November 09, 2013

Horse 1566 - Just a Small Thing

- Crash Course Chemistry #37, The History of Atomic Chemistry

Hank Green explains very early in this video, the idea that the ancient Greeks; specifically Leucippus and Democritus came up with the idea that it you keep on cutting things in half, eventually you'll find a particle which is uncuttable. Indeed the word 'atom' itself comes from the two Greek words 'a' meaning 'not' and 'temnō' for 'I cut'.
Now whilst the rest of the video is interesting and does a very good job at explaining Atomic Chemistry, I think that it's worth revisiting the thought experiment. Just how far can you cut something?  Whilst Atoms can be broken into Protons, Electrons and Neutrons, they themselves can be broken into things like Bosons, Leptons, Quarks and Mesons. How far can those be cut? Just how far can you keep on smashing things into ever smaller spaces until they cease to be matter?

Or is something else going on here? Is matter itself like some sort of fractal thing? If we were to keep on zooming in on the infinitesimally small, would we just keep on finding infinitely smaller particles? That brings into question the existence of particles smaller than we can measure and indeed smaller than current models of matter and indeed mathematics itself can handle.
Of course the existence of an infinite God in all of this wouldn't cause any problems at all, because if God is infinite in the scale of the very big, then He'd easily be able to handle the infinitesimally small as well.

If there genuinely is an actual uncuttable 'atom' which would be more like Leucippus and Democritus actually suggested  instead of what we call an atom, which would be wrongly named, then why pray tell would it have such properties.
Again I turn to mathematics here and the incredibly strange properties of the number 1. 1 one is the identity for multiplication and is therefore as a result, its own square, its own cube its own nth root in every direction. 1 is its own factorial as well. 1 is also the empty product as any given number multiplied by 1 will give that given number. Actually come to think of it, log base 1 is a stupid concept since 1 raised to the anything equals 1 and therefore can not really have an inverse.

Just how small does a thing have to be before its uncuttable? Is it some form of energy popping in and out of existence like virtual particles? Are there things so small that they float between the realms of reality and not reality? Did Mr Schrodinger and his poor cat happen to hit on something?
It should be obvious to all and sundry by now that I do not possess the ability to answer any of these questions; I don't know even how to frame most of them. I do know though that it's possible that maybe  Leucippus and Democritus idea of an actual atom, one that is uncuttable is entirely possible.

Maybe the whole universe itself is merely an idea. If it could be created out of nothing (and no, Quantum Mechanics predict that matter can be created and destroyed from nothing; so sorry to those people who think that the 'law' of conservation of mass/energy is a hard and fast rule) then maybe the smallest true atom is really nothing more than an idea. Maybe the idea of a universe being created from a word isn't so stupid after all.

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