Flexi Matter

Earlier this year, a team of scientists at the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics, led by Randolf Pohl, made a highly accurate calculation of the diameter of a proton and, at .841 fm, it turned out to be 4% less than previously determined (.877 fm).  Trouble is, the previous measurements were also highly accurate.  The significant difference between the two types of measurement was the choice of interaction particle: in the traditional case, electrons, and in Pohl’s case, muons.

Figures have been checked and rechecked and both types of measurements are solid.  All sorts of crazy explanations have been offered up for the discrepancy, but one thing seems certain: we they don’t really understand matter.

Ancient Greeks thought that atoms were indivisible (hence, the name), at least until Rutherford showed otherwise in the early 1900s.  Ancient 20th-century scientists thought that protons were indivisible, at least until Gell-Mann showed otherwise in the 1960s.

So why would it be such a surprise that the diameter of a proton varies with the type of lepton cloud that surrounds and passes through it?  Maybe the proton is flexible, like a sponge, and a muon, at 200 times the weight of an electron, exerts a much higher contractive force on it – gravity, strong nuclear, Jedi, or what have you.  Just make the measurements and modify your theory, guys.  You’ll be .000001% closer to the truth, enough to warrant an even bigger publicly funded particle accelerator.

If particle sizes and masses aren’t invariant, who is to say that they don’t change over time.  Cosmologist Christof Wetterich of the University of Heidelberg thinks this might be possible.  In fact, says Wetterich, if particles are slowly increasing in size, the universe may not be expanding after all.  His recent paper suggests that spectral red shift, Hubble’s famous discovery at Mount Wilson, that led the most widely accepted theory of the universe – the big bang, may actually be due to changing particle sizes over time.  So far, no one has been able to shoot a hole in his theory.

Oops.  “Remember what we said about the big bang being a FACT?  Never mind.”

Flexi-particles.  Now there is both evidence and major philosophical repercussions.

And still, The Universe – Solved! predicts there is no stuff.

The ultimate in flexibility is pure data.


The Ultimate Destiny of the Nature of Matter is Something Very Familiar

Extrapolation is a technique for projecting a trend into the future.  It has been used liberally by economists, futurists, and other assorted big thinkers for many years, to project population growth, food supply, market trends, singularities, technology directions, skirt lengths, and other important trends.  It goes something like this:

If a city’s population has been growing linearly by 10% per year for many years, one can safely predict that it will be around 10% higher next year, 21% higher in two years, and so on.  Or, if chip density has been increasing by a factor of 2 every two years (as it has for the past 40), one can predict that it will be 8 times greater than today in three years (Moore’s Law).  Ray Kurzweil and other Singularity fans extrapolate technology trends to conclude that our world as we know it will come to an end in 2045 in the form of a technological singularity.  Of course there are always unknown and unexpected events that can cause these predictions to be too low or too high, but given the information that is known today, it is still a useful technique.

To my knowledge, extrapolation has not really been applied to the problem that I am about to present, but I see no reason why it couldn’t give an interesting projection…

…for the nature of matter.

In ancient Greece, Democritus put forth the idea that solid objects were comprised of atoms of that element or material, either jammed tightly together, as in the case of a solid object, or separated by a void (space).  These atoms were thought to be little indivisible billiard-ball-like objects made of some sort of “stuff.”  Thinking this through a bit, it was apparent that if atoms were thought to be spherical and they were crammed together in an optimal fashion, then matter was essentially 74% of the space that it takes up, the rest being air, or empty space.  So, for example, a solid bar of gold was really only 74% gold “stuff,” at most.

That view of matter was resurrected by John Dalton in the early 1800s and revised once J. J. Thomson discovered electrons.  At that point, atoms were thought to look like plum pudding, with electrons embedded in the proton pudding.  Still, the density of “stuff” didn’t change, at least until the early 1900s when Ernest Rutherford determined that atoms were actually composed of a tiny dense nucleus and a shell of electrons.  Further measurements revealed that these subatomic particles (protons, electrons, and later, neutrons) were actually very tiny compared to the overall atom and, in fact, most of the atom was empty space.  That model, coupled with a realization that atoms in a solid actually had to have some distance between them, completely changed our view on how dense matter was.  It turned out that in our gold bar only 1 part in 10E15 was “stuff.”

That was, until the mid-60’s, when quark theory was proposed, which said that protons and neutrons were actually comprised of three quarks each.  As the theory (aka QCD) is now fairly accepted and some measurement estimates have been made of quark sizes, one can calculate that since quarks are between a thousand and a million times smaller than the subatomic particles that they make up, matter is now 10E9 to 10E18 times more tenuous than previously thought.  Hence our gold bar is now only about 1 part in 10E30 (give or take a few orders of magnitude) “stuff” and the rest in empty space.  By way of comparison, about 1.3E32 grains of sand would fit inside the earth.  So matter is roughly as dense with “stuff” as one grain of sand is to our entire planet.

So now we have three data points to start our extrapolation.  Since the percentage of “stuff” that matter is made of is shrinking exponentially over time, we can’t plot our trend in normal scales, but need to use log-log scales.

And now, of course, we have string theory, which says that all subatomic particles are really just bits of string vibrating at specific frequencies, each string possibly having a width of the Planck length.  If so, that would make subatomic particles all but 1E-38 empty space, leaving our gold bar with just 1 part in 1E52 of “stuff”.

Gets kind of ridiculous doesn’t it?  Doesn’t anyone see where this is headed?

In fact, if particles are comprised of strings, why do we even need the idea of “stuff?”  Isn’t it enough to define the different types of matter by the single number – the frequency at which the string vibrates?

What is matter anyway?  It is a number assigned to a type of object that has to do with how that object behaves in a gravitational field.  In other words, it is just a rule.

We don’t really experience matter.  What we experience is electromagnetic radiation influenced by some object that we call matter (visual).  And the effect of the electromagnetic force rule due to the repulsion of charges between the electron shells of the atoms in our fingers and the electron shells of the atoms in the object (tactile).

In other words, rules.

In any case, if you extrapolate our scientific progress, it is easy to see that the ratio of “stuff” to “space” is trending toward zero.  Which means what?

That matter is most likely just data.  And the forces that cause us to experience matter the way we do are just rules about how data interacts with itself.

Data and Rules – that’s all there is.

Oh yeah, and Consciousness.


Wacky Ideas from my Past – #3 The Anti-Nitrogen Cruiser

In the standard model of particle physics, every particle has an antiparticle, a particle which has opposite properties, such as charge (e.g. a positron is the antiparticle of the electron).  Currently, it takes a fairly high energy particle accelerator to generate antiparticles artificially and actual antimolecules were created only recently (at CERN in the 1990s).  When an particle encounters its antiparticle, they annihilate each other and release a burst of energy equivalent to e=mc^^2.  As this is the most efficient conversion of fuel possible, it was a source of fascination for endless science fiction writers, especially with respect to the anti-matter drive, which is based on the idea of generating energy via the annihilation of matter and antimatter.

My idea, however, was sort of the reverse idea – that once somebody figured out a good energy source and a reverse reaction that would produce a steady stream of matter and antimatter, there was a great opportunity for a clean and efficient engine for a flying car.  It starts with the generator of nitrogen and antinitrogen.  Since air is 78% nitrogen, if you shoot your stream of antinitrogen out the front of the vehicle, it will annihilate the nitrogen in the air, creating a vacuum that sucks the car into it, propelling the car forward.  At the same time, the other byproduct of the reaction, nitrogen, can be shot out of the back of the car creating additional propulsion in the same direction.  Since the same amount of nitrogen would be created as destroyed, there would be no harm to the environment (ignoring for the moment all of the high energy gamma rays emanating from around the car).  Through a network of plumbing, the stream of antinitrogen could be squirted out of the bottom of the car (for lift), top of the car (descent), sides of the car (parallel parking), simultaneously from a front bumper to the side and the opposite rear to the other side (banking), and any other kind of maneuver that you could desire.  The possibilities would be endless.

Limitless fuel, high efficiency, ultimate maneuverability, and eco-friendly (again, except for the gamma rays).

So where are we in relation to this technology?  CERN has their antiproton decelerator, perhaps the closest system to trapping antiprotons for study.   But it is still a few hundred meters in diameter, barely controls enough antiprotons to be useful, and only generates one kind of antiparticle.  We area a long way from the Anti-Nitrogen Cruiser.  I predict seeing one in the showrooms around…


Jetsons car