Copyright © Jeffrey H. Boyd, 2010
Lewis E. Little was born in Glenn Ridge, New Jersey in 1941. His father Julian was a brilliant Uniroyal chemist; his mother taught school. He was the middle of three kids. He had a rugged childhood, devoid of affection, with a fair amount of domestic violence. His parents split up when he was two. His brother and sister went with mom, but mom disliked Lewis because he looked so much like her husband. Lewis stayed with his father, who married twice more. The third wife came into Lewis’ life when Lewis was 14. Even in that family, Lewis reports little to no affection and more violence.
One of his teachers at Wayne High School declared that Lewis was mentally retarded, but I remember that they tested his IQ: he scored above 196. At the time I was in Boonton High School with an IQ that, when compared with Lewis, put me in the dimwit range. He has been like a meteor in my sky since he came into my life when I was twelve years old.
He is my cousin by virtue of his father’s third marriage. Marge Little (his step-mother) is the younger sister of my mother, Ruth Boyd. Both sisters married similar men: brilliant guys with Asperger’s. When I was twelve years old, Lewis Little entered my life. He and I used to sit on Grandma Beech’s living room floor in Caldwell, NJ playing three-dimensional tic-tac-toe at Thanksgiving and Christmas family gatherings, and we’d design strategies for a four-dimensional tic-tac-toe game. We decided five dimensional tic-tac-toe was too abstract to even ponder.
He won all sorts of science awards and got a scholarship to Brown University, to the top Applied Mathematics department in the country. I was so enthralled that I followed him into Applied Math at Brown three years later. He graduated with highest honors in 1962. He was troubled by the weirdness of quantum mechanics, and decided to go to graduate school in physics at Princeton University to discover whether he was nuts, or quantum mechanics was nuts. After bashing heads with the leading quantum professors in the country, over a period of years, Lewis came to the uncomfortable conclusion that it was quantum mechanics, and not he that was nuts. “I knew that quantum physics was wrong,” he said.
It wasn’t just quantum mechanics that bugged Lewis. It was the assumption in physics that mathematics is what is important; that math is what is “real,” whereas reality isn’t important. That was in part due to the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics. Einstein had argued that mathematical equations refer to something in reality, whereas Niels Bohr had argued “No.” That was a debate that, in the mind of physicists, was won by Bohr. Since the Einstein-Bohr debates Einstein has been held in high esteem by the lay public, but taken down several notches in physics. Since the Einstein-Bohr debates reality has been less important than mathematics among physicists, Lewis claims. Lewis consistently sides with Einstein. Mathematical equations refer to something in reality; they don’t just float off in the abstract stratosphere.
Lewis often says things that go over my head, like bats at dusk. He says, “The physicists define physics as the science of measurement. That isn’t how you should define physics. The science of measurement is the definition of mathematics, not physics. Physics should be defined as the study of the physical aspect of real objects.”
That was a turbulent time inside Lewis’ head. When we met during the 1960’s he would rant and rave about how insane he thought quantum mechanics was. At that time I decided that he was an arrogant fool, because how could the leading physicists in the world be wrong? At that time Lewis had no explanation, no theory to offer as a better alternative than quantum physics. To Lewis it seemed irrational and unethical to continue to study at a place where he had such fundamental differences, so he left Princeton. When it comes to ideas, Lewis is a man of passion.
He did many things after that, including studying and teaching physics at NYU (New York University), where he graduated with a PhD in physics in 1974. He sent out 125 letters seeking an academic position teaching physics at some university, and received zero response. He believes that his refusal to accept quantum mechanics torpedoed an academic career for him. That was a bitter disappointment, and he yearned for decades for his lost career as a physics professor.
Many physicists, trained in statistics and mathematics, end up with a day job doing something else, such as Wall Street. That is what happened to Lewis. He became a commodities trader by day, but a mad scientist by night. He worked all alone, isolated, with no peers to bounce physics ideas off. He knew quantum mechanics was wrong, and he worked hard to figure out a logical explanation of quantum experiments. For thirty years he devoted every extra moment and weekend to pondering subatomic physics, reading textbooks and research papers. He says his wife didn’t appreciate that all his spare time was funneled into that black hole.
One might ask what would motivate someone to knock his head against a brick wall for so many decades that eventually the wall fell down? Lewis did not know if he would solve this problem. Einstein had failed to solve it. Many people had pondered the problem and come up with no solution. Lewis had no reason to think that he would succeed. Indeed during some periods of depression he despaired of the hope of solving the subatomic physics puzzle. But he couldn’t walk away from it either. He was like a man possessed, like a moth attracted to a flame. Part of what motivated him is that he wanted his career as a physics professor. He thought the only way to get that career was to show that quantum mechanics was wrong, by offering the world a better theory.
Lewis kept making the same mistake Einstein had made decades earlier: namely assuming the validity of wave-particle duality. Every five years Lewis would cycle through the same series of thoughts, trying to make head or tails of this enigma. This process of percolating and recycling ideas inside his own brain went on for three decades, non-stop. He was like a dog with a bone, a bone with his name on it. So if anyone ever asks you where the elementary wave theory came from, you can tell them that a single guy with no budget, no research grants, no support from fellow physicists, cooked it up in his kitchen during thirty years of hard labor.
In the early 1990’s Lewis had returned to pondering the EPR experiment and Bell test experiments, which he had pondered five years earlier, and five years before that. If you reject the idea of non-locality, as Lewis did, then how could you explain the experimental results? The only possibility was that something must travel from the detector to the photon source, carrying information. What could that “something” be? He couldn’t figure out what “something” was. Research proved there were no “hidden variables.” There were only waves and particles, nothing else. It all made no sense. It was an insoluble paradox.
Then in March 1993 his wife said something in the other room, and suddenly an idea crystallized in his brain, “Perhaps it is the wave that goes in the other direction!” That was an idea that had never occurred to anyone in the history of humankind, as far as we know. With that thought all the pieces of the puzzle fell into place. His new idea could explain both quantum physics and special relativity. Schrödinger’s cat and quantum weirdness were obsolete. That day, when all the pieces of the puzzle fell into place, was the happiest day of Lewis’ life. He knew that he had been victorious. His decades of grueling labor had paid off. He was ecstatic.
You might wonder what his wife said that triggered all the pieces to fall together in Lewis’ brain. The answer is that no one knows what she said. Whatever it was, it was unrelated to the subject we are discussing here. Neither Lewis nor his wife remember what exactly she said.
That day, in March 1993, not only did Lewis Little have the pleasure of knowing that his thirty years of work had paid off, he also thought that the physics community would applaud when they heard his theory. Who knows, that might lead, he thought to his dream coming true: that at long last he abandon his lucrative career trading commodities, and do what he really wanted, which was to make much less money teaching physics at some college or university. That night he went to bed a happy man. His theory was first published in 1996 in Physics Essays.
Lewis and I had been out of touch. I didn’t hear that Lewis had achieved what I call “Enlightenment” until seven years later when I and my family went to his house for the eightieth birthday party of his step-mother Marge Little, in September 2000.