynamics. I told you about the photomultiplier in order to illustrate an essential phenomenon that you may not have been familiar with—that light is made of particles -- but by now, I hope you are familiar with that, too!

Now, I think you are all familiar with the phenomenon that light is partly reflected from some surfaces, such as water. Many are the romantic paintings of moonlight reflecting from a lake (and many are the times you got your- self in trouble because of moonlight reflecting from a lake!). When you look down into water you can see what's below the surface (especially in the daytime), but you can also see a reflection from the surface. Glass is another example: if you have a lamp on in the room and you're looking out through a window during the daytime, you can see things outside through the glass as well as a dim reflection of the surface of glass.

Before I go on, I want you to be aware of a simplification I am going to make that I will correct later on: When I talk about the partial reflection of light by glass, I am going to pretend that the light is reflected by only the surface of the glass. In reality, a piece of glass is a terrible monster of complexity—huge numbers of electrons are jiggling about.

(from QED, by Richard Feynman, p. 16)