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Starry Night of Van Gogh and the Wave-particle Duality of Quantum Mechanics

By Prof. Jose Iraides Belandria

The starry night of Van Gogh details a stunning night sky with the moon and eleven stars that seem dazzling suns in an undulating dynamic universe. The stars radiate their light in the blue space, moving, rotating in the middle of the night, like a mythological constellation. While the stars dance in a whirl wave, the peaceful village seems to sleep unaware of the frenzy of the cosmos.

Among other interpretations, the starry night seems also an anticipation of the quantum nature of light and the subatomic world modeled by physics of the twentieth century. In the painting, bright bodies rotate and oscillate about the imaginary waves of a blue starry sky with nuances like atoms or subatomic corpuscles moving and vibrating in the energy ripples of the unfathomable quantum universe. Each star shines as an atomic nucleus, spinning and radiating light and energy trough the undulating and vibrating ether. The bright halo of stars and the moon resembles an electronic cloud revolutionizing around a central core, similar to the current picture of the atom. At the same time, the set looks like a multitude of particles immersed in a whirlwind of semispherical bodies of incandescent colors, yellow, white, and clear tones, immersed in a dark blue swirl. Some strokes are like spiral trajectories of subatomic particles traveling through an ionized bubble chamber. When we look on each star it appears that brush strokes creates particles and antiparticles that vanish upon contact with colors. Amid the stars, strokes are perceived as waves and spirals of light and energy that spread through the undulant space.

The painting is like the simulation of the wave-particle duality theory of light and matter postulated by quantum mechanics. It seems that Van Gogh, in a creative impulse, had displayed the actual images of the atoms and created a starry night analogous to the quantum world. In a way, Van Gogh created a cosmos like the innards of the atom visualized by contemporary physicists involving the analogy of corpuscular and wave nature of matter and energy. Paraphrasing to the alchemists, in the starry night of Van Gogh, the macrocosm resembles to the microcosm.

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