Mind The Gap! · Modern Times

Do Atoms Exist?

Would It Make Any Difference If The Scientists Were Wrong?

Maintenance in the LEP tunnel at CERN

The Eighth Sphere

Okay, so they do, right? Can you please point to one. There are several million you can chose from, so that is not a hard task, is it?


Before you dismiss all this as pure tosh, please read to the end. Do me at least that much justice.

Shall we give our atom a name? Shall we call him Henry? Sure, atoms don’t have a gender, do they? So the atom won’t mind. So here we have Henry. With 8 electrons, 8 protons and 8 neutrons it is what modern science calls an oxygen atom. Imagine that the protons from which Henry is comprised are around the size of a grape. That means the nucleus that modern physics says Henry comprises of in part at least, is around the size of an orange. That means Henry’s electrons are very small. In fact to scale they would be around ten microns across. That is pretty small. So small in fact, you would be pushed to see them at all.

If these electrons were to scale, this oxygen atom would be the size of a small planet.

If these electrons were to scale, this oxygen atom would be the size of a small planet.

So we have an orange-sized nucleus and some pinpricks for electrons. A bit bigger than scale, but we can imagine them a little bigger okay? So where do these electrons sit, in terms of our atom? Well, that is not easy to explain. The outermost electron would be around 1-2 kilometers distant. Naturally this is a very general statement. Indeed, finding out where these things really are takes a great deal of mathematical skill.

Now our outermost electron is something smaller than a pinprick. Okay? Yet it is a kilometer away from something the size of an orange. What is more, these electrons are travelling at extremely high speeds! A good example (and the most simple to calculate) is the hydrogen atom which is said to be in all our water. A calculation shows that the electron is traveling at about 2,200 kilometers per second. That’s less than 1% of the speed of light, but it’s fast enough to get it around the Earth in just over 18 seconds (1). Imagine now that the electron is whizzing in a path that is tenths of a nanometer in diameter. They are circling fanatically. Zinging doesn’t quite do the thought justice, does it?

Oh, and the sheer tininess of the electrons and the atom’s nucleus means the overall density in terms of “physical matter” is actually rather small. As a mathematician might say it would be “vanishingly small”. An atom is 99% pure space. Actually, it is more like

99.999999999999999999999999999999999% pure space.

Shall we just call it 100% pure space with a little pepper for flavour?

Yet these things are hard. Just try prising a few atoms off your kitchen worktop. You will tear a few atoms from your fingernails first! In a recent article in the Guardian (2) it was claimed that they could measure the size of the electron.

Wait a moment! – not quite: they could measure the force field that they attribute to the electron. Much the same can be said for the atom itself, with electons zapping around, you cannot expect to accurately place one. Given the size of atoms and the speeds of electrons, this is understandable. On the other hand, it raises an issue. What if they really don’t exist at all?

What if all you are measuring is what you ascribe to your hypotheses about atoms? The problem with atoms is that they are very empty indeed, yet the matter they are said to comprise can be extremely hard. I know all the rationalizations. What I want to do here is challenge a few assumptions.

Ending The Search: Is The Higg’s Bozon Really The “God Particle”?

After all, early on, the atom itself was a kind of “God Particle”. Much initial work done on the atom was done in cloud chambers. The bits that flew off would leave a path of condensation looking something like that of an airliner’s exhaust in the stratosphere. The causes and circumstances are of course, very different. However, that is how they appear to us. So what is going on here? Like my tale of the Titanic’s lookouts (3) what are they missing? What icebergs are lurking in these cloud chambers that we have not noticed? So intent are we on seeing what is happening, we miss that which is not. As an interesting aside, do you know what a cloud chamber actually is? Have you – even as a scientist – looked at the circumstances and the ecology of what exists inside a cloud chamber?

As a marketer, my interest is in things that are alive. There is not much in the way of life that can exist in a material form inside a cloud chamber. That makes no difference to a modern physicist – after all they are not studying biology, are they? Remember that the circumstances of your life depend not only on the mineral realm, but on that which is alive too. Sure, the two are mutually dependent on one another. That does not mean that they are the same thing. Modern science makes that mistake. In my view, it is one that is seriously out of line with what we need to know in order to live on this planet.

Please remember that when scientists went about their business of describing atoms, they thought of atoms as being the end of the argument. That was until the likes of Nils Bohr came along to expand on Rutherford’s ideas. Whilst still in the stage where things were unfocussed, how many of them imagined the plethora of sub-atomic and sub-sub atomic particles we have spread before us today? Did they imagine their study as the beginning of an entire enquiry into what made up atoms?

CERN itself started with a small accelerator; it now on its third, each of which is substantially bigger and more powerful than the last. This ‘Higg’s Bozon’ is described as the “God particle” because it will sort out some problems once and for all. I have my doubts: to be honest it will in all likelyhood open up new vistas of high-energy physics that nobody dreamed of previously. That is how it happened with the atom: first there was the atom as the end of the quest – only to be broken up into electrons and a scattering of other things. They in their turn were divided up into yet more particles. Now a bozon is roughly at this level of investigation, only incredibly rare. Actually, they cannot be rare since they are a building block of modern physics.

Only the conditions you need to find them are so extreme and so transitory which makes them difficult to distinguish.

Now let me state one thing: these things are clearly part of nature. They could not exist otherwise, could they? The point I want to make here is one that is far more subtle: are they part of the nature we live in? Does this understanding actually take us towards an understanding of the nature we live in, or one that leads us away from this? This may seem obscure, trivial and stupid. Believe me, it is anything but. We spend great sums of money and waste huge amounts of energy in trying to discern what a lepton is. Now: let me ask you how many leptons you would like with your coffee? Two, three teaspoons of them? Or would you prefer sugar? After all, sugar is a little less expensive. Oh, and tastes nicer too. The point of asking this is to start bringing science back to earth.

Technology And The Living Realm.

I want to make my Luddite affiliation clear: technology will not solve our problems. Technology is the problem we face. We need a science that does not depend on technology for its furtherance. Technology relies on a manner of thinking that takes us away from the living realm. That is final. That you cannot distinguish between the mineral and living realm is a very large part of the problem. You can start understanding this – even if you do not agree with me, for that matters not a whit to me! – by understanding what you see around you as what you see. Not as what you imagine it to be, but actually what you see. Just look, behold, wonder. You hear the noise of a bee. The noises of cars, trains, leaves in trees. The sky is blue, the grass green. Sure, this is obvious and trivial to the point of absurdity. Yet it is also the key to a realm that few modern thinkers have even conceived of, let alone considered. When you understand that the difference between a plant and a stone is that a plant grows and a stone does not, you are one step on the way. Just because you ascribe growth to an accumulation of carbon atoms and DNA does not mean that this is actually how it happens.
Show me an atom. Just one. Then I might begin to agree with you about them.

So how does our current hypothesis of atoms come about? Through electricity for one thing. What we think of as atoms arise from material that has been split in a manner that is – put bluntly – unnatural. I am one of the few scientists (that is my heritage after all) who has been in the LEP tunnel at CERN (4). It was switched off, otherwise I would not be here now. The ring was magnetized using huge numbers of electro-magnets running at high frequencies and enormous currents. The sort of current that would power several freight trains for a year. Admittedly this was seeking things of a far finer character than a simple atom, Leptons and their ilk in this case. However, the method is the same: smash it. The word was incautiously used for a method that uses brute force to achieve its ends. Brute force is not a very clever way to encourage nature to divulge her secrets, by the way. In fact, it’s not a clever way to get anybody to divulge secrets, or much else for that matter. That’s why the best marketers don’t use it, what’s more, they don’t need to.

The point I want to make here is that force was used. In the above case, a force so powerful it would be harmful to a human. That is to say, it is unnatural. My tenet is that things should be as natural as possible. That way you can live in a way that suits the being that you are. Not the being you want to be, or the being that you think you are. The being you really are. Nothing else will do. Tune your thinking and feeling to the person you really are and you will find happiness. In the last year I have seen through the veil that the Hindus call “Maya” (5).

So What Is An Atom? Do They Actually Exist?

The point about the atom is that it is based on hypotheses that are built on hypotheses. Their primary premise is that you may use force to deduce your answers. Mine is that you may not. Humankind got on pretty well using their own strength and that of the animals living around them for milennia. Humankind has used “modern” thinking for three centuries and have polluted our planet irrevocably. How can this be good for us? Sure, we have cheap food here in the west. Think about the costs involved – degraded farmland that can no longer absorb the rainfall? The humidity of the soil is a crucial element in the way the atmosphere behaves. Whilst off-topic to some degree, it shows how modern thinking can lead you astray.

Atoms are all well and good, but there seems a lot of infinities around for comfort.

So: Do Atoms Really Exist?

Well, that’s up to you to decide. The real problem is what exists if they do not. A first thought would be would it look any different? My explanation will wait for another day, sorry. I have a few answers ready, and written down too. I also have a garden to plant.

Notes and Links:

(1) From a scientist at the Jefferson lab in Virginia.

(2) I will look this up later, I have a garden to dig!

(3) You can find my take on the Titanic’s lookouts here (well you can when I have tracked down the original post!)

(4) More about the LEP at CERN here at Wikipedia

(5) More about Maya here. Not the Maya, the Hindu concept. (To follow. It’s autumn and the garden needs tidying).


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