I don’t know a lot about quantum physics. I can’t tell you anything about matter or energy at Planck-scale sizes, outside of what I understand on Wikipedia (which isn’t much). I am, however, fascinated with the idea that the universe might actually have a basic resolution and matter-unit (or wave-unit, as the case may be) that it operates at, and how it ties into my other beliefs about the nature of the universe and what we as humans can learn.
So, here’s what I do know about quantum mechanics, as a precursor. As vastly, seemingly infinitely huge as the universe is, an atom is equally seemingly infinitely small. A single human hair is about one million carbon atoms wide. An atom is to the size of an apple, what that apple is to the size of the entire Earth. Apparently, atoms can be subdivided into electrons, protons, nuclei. The act of splitting an atom can produce massive amounts of energy, so much so that nuclear bombs are possible. Each of the particles that make up an atom, can also be subdivided into quarks, which may or may not be wave/matter hybrids.
Quarks, which are essentially to atoms (along with leptons) what atoms are to molecules, come in six “flavors” that we know of — up, down, top, bottom, strange and charm. Top, bottom, strange and charm are apparently highly unstable, and while they can be recreated briefly to be studied by scientists, evidently all the naturally occuring ones in the universe would have evaporated during the first few “insert-time-units-here” after the big bang. What’s left, up and down, can be arranged in groups of three to form protons and neutrons, taking exactly three to do so. They also cannot exist freely without other quarks in such a group of three — the further apart from other quarks they are, the greater the attraction to them, so they naturally glom together.
As hard as it is to wrap your mind about the idea that even atoms can be subdivided, it’s really difficult to think that possibly, just possibly, even quarks are not the basic unit of the universe. Once upon a time, molecules were thought to be that basic unit (and if you go back even further, you could include some of the wrong ideas that have existed, like “the elements” of fire, air, earth and water), then atoms were found to make up those molecules, and as the types of atoms were categorized and itemized and new ones were theorized, we discovered that atoms were made up of parts, and those parts made up of parts themselves. My banging away at this keyboard involves billions upon untold billions of quarks somehow interacting on every single keystroke, and that level of subdivision is mind-boggling. That said, if quarks aren’t the basic unit of the universe, what ultimately is? What, then, are quarks made of? Does this basic unit have a predefined grid that it has to fit onto? Is movement of everything determined on this grid, however infinitessimally small that grid might be? If so, then the time it takes for that basic unit to move from X=4 to X=5 could very well be the basic unit of time of the universe, one “CPU clock tick” in this computer simulation we call existence. That would imply that the speed of light, which is the fastest that light can travel in a vacuum, might be the absolute fastest that every most basic unit of matter can travel through space — e.g., that every single clock tick the matter is moving one grid point. Which might mean that faster-than-light travel is impossible. Or, we could learn that it’s possible to move two grids each tick, or three, or a hundred. Once we know the most basic unit that exists in this universe, and the most basic unit of time, and the most basic unit of space, then all the doors to understanding the universe will be unlocked, and it will just be a matter of walking through them all, and in the right order so as to actually figure out how this universe works, what its rules are, and how (if it’s even possible) to bend its rules. I figure that it will be impossible to actually observe the most basic units of matter, space or time without also altering them — in the same way that you can’t observe something on the quantum scale without altering it due to Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle. The fact that presently, we can only observe quarks and such by inference suggests to me that they may in fact be the basic unit.
This is why I love science. If something comes along and proves that everything we thought was right is in fact wrong, science will be revised according to the new evidence. There may be resistance to this new evidence, but new scientific facts don’t become facts simply by convincing people that they’re facts as opposed to whatever other tripe the opposition is spewing — they become facts because the opposition to these facts cannot prove the facts to be untrue, and eventually die out. Most scientific theory advances take at least a generation to take effect, in other words. Just because Galileo had the right idea in his model of the heliocentric solar system, doesn’t mean people would immediately flock to his ideas — they were suppressed for quite some time until all the opposition to it died out by virtue of not having the strength of veracity that his idea had. I’m personally anxious to find out the results of the tests being performed at the Large Hadron Collider because any one of them could either provide further evidence for what we already have figured out, or fundamentally put all our vaunted “learnings” on their ear. Either way, I’d consider the whole project to be a complete success. The only way it could fail is if experiments are never performed.
I get the feeling this post isn’t nearly polished enough to post, but I’ve been putting it off for too long, and if I don’t ever post it, I won’t really have the input from the masses that I need to refine my thoughts. So, here goes nothing.
It occurs to me that I really need a “science” category.
Edit: I’ve made a science category, and removed this post from “religion” and “space”.