The notion that all reality (mass, space, time, and energy) consists of discrete energy quantums is counterintuitive. For example, an electric current consists of individual electrons flowing in a wire. However, you do not notice your television flickering as the electrons move through the circuits. The light you read by consists of individual photons. Yet, your eyes do not sense individual photons reflected from the page. The point is that our senses perceive reality as a continuum, but this perception is an illusion. In the following, we will examine each element of reality one by one to understand its true nature. In this post, “Do We Live In A Quantum Universe? – Part 1/3,” we will start by exploring the qunatized nature of mass.

Mass—the sum of all its atoms.

We will start with mass. Any mass is nothing more than the sum of all its atoms. The atoms themselves consist of subatomic particles like electrons, protons, and neutrons, which consist of even more elementary particles, like quarks. (Quarks are considered the most elementary particles. I will not describe the six different types of quarks in detail, since it will unnecessary complicate this discussion.) The point is any mass reduces to atoms, which further reduces to subatomic particles. The atom is a symphony of these particles, embodying the fundamental forces (strong nuclear, weak nuclear, electromagnet, and gravity). Does all this consist of energy quantums? In the final analysis, it appears it does, including the fundamental forces themselves. How can this be true?

In the early part of the Twentieth Century, the theory of quantum mechanics was developed. It is able to predict and explain phenomena at the atomic and subatomic level, and generally views matter and energy as quantized (discrete particles or packets of energy). Quantum mechanics is one of modern science’s most successful theories. At the macro level, which is our everyday world, any mass is conceivably reducible to atoms, subatomic particles, and fundamental forces.

Science holds that the fundamental forces (strong nuclear, weak nuclear, electromagnet, and gravity) mediate (interact) via particles. For example, the electromagnetic force mediates via photons. We have verified the particle for all the fundamental forces, except gravity. A number of theoretical physicists believe a particle is associated with gravity, namely the graviton. The graviton is a hypothetical elementary massless particle that theoretical physicists believe is responsible for the effects of gravity. The problem is that all efforts to find the graviton have failed. This is an active area of research, and work continues to find the graviton, and to develop a quantum gravity theory. If we assume gravity mediates through a particle, the case is easily made via Einstein’s mass-energy equivalence equations (E = mc2) that all mass, as well as the fundamental forces, reduces to energy quantums.

Although, we are unable to prove conclusively that all masses, including the fundamental forces, consists of discrete energy packets, numerous scientists believe they are. This realization caused Albert Einstein great distress. He wrote in 1954, one year prior to his death, “I consider it quite possible that physics cannot be based on the field concept, i.e., on continuous structures. In that case, nothing remains of my entire castle in the air, gravitation theory included, [and of] the rest of modern physics.” Einstein, who grew up in the world of classical physics, was a product of his time. Classical physics utilizes the concept of fields to explain physical behavior. The fields of classical physics are a type of invisible force that influences physical behavior. For example, classical physics explains the repulsion of two positively charged particles due to an invisible repulsive field between them. Modern physics explains this repulsion due to the mediation of photons, which act as force carriers. The main point is that mass and the fundamental forces are ultimately reducible to discrete elements, which equate to discrete packets of energy (quantums).

In the next post, “Do We Live In A Quantum Universe? – Part 2/3,” we will explore the nature of space. We will address the question: Is space quantized?

Source: Unraveling the Universe’s Mysteries (2013), Louis A. Del Monte

Image: iStockPhoto (licensed)