Posts Tagged ‘physics’

Our elementary teachers taught us the world is made of atoms. Atoms have a middle bit called the nucleus. The nucleus is made of protons and neutrons. Then there’s a cloud of electrons that orbits the whole thing. That’s an atom. But I’m losing you already. No need to be polite, I can feel it. There’s a resistance to these matters, I know, especially among the poetic, and the romantic. The material world, for us, is all oceans and trees and fluffy clouds. It’s birds and bees, and fancy red wine. It seems impertinent, even a bit dangerous, to enquire any deeper, but I thought I’d have a go anyway, see if at the bottom of this rabbit hole, there is any poetry.

Here goes then:

If we make it to higher school physics, we learn the number of protons, neutrons and electrons decides what type of atom it is – iron, titanium, helium, zinc,… whatever. Atoms of different types can combine to make molecules. Molecules make more complex materials.

College physics goes further – and here we start our journey into a realm of exotic language. Electrons, says our old, white-coated lecturer, are stable elementary particles. They are indivisible, and have an independent existence. But protons and neutrons are made of ephemeral things called quarks. Quarks come in six varieties, or “flavours”. Someone with no sense of humour called them: up, charm, down, bottom, top, and strange.

Then we meet the spaced out post-grad, high on weed, who explains things further: on their own, quarks are flaky and useless, but they combine into groups called hadrons. Hadrons are like teams. You’re stronger and last longer, as part of a team. The hadrons come in two varieties: mesons and baryons. The mesons are pairs of quarks. These are unstable and gone in the blink of an eye. It’s always an early bath being on team meson. The baryons are three quarks in various combinations, and they fare better. We find our protons and neutrons in this group, and they’re the most stable, especially the protons. Well, they last long enough at least to make atoms, and the world, and therefore a party worth us showing up for. The rest of the baryons are little better than the mesons in being here today and gone tomorrow.

Protons have two “Up” and one “Down” quark, while neutrons have two “down” and one “up” quark. It’s a tough job, being a quark. If you want to hang around for long enough to make a difference in the world, you need to be on a team of uppers and downers.

But you remember the electron? It’s not alone in being a stable elementary particle. There are five others: the electron-neutrino, muon, muon-neutrino, tau, and tau-neutrino. These form an independent super-team called the leptons.

So, where are we? I’m getting lost now. We have leptons, and hadrons. The hadrons consist of mesons and baryons. The leptons and the quarks, which form the hadrons, are all known as fermions. The fermions are what can manifest as matter. Everything else is a ghost. But just when you were thinking you’d had enough, and your head’s starting to spin, you discover there’s another team that gives rise to the forces of nature, and these are the tough guys, the bosons.

There are five bosons: the Higgs, the photons, the gluons, the W bosons, and the Z bosons. Each force has its own boson. The strong force has the “gluon”, the electromagnetic force has the “photon”, and the weak force has the “W and Z bosons”. The Higgs is a special case, and gives rise to the mass of any particles it interacts with. Particles have no mass of their own and have to borrow it from the Higgs, which is harder to describe as a particle because it isn’t one. It’s a field that pervades the entire universe.

In fact, says that stoner post-grad, the thing is, there are no particles as such, even though we say there are. It’s just an analogy, something we can visualise, but that’s not to say particles are what they are, literally.

A better, though more mysterious, description is a field of potential. Like the surface of a lake, when you apply energy, by swishing your hand in it, it causes a ripple. The ripple is the particle. But the particle isn’t a particle, it’s a localisation of energy. It’s all energy, you see? Or rather, you don’t, because there’s nothing to see. So, the punchline is the more you peer into the materials that make up the world, the more you begin to realise there’s actually nothing there. And that’s the only way anything can be said to exist at all.

Now that’s poetry!

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tree of life paintingAccording to the theory of parallel universes, every time we make a decision, our personal universe splits into however many possibilities we are presented with. Roll a dice, the universe splits into six, and six versions of ourselves are led off into each of them. Toss a coin, the universe splits into two – one for heads, one for tails. The universe becomes a multi-verse, one of infinite possibility, the result not only of our own decisions, but the way the decisions of others, and chance events in the manifest world, impact upon us. It’s a staggering idea, but one that is taken very seriously by physicists and cosmologists as they explore the twisty turney rabbit hole of Quantum Mechanics.

If this is the way things are, one of the most important rules we’re bound by is that once we’re committed to a particular universe, there can be no going back. We can’t buy a blue car one day, then wake up the next with a red one. Our timelines must be consistent with all previous events. Of course there’s considerable unease over the idea too, with critics telling us the theory is light on actual “theory” and top-heavy on universes. While this is true, I’m still open to the possibility, and why not? If the multi-verse is infinite, it can’t be filled, no matter how many universes you pour into it, but I have the advantage of being unconcerned with scientific rigour – just fictional plausibility.

If we think of our lives as inhabiting any number of potential universes, splitting off many times a day as we make even the most trivial decision, our multi-dimensional growth can be visualised as a tree in which every single possibility for our lives is realised within its ever-bifurcating branches. Some branches may not extend very far, with poor decisions or even just bad luck leading to our early demise. Other branches lead to long lines in time, and a grand old age, but these might be lives where chance and poor decisions have resulted in unhappiness. Other branches of course may trace lines through times of great hardship but lead eventually to the promised land of inner happiness and well being.

But humans are hard to satisfy, and no doubt you’ll soon be wondering if you’d be any happier than you are now if you’d only taken some other path. Without the ability to go back and remake those decisions though, there’s no point in reminiscing and lamenting the choices we’ve made. It’s a metaphysical dead end, and the idea of parallel universes becomes one of purely theoretical interest, one of making the sums add up, rather than helping to make any real sense of our lives. As story tellers though, if we can come up with plausible ways in which one might indeed set up lines of communication with our alternate selves, or indeed swap places with them, we can have lots of fun.

In my current work-in-progress, the protagonists have realised it’s the only way to avoid an asteroid on a collision course with the earth. There’s no need for Bruce Willis and a nuclear bomb – you just search the probabilities, find a timeline in which the asteroid’s course is slightly different, misses the earth completely, and Bob’s your uncle. There’s still a version of your self who dies in the impact, but it’s a self who’s no longer in the line of your newly-current conscious self. You’re not aware of your demise, so you don’t care – if you know what I mean.

But in the story – because it’s a story – there’s a price to pay, such as will the ideal partner you’ve just met, the woman you’re convinced is the one true love of your life, still be around in that other time line when you’ve jumped, and if not, is it better to live a longer life without her, or to experience love as you’ve never known it, knowing full well you’ve only got a week left to enjoy such a profound mutual awakening? Once I’ve solved that conundrum, I’ll have my conclusion and final chapter in the bag – and thank goodness for that because it’s making me dizzy and I’ve still got white rabbits running about all over the place.

But why stop there? You could search all the other timelines in which the asteroid misses the earth and in which you meet someone else who blows your mind even more. Then you could search for the timeline in which you were not only stoned out of your mind in love with this person, enjoying the best sex you’ve never had, but also all the scenarios where you’ve made the right investment decisions too, avoided the crash, and are living the life of Riley, retired at forty to a beach house with a sky-pool in the Bahamas. And if you didn’t like the idea of ageing, you could find a way of entering a timeline at any point, pick a nice long line that yields all the stuff of your dreams, trace it back and enter it in your twenties, just as the ride starts to pick up. But no life is perfect, so skip sideways for a bit to avoid that day when someone robs your house, then skip back later on, once the emotional hurt has healed. Heavens, you could become a time travelling, materialistic pleasure seeker, cherry picking the best bits of all the possible versions of your life!

I think you can see where is going.

by fall of night cover

coming soon

It would take great discipline for such a time traveller not to waste their multi dimensioned life, enjoying the rush of the best bits, because it’s the tough bits, the puzzles, the confusion of choice, the insults, the injury, the heartache, the bits we are most tested by that we learn the most from. But who would willingly submit themselves to the most unpleasant parts of their lives if they thought they could avoid it? This is the manure that makes the tree grow in all of its dimensions, and without it we might as well never have been born.

Perhaps I should be more grateful that my awareness is limited to this single line through time. It might not be perfect, but it is at least authentic. If there are other versions of myself, living out the lives I did not choose, I’d be better just letting them get on with it.

And if I’m not mistaken that’s my conclusion staring me right in the face.

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