How do physicists picture an electron in their minds?

I don’t.


Let me explain.

Quantum physics starts when we take equations from classical Physics and play around with them to come up with equations which, in addition, have solutions that are classically correct, but also solve problems that don’t make sense in a classical context. These solutions are still real.

Do you remember the famous line from The Matrix, “There is no spoon?” It is really that simple. There is no classical electron path. There is no electron place. Or momentum.

Any attempt to visualize an electron, be it in a cloud, a miniature gunball, or a wave, will result in the destruction of its quantum nature. The electron is no longer what you see. It is best to see a snapshot of some properties of the electron when it is observed. The electron cannot be seen at all other times.

It is not something I try to visualize. This is one rare instance where abstract math can be more meaningful than trying to make a visual model. This is something to keep in mind when you look at a Feynman diagram. These legs are not particles as much as one might like to believe. They are a graphic representation of terms in an integral’s series expansion. Although it may seem convenient to consider them particles, this can be misleading.

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