Foundation

A collection of articles explaining the foundation of what is being done here at Universal Serenity.

How Solid is the Physical Universe

The physical universe often appears overwhelmingly solid and unchangeable. Let us look how solid it really is and develop a feel for the opportunity to change it.

Before modern physics objects we could feel and touch were just considered to be solid, but when science started to dig deep into the structure of things we learned that those material objects, like the hammer to drive in a nail, was indeed finely structured into molecules and atoms of the elements it was built from - mostly iron in case of the hammer.

For a long time the atom seemed to be the smallest building block, strongly indicated by the choice of the word atom, the Greek word for 'indivisible'.

But in the late 19th and early 20th century it was discovered that the 'atom' actually had a structure and we all know the model of an atom of the nucleus consisting of protons and neutrons in the middle, orbited by one or more electrons.

Unfortunately this picture, as we learned it in school and how we probably still imagine an atom, is very misleading because it shows the particles as solid balls of something, and we assumed that it is something solid. This turned out to be an incorrect image as, first, these little electron-balls where not really balls that circled the nucleus like the moon circles the earth, but something that sometimes appeared to be a particle but at other times it behaved as a wave. Second, the scale was way off - the diameter of the whole atom is 10- to 100-thousand times larger than the nucleus. To give an idea of that relationship imagine a sphere of 20 miles diameter - then the nucleus would be a baseball.

That means that an atom is mostly empty space. Apply that image to the five pound hammer when you miss the nail and hit your thumb. That does not feel like a lot of space (the hammer) hitting another lot of empty space (your thumb). Yet we still consider objects as solid.

If we follow along with the development of science since the early 20th century, the situation becomes even more unreal. First a structure was found in the formerly solid building blocks of the nucleus - the protons and neutrons. With these building blocks of the nucleus, the quarks, we have entered an area where a direct observation of the pieces involved is no longer possible. The only way to make observations that allows conclusions of the inner workings of an atomic particle was to throw those particles at each other with such a high force that they broke apart and then look at the fragments flying out of that collision. The second, and current, development was the investigation of the structure of those quarks. The final word on what that might be is not out yet, but one of the leading theories is that they consists of very small oscilating strings - you might have heard the word string theory.

What it all boils down to is that there is nothing solid in the 'stuff' that we consider solid. It's mostly empty space and some strong force fields concentrated in the middle and weaker ones on the outside. There does not seem to be a principle difference between the air we walk through without even noticing and the wall that stops us cold.

This is all science as it is now practiced and taught in universities and research centers. It is simplified with all the math taken out, but hopefully these facts shake up your sense of reality and allow you to see that 'reality' is not chiseled in stone and definitely can be changed.

Just in case you would like to look into this a bit more, there is this great TED talk by Professor Brian Greene, explaining - without all the math - the basic ideas behind this string theory...

Science is broken - somewhat

One of the hallmarks of science is it's certainty that is is right. At least the established science that we learn in school. But history has shown us that this certainty was not always justified.

First of all this author wants to disclose that he was trained as a scientist and still has the hardest time to shed his scientific mind. The most drastic attempt to accomplish this had been to walk barefoot over glowing coals. The result of that experiment was that, for about half an hour, this scientific mind had been overwhelmed and his feet were OK, but after a short recovery period it kicked in with a vengeance, and the feet developed serious blisters.

Back to the certainty - often culminating in arrogance - of science. Generally, when a new science developed, the old one could be saved by making it a special case of the new. An example for this are Newton's laws. After Einstein created his special relativity Newton's laws where still - mostly - correct, at least when dealing with speeds that were much lower than the speed of light, which is the case for pretty much everything in our daily experience.

There are cases where even science has to admit that it was wrong. One example that comes to mind was the attempt to explain the sun before nuclear power had been discovered. During this pre-nuclear time scientists, assuming the sun was composed of mostly coal, estimated the remaining time for life on earth to be in the range of a few million years - the time for all the coal to burn up. With the invention of nuclear fusion that range has increased tremendously. Today science ascertains us that the explanation of the workings of the sun through the fusion of hydrogen is correct. But, to be honest, not very long ago, scientists were just as certain that their coal - explanation was correct as well. The coal theory had no chance of saving face when it was overturned.

Let us look at another example where the certainty of science was not quite justified. Towards the end of the 19th century science became convinced that the future was fully determined. Based on Laplace's postulation of a hypothetical, all powerful being that could know the location and speed of any and all particles in the universe at one time, the location and speed of each of these particles at a later time could be calculated, thus the future could be not only predicted by actually computed. That hypothetical mind was called Laplace's demon.

This state of science lasted into the beginning of the 20th century even though there were a few observed experiments that were not explainable by this view of the world. It required some obnoxious scientists that were not content with just disregarding those annoying irregularities to break the arrogance of the established sciences. These non-conformists started to investigate a bit deeper and the result was the Heisenberg principle that explains to us that knowing the speed and location of every particle at one point in time was impossible. Heisenberg discovered that if you know the exact location of a (very small) particle you could not measure, and thus know, its speed. Similarly if the speed was known exactly, the location could not be determined.

Laplace's demon was dead. All the work Laplace did was still valid as long as the objects where big, like planets or cars or marbles, but when dealing with molecules or atoms, physical laws where just different. Similarly to the effects of the Relativity Theory of Albert Einstein, the old science could be saved because it - mostly - applied.

Just as today scientists are very confident that their theories are truly describing reality, so where the physicists of 1899 certain that they could compute the future, at least theoretical.

What does all this mean in the context of our research for inner peace and serenity?

Simply not to take that what science tell us too seriously.

This author is still enough of a scientist not to throw each and any scientific result into the fiery pit and pull out a magic wand to get his broken computer or car working again, but he also will not discard observable results - even if only by him - just because the established science tell him it could not be so.

If scientists have been wrong in the past, could it be that they are also wrong - or ignorant - today, or is our science today really so good that there is no doubt that it describes the world correctly? If, today, some scientists might appear a bit too over-confident then we would expect that there are some observations that do not fit into the current interpretation of the world.

So we have to ask: Are there such observations?

And indeed there are!

One of those misfits is (a) the radioactive particle that does not do what it's supposed to do when being watched, and the other one is (b) the wave that knows the future.

(a) An unstable, radioactive, element has a specific rate of decay and if left alone that element will nicely decay at the rate established by many observers. But if under observation in a petry dish it will be shy and don't do its job of decaying at the prescibed rate. This author has to admit that he did not verify these results personally, but the next he has seen with his own eyes.

(b) Take an electric circuit and watch the voltage with an oscilloscope. The circuit contains a switch to interrupt the circuit and throwing the switch would just change the voltage from high to low instantly.

diagram of voltage dropping instantly when a circuit is interruptedIn other words, as soon as the switch is turned to off, the voltage goes down to zero. But this is not what actually  happens. If we zoom into this image just around the moment when the switch is thrown, here is what we really see.

oscillation of the voltage just before the circuit is interrupted

Before the voltage is actually turned off and goes down there is a little bit of an oscillation happening. But wait - before? How could the circuit know that it will be turned off soon, even if that soon is only microseconds?

It can't - at least not with our current explations of the inner workings of the universe. Causality seems to be broken. Entertain a little thought experiment. You make the decision to turn off the switch, shortly before you actully do it the osciallation on the wave starts and right there you change your mind. Would the oscillation now die away just leaving behind a measurement of your brief intention to turn off power? Or would the oscillaton never had happen, thus actually changing the past?

Mind-boggling, isn't it?

Does this open the door - at least a little bit - to accept that there is the possibility of behavior of the universe and the people within it, that is not currently explained by science?