On reality and sugar cubes
an exclusive guest post by Andy Fletcher
Andy is the founder and president of Life, the Universe and Everything, and leads paradigm-shattering school seminars on science and knowledge. After spending an morning with Andy, or reading his brilliant book you will never look at the universe in the same way again!
Part of the challenge of learning how to think, something that TOK endeavours to teach us to do better, is not only to overcome our assumptions about how things are, but to uncover what those assumptions are and where they come from.
As we gaze at the universe around us, it is our perception of reality that leads us astray. Reality is nothing like we think it is.
We assume that things exist as solid things, gassy things, liquidy things. That’s because everything we look at has the appearance of being made of solidy or gassy or liquidy things.
The reality is entirely different.
For example, let’s just take a quick look at matter. Matter, as we all know, is made of atoms. Atoms are made of protons, neutrons and electrons, except for hydrogen, which is only made of protons and electrons.
Now, see, that description of matter is sadly deficient. It ignores one other thing that atoms are made of. And that thing is nothing. Atoms include a healthy dose of nothingness, of emptiness.
Ah, well, we might say, the nothing doesn’t matter.
Yes, well. It does.
Let’s ask ourselves, how much nothingness is in an atom?
The answer is, there’s a million billion times more nothing than there is something in every atom. 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 times more nothing than something.
What does that mean? Can we find a way to understand it?
Sure. Let’s take every human on the planet and squeeze out all the nothing from every atom in every living human. There’s nothing left but the something, the protons, neutrons and electrons. No emptiness.
If we do that, then every human, every last one of the 7 billion of us, fits into a sugar cube. All of us.
Add another billion people.
We still fit in the sugar cube. Add another billion. And another. And another.
We still fit.
The universe only looks like there’s something there.
It’s an illusion.
And that’s just the starting point.
It’s nothing like what we think it is.
© Andy Fletcher January 2014
Just to offer an editorial comment on the marvellous state of our understanding of the universe:
1. It’s been 40 years since String Theory was proposed, and there’s still not a single thing we know to be true about. There is not one String Theory fact.
2. It’s been 30 years since Inflationary Theory was proposed, and there’s still no evidence in support of it. Almost, but still nothing definitive.
3. It’s been 40 years since we discovered the need for Dark Matter to exist, and we still haven’t a clue what it is.
4. It’s been 15 years since we discovered a need for Dark Energy to exist, and we still haven’t a clue what it is.
5. It’s been 80+ years since Quantum Theory appeared on the scene to explain how the universe is put together at the level of the very small, and it explains it perfectly, and there are legions of facts and supporting evidence, and it’s never wrong and it’s always right, and it still makes no sense to anybody.
6. It’s been 80+ years since Big Bang arrived on the scene to explain how the universe is put together at the level of the very large, and it explains is brilliantly, and there are legions of facts and supporting evidence, and most scientists who really understand it are not happy with it, and most people of faith refuse to believe in it because they don’t really understand it.
7. It’s been 80+ years since General Relativity and Quantum Theory arrived on the scene to explain the way the universe works in its entirety, and they’re both perfect and they’re never wrong, and they’re the finest fields of science known to man, and they are still entirely incompatible and don’t get along with each other.
What a great universe.
© Andy Fletcher July 2014