What’s The Matter? — Is There Really Any There There?


Matter…  We can argue about a lot of things, talk about how everything we experience in the Universe is experienced through a subjective lens and so we can never know objective reality at all… but most of us would agree on this point at least:  Things Exist.  Matter is… out there.

I’ve been reading a very informative book called Fields Of Force by William Berkson.  I won’t even try to relay the majority of interesting facts from the history of physics I got from this book, but I will endeavor in this and the next few posts to highlight some of my favorite explanations or revelations that I found between its covers.

Since the Quantum Physics revolution about a hundred years ago (it’s tres old school by now) physicists began to theorize about particles which do not obey the laws of physics.  Now, in a heady time when the top-respected physicists of the day are claiming that particles can disappear and reappear someplace else instantly as if by magic (aka, the quantum leap), the idea that some tiny, tiny particles have no mass at all suddenly didn’t seem that far-fetched, and it was probably only a matter of time before theoretical physicists needed a non-mass particle to fill-out an equation they really, really wanted to be true, and so of course, it happened.

If memory serves, the first edict declaring the existence of a massless particle concerned the conjectured “neutrino.”  For decades, it was heresy to question the pronouncement– not only that the neutrino actually existed– but that it had zero mass.  However, my friends tell me that within the last decade, the neutrino has gained weight and now does, indeed, have mass.  Just to goes to show you, no matter how much they fight you and ridicule you, never –never!– be afraid to point-out that the emperor wears no clothes.

Although my plan is to one day put together my complaints against the orthodox Quantum view of reality, this is not the place or time (I did hint at some of my feelings in my post about The Religion Of The Quantum here )…

But here’s something I have no problem considering:  possibly– just possibly– all mass is electromagnetic in origin.  I’m not convinced of this, but Max Abraham –probably aware of the theories and work of W. Wien and J.J. Thomson– made just such a proposal once.

Physicist J.J. Thomson used a vacuum and some very strong magnetic and electric fields to isolate something he felt was the electron.  The way he assigned the charge to the electron was this:  he assumed he had found the smallest carrier of charge in the Universe, then looked-up the smallest amount of charge ever discovered by man, then said, voila!– that’s the charge of the electron, and there it is, I have found it.

Now, W. Wien had a theory that a moving charged particle would have greater effective mass due to the self-induction of electromagnetic lines of force as it moved.  Here, in a nutshell, is why he thought this:  it had become accepted physics that moving-charges create electric current, and currents create magnetic fields, and magnetic fields induce electric currents, and so on.  Working under the standard interpretation of mass being synonymous with inertia (simply the resistance of an object to a change in its movement), Wien said that since the self-created electromagnetic field of a moving charge would slow the speed of the particle, this was the same, practically speaking, as if the particle just got heavier… it’s effective mass would increase.

J.J. Thomson set up an experiment to see if the speed of an electron would, indeed, make it appear to have more mass.  The thinking was that the faster a particle moves, the more electromagnetic lines of force it will cross, and the more its progress will be delayed– and thus, the more effective mass it will have.

What Thomson discovered, or thought he discovered, I’m not sure even he was expecting:  he found that at a certain speed, all of what we might call the “regular” mass of the electron disappeared and the only thing left was the resistance to movement (inertia) created by the tiny charged particle’s self-induction of electromagnetic effects.

And that’s how physics first proved– to it’s own satisfaction at least– that there’s no there there.



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