by Paul J. Dejillas, Ph.D.
Schrödinger and Heisenberg develop to the full the quantum theory begun by Albert Einstein’s idea about electromagnetism in 1904. In 1927, Heisenberg introduces what he calls the uncertainty principle when he observes that it is impossible, even in principle, to measure with great accuracy the exact position and momentum of a particle since the observer and the instrument used immediately changes the particle’s velocity and momentum (Isaac Asimov, p. 120). Why is this so? Let me go back in history a bit farther. The idea of electromagnetic waves is introduced by Michael Faraday (1791-1867), as a result of his experiments in chemistry and his work in electricity and magnetism that resulted to the discovery of electromagnetic induction.
Then, British physicist James Clerk Maxwell (1831-1879), who became professor of physics and astronomy at Cambridge University at the age of 25, pursues Maxwell’s works that results in the merger of electricity and magnetism and, in the process, discovers the nature of light as well (Konrad B. Krauskopf and Arthur Beiser, 1991:200-201). In 1864, Maxwell introduces the concept of electromagnetic waves, which are viewed as disturbances generated by an accelerated electric charge. Their existence is finally discovered in 1887 by German physicist Heinrich Hertz (1857-1894) exhibiting a behavior exactly described by Maxwell.
Already in 1924, Louis de Broglie maintains that the waves associated with moving particles travels with great velocity in a group or packet of waves. In a wave, then, it is difficult to know exactly where a particle is at a given time, much less where it will be a few seconds from now, and how fast it will be moving. The future cannot be known for certain because we cannot even exactly know the present or the “now.” Heisenberg’s idea is even applied to the large-scale Cosmos in the sense that, regardless, of the size, all objects are also believed to be governed by this principle, now known as the uncertainty principle. This uncertainty multiplies since, according to Heisenberg, any device one might use to determine the position of a particle would have an effect of changing the particle’s velocity and also momentum. According to this principle, the position and motion of particles can only be expressed in terms of probabilities. How? According to Heisenberg, the height of the wave would tell us of the probability that the electron would be there at a particular location at any given moment, but that the electron doesn’t have to be there also.
German scientist Erwin Schrödinger presents his analogy of a cat to bring home the uncertainty occurring in the quantum world. He invites us to imagine a sealed box containing a live cat and a canister of poison. The box is arranged in such a manner that if a radioactive decay occurs, the vial containing the poison would be broken and the cat dies. Then, the possibility is such that after some time the cat inside the box would only be either alive or dead. The atomic decay either happened or not. But there is no way of knowing since the box is closed. Quantum mechanics theorists argue that under this condition the cat exists in some indeterminate state, neither dead nor alive, unless an observer opens the box to know whether the cat is alive or dead. In the meantime, nothing is real unless it is observed. Thus, in quantum theory, one only predicts “the probabilities of alternative outcomes” (Alan Guth, 1997:117).
The discovery of quantum particles to exhibit apparently opposite features, like particles and their antiparticles or particles and the dual nature of particles as waves and particles, leads the Danish physicist Neils Bohr to advance in 1927 his so-called “principle of complementarity,” in which he maintains that isolated material particles can only be defined and observed through their interaction with other systems (1958:57). In his notion of complementarity, Bohr also sees the particle and wave dimensions as complementary representations of the same reality and both descriptions, according to him, are needed to complete the whole picture. Heisenberg (1958:107) later comments that as a result: “The world thus appears as a complicated tissue of events, in which connections of different kinds alternate or overlap or combine and thereby determine the texture of the whole.” It now appears that quantum theory reveals a fundamental reality, which physicist David Bohm (1917-1992) calls “unbroken wholeness,” clearly suggesting that we cannot decompose the world into independently existing smallest units. In the words of Bohm and Hiley (1974, 1975:96,102):
“Parts” are seen to be in immediate connection, in which their dynamical relationships depend, in an irreducible way, on the state the whole system (and, indeed, on that of broader systems in which they are contained, extending ultimately and in principle to the entire universe). Thus, one is led to a new notion of unbroken wholeness which denies the classical idea of analyzability of the world into separately and independently existent parts . .
As American physicist, Barbara Brennan, states in her book The Hands of Light: “Quantum physics is beginning to realise that the Universe appears to be a dynamic web of interconnected and inseparable energy patterns. If the universe is indeed composed of such a web, there is logically no such thing as a part. This implies we are not separated parts of a whole but rather we are the Whole." The interconnectedness of all matter in the physical universe also reflects the so-called non-locality phenomenon (attributed as the Bell’s theorem) which advances the view that occurrences on one side of the Cosmos can instantly effect 'matter' on the other side of the Cosmos. In simpler words, an event which happens in one place instantaneously causes an influence or effect of another event in some place elsewhere in the Cosmos. This theory is discovered in 1935 when Einstein, Podolsky, and Rosenberg (EPR) theorize that the simple act of measuring a particular particle at one particular location instantly influence another particle far away, an event which Einstein calls “spooky actions at a distance.”
Almost after 30 years later, Irish experimental physicist John Stewart Bell (1928-1990) conducts an experiment following the EPR theory, the results of which prove the latter to be true. Fritjof Capra interprets this feature in the quantum world in terms of unity, interconnectedness, and mutual interrelation of all things and events that arise in the quantum world. This sort of interpretation, he refers to as the “metaphysics of quantum theory.” In his words (1975:124): “Quantum theory ... reveals an essential interconnectedness of the universe. It shows that we cannot decompose the world into independently existing smallest units.” Particle scientists discover that atoms can now be divided. But, strangely enough, the resulting elements are also atoms of the same nature as the original atom, consisting primarily of the three major elements: protons, neutrons, and electrons, composed of matter (dense part) and energy (the subtle part).
In the process of observing the micro-cosmos, physicists are becoming certain that the observer and his or her observing instrument have direct and immediate effects on the nature and behavior of the observed fundamental particles. Since matter can now be viewed as either solid particles or waves and energy packets, or even as a combination of both, the ultimate description of reality becomes largely dependent on how the conscious observer (the subjective aspect, in this case) views the object being observed (or the objective reality). This act of observing and using the instrument, in view of the physicists, entails the exercise of the human mind, consciousness, and free will. American physicist John Archibald Wheeler (1911-2008) advances that the universes would then be “real” only if they contained observers: the status of the Cosmos would depend fundamentally on whether it could harbor a conscious observer of any kind (quoted by Martin Rees, 1997).
In his “Bohr, Einstein, and the Strange Lesson of the Quantum,” Wheeler states that “the observing equipment …, through the elementary quantum processes that terminate on it, takes part in giving tangible ‘reality’ to events that occur long before there was any life anywhere” (1981:18). George Greenstein (1988:223) is more direct in positing that “the universe brought forth life in order to exist … that the very cosmos does not exist unless observed.” Thus, the conscious “observer,” by his or her free will of utilizing the instrument, is also being transformed as a “participant,” or in the words of John A. Wheeler and his colleagues, a “participator” (1973:62). In the ultimate analysis, while the Cosmos creates humanity, humanity through its observations also brings the Cosmos into reality. In the view of quantum world, the objective reality only exists because of the observer; without the observer reality does cannot exist at all.
Corollarily, the external reality is meaningful only in relation to the observer as well as in the context of the conditions and arrangements obtaining between the observer and the observed. What is sublime and puzzling here is that the observer, in observing the quantum system, interferes with the behavior of the particles inside the system. The “observer” no longer becomes passive since he or she influences in shaping reality. By the active participation and involvement of the conscious observer, the quantum world is elevated to another dimension that goes beyond the physical plane. In what manner do the human consciousness, mind, and free will influence reality and, even more importantly, how these human faculties emerge from the physical reality are a subject that will be dealt elsewhere below. At this stage, it is simply worthwhile noting the importance and significance that humans play in shaping the world. As Paul Davies and John Gribbin (1992) put it:
Unlike the mechanistic paradigm, the Cosmos began to be seen as a world of probabilities and uncertainties that now gives importance and significance to the role the human mind, consciousness, that opens the way to the discussion of such metaphysical concepts as free will, soul, spirit, and even God.
Going back to our main discussion, the subject-object relationship now gains a new perspective. Unlike before when a distinction between subject and object is strictly made, the findings drawn from the quantum world now strongly indicate that this division is no longer necessary and in fact it ought to disappear; for both the subject and the object become one interconnecting and interacting parts of the entire cosmic system. Neils Bohr explains that events occurring outside no longer become objective since their occurrence is very much influenced and colored by the subjective elements of the observer. Or in his words (as transcribed by Heisenberg, 1958:88):
… splitting this reality into an objective and a subjective side won’t get us very far. That is why I consider those developments in physics during the last decades which have shown how problematical such concepts as ‘objective’ and ‘subjective’ are, a great liberation of thought. The whole thing started with the theory of relativity. In the past, the statement that two events are simultaneous was considered an objective assertion, one that could be communicated quite simply and that was open to verification by any observer. Today we know that ‘simultaneity’ contains a subjective element, inasmuch as two events that appear simultaneous to an observer at rest are not necessarily simultaneous to an observer in motion.
As our knowledge of the quantum world begins to go deeper, more and more astonishing insights reveal themselves. For example, physicist Sheldon Glashow (b. 1932) interprets the dual nature of matter (as both solid and energy or as passive and dynamic) in terms of “being” and “becoming.” Physicists espousing this view contend that the primal matter that triggered the Big Bang was in the state of being but in the process of becoming. And this process is manifested as a process of change and transformation implies an improvement, growth, and development from simplicity to complexity. Part of this process, says K. G. Denbigh, is the stomping in every individual species their distinct personality, image, identity, and behavior. In his words (1975:111):
A very striking change, seen from left to right, is the increasing importance of ‘individuality’. Large molecules of the same substance have different instantaneous configurations; cells of the same species and variety differ from each other in detail even more considerably; at the level of multicellular organisms, individuality becomes still more pronounced and shows itself in characteristic differences of behaviour.
The process of becoming is explained in the process of nuclear reactions taking place within the nucleus and chemical reactions occurring in the electrons, which is manifested as a continuing process of combinations and splits. On their own, it is in the nature of the nuclei to fuse with each other and never to break up on their own. When, for example, two light nuclei come into contact with each other, they tend to fuse and combine, a nuclear process popularly called fusion. In the case of larger and heavier nuclei, however, the tendency is for them to split into smaller nuclei, a process called fission. It is, in fact this method that was applied by the Hungarian physicist Leo Slizard (1989-1964) to produce the first atom bomb in July 1945.
Proofs of nuclear fusion and fission, however, come out publicly in 1939 because of the works of Hans Bethe (for fusion) and Lise Meitner using the experiments of Otto Hahn. This finding about nuclear reactions eventually leads to the generally accepted theory in physics that very light nuclei like hydrogen nuclei can be transformed into helium through the process of fusion, while much heavier and larger nuclei, like iron, undergo fission. Russian physicist George Gamow says that nuclei that are heavier than silver would break up into two or more parts if a sufficiently strong force is applied from the outside. On the other hand, a spontaneous process of fusion would take place in the case of nuclei whose combined atomic weight is less than that of silver. But both fusion and fission, the physicists tell us, only occur if some external actions are done about the nuclei to produce the process. The vast majority of atomic nuclei are medium sized, which, physicists agree, never undergo any kind of nuclear reaction. These are those nuclei located in the middle portion of the Dmitri Mendeleev’s (1834—1907) Periodic Table of Chemical Elements. All in all the periodic chart of elements contain 92 varieties of atoms.
But where does all the energy come from? This problem has long been solved by Albert Einstein in his special theory of relativity. For Einstein, matter is stored energy; matter is thus equivalent to energy and can be transformed into each other with a conversion factor. Relativity theory shows that material particles can be created out of pure energy and pure energy can be transformed into material particles. This can happen, for example, when subatomic particles are made to collide with each other at very high velocities inside high-speed particle accelerators. The amount of energy contained in a particle is mathematically expressed by Albert Einstein in his famous formula E = mc2. The amount of energy released from the fusion of two nuclei can be devastating.
“A hydrogen fusion bomb,” says Simon Singh, “is far more devastating than a plutonium fission bomb” (2004). George Gamow theorizes that at the time of creation, when the nascent Cosmos is swarmed by a collection of protons and neutrons, fusion must have taken place when hydrogen atoms fused together to produce helium atoms. The collision and merger of hydrogen nuclei could only be brought about by the extremely hot temperatures that followed after the Big Bang. Particle collisions are especially happening inside the hot furnaces of massive stars. And this is specifically the process (collision) how the subsequent elements in the Mendeleev periodic chart of chemical elements are believed to have also been produced.
This process of collision, merger, and split up helps provide the solid basis for elucidating the process of being and becoming in the physical realm. What makes it convincing is the finding that the same process is also happening at the more fundamental level, i.e., at the level of subatomic particles, which are also governed by natural laws similar to the three Newtonian laws of motion regulating the large Cosmos. In the microscopic level, however, quantum physicists discover that gravity, which holds the Sun together and guides planets in their celestial orbits in the solar system, is too weak a force to hold the atomic and subatomic particles. What forces, then, keep the electrically neutral atom and their sub-particles together and in their proper places, without disintegrating and thrown into space? Why do the negatively charged electrons, for example, continue to stay in their proper places when they should have been pulled towards and attracted to the positively charged nucleus?
It is known that the force between positive and negative charge is attractive, while those with the same charge is positive. And, what cohesive forces bring the positively charged protons and the neutrally charged neutrons to stay together, when they should, according to the fundamental laws of electricity and magnetism, keep away from each other? Why don’t they break up and go their own separate ways, which is, in fact, natural? Fortunately, this has not been so, otherwise, the formation of the nucleus from which everything in the Cosmos originates would have been impossible and we would not have been here too. Finally, if every particle has its opposites, then, matter and anti-matter cancel out each other and, according to this view, no matter—giant clouds, star, planets, moons, satellites, including life and Man—would have appeared. But why did we still appear? What explains our birth?
In the process of investigation and experimentation, quantum physicists discover three distinct forces operating in different levels of strength at the micro world of atoms and their subatomic particles. These are: (1) the electromagnetic force, which keeps the negatively charged electron in orbit around the negatively charged protons in an atomic nucleus; (2) the strong nuclear force that holds the nuclei of the atoms together; and (3) the weak nuclear force, which is responsible for radioactive decay and for the interactions of elusive light particles called neutrinos. The action of the weak nuclear force is responsible for the appearance of atoms and through nuclear and chemical reactions also the creation, maintenance, and destruction of the heavy elements presented in the Mendeleev’s Periodic Table of Elements.
All in all the periodic chart of elements contain 92 varieties of atoms. Including the fourth force, gravity, all these forces are responsible for giving birth to the nuclear clouds, suns, planets, moons, galaxies and all the things now existing in the Cosmos, including humanity. The force of gravity is well known to many of us. It is responsible for holding heavy objects together—the galactic clusters, galaxies, stars, clouds, planets, satellites, including us, thus, allowing the Solar System to exist. Its force is attractive, mediated by a mass-less particle called graviton. Without gravity, every celestial bodies up there in the skies would explode, disintegrate and flown farther and farther outward into space. But its force is so weak, 1036 times weaker that the electromagnetic force, and cannot be detected at the atomic and sub-atomic levels. This is where the other three forces come in.
Like gravity, electromagnetism also affects our daily lives in the sense that it includes both electricity and magnetism. At the highest level, it holds together the atoms and the molecules and at the subatomic level, it binds the negative electron to orbit its nucleus and pushes two electrons that are closely held in an atom apart so that they do not collide with each other. Electromagnetic force came about with the efforts of James Clerk Maxwell 1864 to synthesis the laws of electricity and magnetism. His view is that light itself is both pure electricity and magnetism, or in short electromagnetic wave. According to the Standard Model of particle physics, electromagnetic interactions are mediated by photons, which are considered responsible for producing all electric and magnetic fields. While gravity is attractive, electromagnetic force can be attractive or repulsive depending on the charge of a particle and its range of influence is infinite. It is no weakling. It’s 100 times weaker than the strong interaction but 1,000 times stronger than the weak force. But as one goes down to the lower-level particles, the effect of electromagnetism can no longer be detected.
At the level of the nucleus, a new nuclear force, discovered in the 1930s, was found to hold the positively charged protons and the electrically neutral neutron. Gamow advanced the observation that this force that binds the nucleus together cannot be purely electrical in nature since the neutron does not carry in electric charge at all. During this time, says Physicist Fritjof Capra, “physicists soon realized that they were here confronted with a new force of nature which does not manifest itself anywhere outside the nucleus” (2000:73). The force referred to is now known as the strong nuclear force, which consists of mass-less gluons that are exchanged between the quarks of nuclei and are responsible for holding the particles within nuclei together (Robert E. Krebs, 2003:30; John Scalzi, 2003). This force is exerted only over very short distances, having a range roughly the size of an atomic nucleus, about 10-13 (some say, 10-25) centimeters. But its attractive force is more than 130 (some say, 100) times more powerful than electromagnetism.
The strong nuclear force is considered the strongest of all the forces in nature, with an almost unlimited range. It holds protons and neutrons together with energies of about 10 million units, compared with electromagnetism which binds electrons to the atomic nuclei with an estimate force of only 10 units (called electron volts). Strong nuclear interactions, as we said earlier, account for the tremendous energy released of a hydrogen bomb. It goes without saying that without the strong nuclear force, the nucleus would disintegrate and the atom would fall apart. In particular, it prevents the protons from flying apart. It also binds the quarks, of which protons and neutrons are composed, together. The strong nuclear force is mediated by a massless particle, called gluon. Quantum chromodynamics (QCD) is a new theory which tries to explain strong interactions. It explains how quarks bind together to form particles, and how these particles combine together to form atomic nuclei (98-99).
Meanwhile, the weak nuclear force, first discovered by Fermi in 1933 and is during that time called Fermi interaction, is observed to be responsible for the radioactive decays of particles into smaller pieces of matter, e.g. beta decays, of many nuclei. In beta decays, unstable nuclei change from one type to another by emitting an electron or an antineutrino. Radioactive decays are usually created in high-speed particle accelerators. By observing the neutrinos, physicists are able to study the weak force. The weak nuclear force cannot hold the nucleus of the atom together, since its range is only about 1/100 of the size of an atomic nucleus. Its range of interaction is even shorter than that of the strong interaction, and is 10 trillion times less powerful. But it has influence in the interactions of leptons (Klauskopf and Beiser, 1991:252; Capra, 1975:215). Because of this, it is much weaker than the electromagnetic and the strong nuclear force, although it is much stronger than gravity. The weak nuclear force is so weak that they cannot hold anything together at all. But it mediates the conversion of certain particles into other particles, e.g. when protons join each other to form helium nuclei, the process called nuclear fusion. Weak interactions are presumably produced by the exchange of a very heavy particle, called the “W meson.” John Lederer presents in a table below a summary of the elementary particles and the forces guiding their interactions (see also Physicist Sheldon Glasgow, 1991:97, Table 2).
In terms of their interaction, all particles and their anti-particles can be grouped into two broad categories: leptons and hadrons. Hadrons are strongly interacting particles which are further subdivided into mesons and baryons. The electromagnetic interactions (electromagnetism) hold together the atoms and molecules, while the strong interactions (strong nuclear force) bind the atomic nuclei (protons and neutrons) together. The weak interactions do not bind anything together at all, but, having extremely short range, involve the leptons.
On the whole, the discovery of the above phenomena results in the crumbling of the Newtonian world of certainty and determinism. Turned upside down, the world in the quantum view becomes a world of illusion, probabilities, opposites, continuing process of creation and annihilation, uncertainty, complementarity, interconnectivity, and of beings in a continuing process of becoming. We have come to learn of a new world that: (1) no longer distinguishes the subjective from the objective realm; (2) demonstrates the interrelatedness and interconnectivity of everything and everyone in the entire cosmic system; (3) gives importance and significance to the role of the conscious observer in creating present and future realities; (4) abandons the age of certainty and determinism; (5) is continually in a cyclical process of creation and annihilation; (6) lays down, as a result, only infinite possibilities and opportunities the realization of which is dependent on the exercise of the human mind and free will; (7) views the quantum world as also metaphysical in view of the intervention of the observer’s mind and free will and the transformative effect it bears on reality; and, finally, (8) opens a new dimension of life and existence that goes beyond the Newtonian’s solely physical realm.
In summary, atom, which is considered the “basic building block” of the Cosmos and everything that is in it, possesses a lot of amazing features: (1) it is present in everything we see around us; (2) it is passed on from one generation to another generation; (3) it has the innate capacity to grow, develop, create, recreate, and even destroy itself; (4) it imprints on individuals their distinct personality and image.
An atom is invisible to the naked eye, extremely small compared to other visible objects around us. It is only one hundred millionth of a cubic centimeter consisting of a vast region of space. Yet, it is considered huge compared to the nucleus, proton, neutron, and electron. Thomson estimates that the mass of one electron is 1,836 times smaller than the mass of a hydrogen atom. The nucleus is 100,000 times smaller than the whole atom and, of course, about 1,836 times more massive than the electron, which is known to orbit in an atomic nucleus with enormous velocities of about 600 miles per second! Atom – 1/100th million of a centimeter, composed of only three massive particles: protons (+), neutrons (neutral), electrons(-). Nucleus – 100,000 times smaller than an atom; are stable centers; the source of electric force; made up of protons and neutrons; massive and dense. Protons and neutrons—also called nucleons---race about the nucleus with velocities of about 40,000 miles per second! Protons – 2,000 times the mass of electrons. Neutrons – 1838 times more massive than electrons; no electrical charge; disintegrates spontaneously, accompanied by the creation of electrons. Electrons – so small (un-measurable) move around the nucleus circles around the nucleus at a speed of 600 miles/second (velocity). Protons and electrons are stable, i.e. they live forever unless they are involved in a collision process where they can be annihilated.
The proton is found to have a lifetime of less than about 1031 years while an isolated neutron is known to decay within 20 minutes.
A particle second is written by physicists as 10-23 seconds, a decimal number, which, according to F. Capra, includes 23 zeroes to the left of number 1, including the one in front of the decimal point, i.e., 0.00000000000000000000001 seconds (1975:214, given as a footnote).
Asimov explains that “Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle also says that one can’t determine time and energy content simultaneously and exactly” (p. 120).
For a more detailed discussion on this subject, see the works of Alan H. Guth (1997), Fred Adams (2002), Tom Yulsman (2003), Michio Kaku (2005); and Alex Vilenkin (2006).
All elements larger than helium are considered to be heavy elements, also called metals (Fred Adams (2002).