What lies beneath? Fields, particles and “an ocean of energy”
A previous post about Nobel laureate Frank Wilczek explored his deep understanding of physics at the elementary particle level. Here we try to visualize what we know of elementary particles — which really aren’t particles at all — and discover the deep mysteries of what lies beneath even them.
Will we ever get to the very bottom? The search for truth intuitively in our scientific age is a process from going from the complex to the simple that lies beneath. We look at the unimaginable vastness of the universe and study its properties and history by following its path to the moment of birth. We look at human life and trace its beginnings to a common ancestor in a single-celled creature and its functions by analyzing each of the components needed to make up life and human distinctiveness. Even in studying human society we walk back through time to before the migration from the Great Rift valley, back to ape-like creatures huddled around campfires.
Going from the complex back to the simple may be intuitive in arriving at fundamental understandings, but we find things are not as simple as we might like. In physics everything funnels down to elementary particles as described in the Standard Model. But this model is far from simple and settled. Even what are called “elementary” particles are far from simple. And now we find, we are not yet at the bottom. There is still another turtle.
Certainly, we know far more than we used to and have harnessed that knowledge into tools, technologies and enhancements in our comfort and lifespans. Despite theremarkable progress made over the past three hundred years of exploring nature using the scientific method, we find mystery upon mystery. What seemed a process that would lead to clarity as we reach the most basic elements, we find bigger and deeper questions.
Particles aren’t particles
Visualizations are crucial to understanding. We think in pictures. To try to grasp something difficult we try to illustrate it. Democritus, about 2400 years ago believed that everything was made up of tiny little things he called atoms. Atom meant something that couldn’t be divided. When you get to that level, you are at the bottom and from those very small things, everything can be…