All matter originates and exists only by virtue of a force.

Max Planck

 

 

 

There is a persistent view of the material world in which every object is composed of separate particles, called atoms, which are themselves composed of still more separate particles, called subatomic particles. Those particles which cannot be divided into smaller parts are called elementary particles, or quanta, making them the ultimate substance of the entire universe. This picture of things gives us convenient and useable model of what the physical world seems to be, such as in the Standard Model of particle physics, but the more we come to understand just what quanta are, the more we begin to see how limited this classical view is. First of all, matter and energy are both composed of quanta and today are considered to be merely two different aspects of the same thing, which could be called, in the tradition of spacetime, matterenergy. Even the distinction between a particle and a wave becomes fuzzy in the quantum realm. Quanta can literally act like either a particle or a wave, which has led to them being referred to as wavicles.

In the Standard Model, quanta are treated as perveyors of the force fields of creation, while pure field theory allows for the fields to be primary and quanta to be meerly manifestation of the underlying force fields. Either way, only through our limited experience and measurement of quanta is phuysical reality realized, and these scattered enigmatic pieces seem to hint that a deeper reality exists. As convenient and logical as it is to think of the universe as being composed of separate particles scattered around in empty space, this classical view of things simply does not provide a complete picture of the way things are.

 

The atom is best described as a dynamic system of quantum processes, a resonating pattern of interacting force fields. The closer we look into the atom, the more intense these processes become and the more any notion of solidity seems to 'zoom away' to a deeper level. In a very real sense, the realm of the quantum becomes just as far away as the realm of the quasar. Mathematically, today's model of the atom is built from multidimensional gauge fields and vector bundles, a sort of "emptiness" full of ethereal symmetries, and the whole experience of the solidity of matter arises from the mutual repulsion of negatively charged electron fields. It is a surface illusion. Even the electron itself is not solid. Like all quantum particles, it must be treated mathematically as a singularity, and without any way to ever know its precise position and momentum at the same time, it is entirely impossible to pin it down as an "object in spacetime". It is important to realize that this ethereal nature of matter is not merely a limitation of the mathematics of physical theory, but is in fact a most fundamental characteristic of physical reality.

Even the classical notion of empty space has been replaced with the quantum vacuum, a quantum foam of creation and destruction. Quantum theory allows that at any point in the vacuum of space there is a certain probability that a real particle, a quantum, will simply pop into existence out of nothing, along with what is called its virtual particle counterpart, only to immediately annihilate each other again back into nothingness. In fact, this process is considered to actually be happening all the time, at every point in the vacuum of space. In 1974, Stephen Hawking combined quantum theory and relativity, particle physics and cosmology, by conceuptually placing a black hole in the quantum vacuum. The result was the startling realization that, through a very strange process, black holes actually emit energy, and the smaller they are, the hotter they shine. In some cases, they could even be indistinguishable from white holes, and in all cases, they eventually evaporate away to nothing.

The most mind-bending realization to come from modern physics is the fact that there is some sort of connection between quanta that completely ignores spacetime separation, even if the quanta are at opposite ends of the Universe. These are called nonlocal connections and while being dealt with in various ways in theory, they remain a completely illogical yet entirely real aspect of the quantum world. Somehow, even though we see macroscopic matter as separated by space, we must consider the quanta that make up this matter as existing in a dimension in which nothing is separate. Exactly how this can be certainly defies objective logic, but it is real -- it is as fundamental to physical reality as the quanta are themselves. The experience of matterenergy in spacetime requires a level of understanding that goes well beyond objective logic.

 

Today's mathematical models of the quantum realm have implications that reach back to the earliest stages of the Universe, yet they will never be objectively verified in the way classical Newtonian mechanics has been. It is simply not practical to do so. The scientist of today must rely on emerging patterns and hints experienced at the relatively macroscopic level of the particle accelerators, and finally on the aesthetic beauty of the mathematics itself to help establish which direction to take toward truth. This brings to mind the famous words of John Keats: "Beauty is Truth, Truth Beauty." (from "Ode on a Grecian Urn")

Strangely enough, aesthetics and intuition are more than ever guiding the intellectual community in their quest for understanding the most fundamental principles of the Universe. It is at least satisfying to know that these "new" visions of reality are fundamentally simple and intuitively beautiful. It would appear that we could say, Beauty is indeed Truth, and physics has become metaphysics.

"It is quite clear that beauty does depend on one's culture and upbringing for certain kinds of beauty, pictures, literature, poetry and so on... But mathematical beauty is of a rather different kind. I should say perhaps it is of a completely different kind and transcends these personal factors. It is the same in all countries and at all periods of time." -- Paul Dirac

 

 

That which cannot be seen, nor seized, ...
the eternal, the omnipresent, infinitesimal,
that it is which the wise regard as the source of all beings.

Mundaka Upanishad
I Mundaka, 1 Khanda, 6