Sunday, July 7, 2019

The Energetic Nature Of Matter

                                                                                                  written 1 July 2019
                                                                                              published 7 July 2019

            Our experience of separation seems validated by the material world, which appears as parts.
            Atom, coming from a Greek word meaning "uncuttable", defines the smallest indivisible part of an element. Classical Newtonian physics views atoms as discrete and specific, like very tiny billiard balls.  One gram of hydrogen contains 600 billion trillion atoms. But deeper investigation of atoms shows they are made of parts that are even smaller, and rather than being solid, atoms are relatively empty.
            A hydrogen atom, the simplest of atoms, has a single proton in the middle and one electron defining a sphere surrounding it.  If the proton was as large as a bowling ball, the electron would be smaller than the period at the end of this sentence, located almost 3 miles away from the bowling ball, enclosing an empty spherical volume of 99 cubic miles.  
            Looking more closely, material reality becomes even stranger.  The proton and the electron of the hydrogen atom contain all the mass of the atom, but we now know that mass is condensed energy, from Einstein's famous equation, E=MC2.  As I mentioned in a previous article, the mass equivalence energy of a full bottle of Boont Amber beer is 13 megatons of TNT, 1000 times more powerful than the Hiroshima bomb.  So, every speck of mass represents a large amount of energy.  But the very structure of space/time, even when empty of mass, contains an even greater amount of energy, called zero-point energy.
            I first came across the concept reading Physicist David Bohm in the 80's.  He presented that a cubic centimeter of space/time contained as much energy as the mass equivalence energy of the entire Universe, an extremely large number. This suggested that, despite representing a huge energy equivalence at the human scale, the presence of mass is really a very small fluctuation in the total energy field. 
            At the time, I was working at the University of California, San Diego, and called the physics department for further information. The researcher tasked with answering calls from the general public was very polite, and confirmed my understanding of the fundamental concept.  Many years later, I was on a cruise up the inland passage to Alaska, and two of our dining table companions happened to be theoretical physicists.  I sat with them one afternoon and got further clarification, and information that zero-point energy had been verified in experiments.
            In the quantum view of reality, matter is not a specific "thing", but a distribution of probability which has no sharp edges. At the edge of detection, matter seems to appear as a froth, "manifesting" out of nothing and disappearing again very quickly.  This frothing was used to detect black holes, demonstrating their physical reality, which had previously been a theoretical consideration.
            The material world is now understood as an exceedingly fine ripple structure on the surface of a vast energy ocean.  What we experience is the shape of this energy surface, where each apparent speck of matter is a small relative increase of energy perceived against the entirety of the ocean.  But in our macroscopic experience of the world, matter seems to endure in time, and can be arranged to serve some form of purpose.  How might this work?
            The Newtonian world view assumes that matter is the ground of reality, and consciousness is a result of material complexity, specifically in the brain.  There is growing evidence in quantum research that this is backwards: that consciousness is the ground of reality and the material world is an object within consciousness, like a dream we perceive.  Matter may be a four dimensional, space/time surface, existing within a higher dimensional volume that is conscious.  To bring it down to something we can actually imagine, if matter is like the surface of an ocean, the shape of matter might be created by patterns in consciousness, similar to wind blowing over the ocean surface, creating surface shape, but not part of the surface.  Matter may be a consequence of conscious intention, which answers the question of how it can seem to endure, and serve a purpose.  All of a sudden, the New Age aphorism that "we create our own reality" might not be limited to just perception.