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The Tao of Matter
Probability, chance, serendipity, unpredictability shattered my perfectly formed illusions. I was dragged in, dizzy and delirious, to the world of Quantum mechanics. And in doing so, of the mysteries of life itself.
What Matters Most...
Science is obsessed, understandably, by observable objects and phenomena. Such is the nature of proof and evidence.
When I was little, matter made sense. Newton's laws of motion were fully enacted. There was inertia and momentum. There was action and reaction. Life was uncomplicated ( well, it seemed so). What mattered most was the insatiable curiosity and the constant growth. What mattered most was wanting to be loved, protected, nurtured and cared for.
As I grew a tad older, Einstein blew open my mind. He showed me that everything was relative. And it wasn't just the Newtonian laws of motion that govern tangible objects. Truth, beauty, happiness, intelligence, peace, contentment - I realised all those states that mattered were also relative.
I was happy in my knowledge of relativity and felt wiser for it until I grew into adulthood. Then strangeness crept in. Games were played, forces were in action that were as yet uncaptured. Probability, chance, serendipity, unpredictability shattered by perfectly formed illusions. I was dragged in, dizzy and delirious, to the world of Quantum mechanics.
My expanding understanding and puzzlement of the physical world paralleled my understanding of life. I realised that things weren't just relative, but positively wondrous. The farther out to space or further into the innards of an atom I traveled, my world began to unravel. Yet, strangely, in the middle of all that chaos theory, I sensed a glimmer of understanding.
Here, I hope to share this perspective. While it is my journey, I do hope, fellow passengers, that you'll take my invitation to share the views outside this speeding vehicle.
The Perspectives series began in the Fall of 2012 and has continued into 2013.
Along with our original convenor Mickey Sr, wonderfully talented scribes such as bravewarrior, Martie Coetser, marcoujor, VickiW and the also ran pretender Docmo have got together to share with you our take on various chosen topics.
We also invite guest authors each month to share their perspective on the theme at hand.
Our previous perspectives include...
- Knowing your True Self,
- The Charitable Spirit ,
- Regret & Hope,
- What you Don't Know
We learn, as we advance, that the states of the matter is down to the distribution of the individual molecules held together by forces of attraction.
States of Matter
In our first encounter with Physics, we are introduced to simple states of matter. We become familiar with the objects we see and interact. We realise the variability in two forms - solids and liquids. We are then stretched beyond our sense of touch and vision to feel the air. We feel the gentle breeze, take a deep breath and realise that there are things that exist that we may not always see. We accept the three states of the matter as solids, liquids and gases.
We learn, as we advance, that the state of the matter is down to the distribution of the individual molecules held together by forces of attraction. Closely packed are the Solids. Liquids have more space between them. Gases have their individual molecules drifting quite far apart, in a Brownian motion, shapeless yet still governed by their own laws.
As children we are motivated by simple wants like hunger and attention. We want to be seen and heard. We want to be fed. We cry, we laugh. We are familiar with simple relationships that we accept unconditionally. Mother and Father. Then our siblings, grandparents and the ever widening circle of relatives. We believe in the security of our home, our relationship. We believe in solid, tangible truths.
We think the solid is strong and dependable. We soon realise that a liquid can be as strong if not more as it erodes mountains in its path. The gentle breeze that can equally turn into a destructive cyclone. We are then taught solids can melt into liquids or even sublimate into gases. We understand liquids can freeze or vaporise. We find that gases can precipitate into solids or condense into liquids.
We understand a bit about change.
Like the Electrons, we do exude and consume energy. Energy levels can upscale or downscale a person. We may take energy and grow. We lose energy and decay...
Inside the Atoms
We understand that the basic unit of matter is the atom. The atom looks like a little celestial organisation. At the centre of it is the nucleus that contains the positive protons and the neutral neutrons. Surrounding this is a 'cloud' of negatively charged electrons held in their orbital tracks by electromagnetic forces.
We understand that there is also a lot of space between these particles. Atoms group together forming bonds to create a molecule.
The rather decisive name, 'Atom', comes from the Greek A- Tomos which means that which couldn't be cut open or indivisible. During their initial discovery, Atoms were thought to be the ultimate building blocks- that which cannot be cut further. However, as we know now, we are only limited by our imagination and the scientific tools we possess for looking far within.
Our understanding of the laws of physics parallels our own growth. We realise the deeper we look within, the more components matter has. We realise the people that we know have many facets. They may have positives and negatives. They may hold neutral beliefs. It is in the coming together of their inner elements that forms a whole. They are bits we may like and bits we don't. Sometimes we need to weigh up these bits and choose wisely.
Protons and Neutrons inhabit the nucleus. Without the neutrality of the neutrons, the protons may repel each other.There are those souls who seem boring neutral, yet serve their function in preventing repulsion and implosion.
Atoms can transmute. Electrons, the chief purveyors of the individual characteristic of an atom are travelling at one third the speed of light. They may ascend or descend down their orbital states by gaining or losing energy. In doing so they change not only their own state but also that of the individual atom.
We understand energy levels can upscale or downscale a person. We may take energy and grow. We may lose energy and decay. We understand the laws of happiness and sadness; anger and peace.
We enter the world of subatomic particles.
Physicist Murray Gel- Mann who proposed the name Quarks says he was inspired by this passage from James Joyce's novel.
Three quarks for Muster Mark!
Sure he has not got much of a bark
And sure any he has it's all beside the mark.
—James Joyce, Finnegans Wake
The deeper we delve...
We call these subatomic inhabitants 'particles'. This is perhaps a throwback to classical mindset where everything had to be tangible. It also helps our brains conceptualise these characters at such minuscule levels. In actuality it is difficult describe these blimps in a 'real world' setting.
Physicists tell us that these subatomic particles are actually composites of 'elementary particles'. These oh so tiny building blocks have now been classified according to their energy states, forces and behaviours.
There has been an explosion of scientific activity around particle physics since the sixties with the advent of particle accelerators and a new wave of detectors. Old concepts were refreshed with new understanding.
The elementary particles are grouped in two as Fermions ( Quarks and Leptons) and Bosons.
Fermions include 'Quarks' - six in number & Leptons - six in number
There a multitude of 'Gauge Bosons' - around 12 in number (at last count!)
Add to these the previously speculated and lately confirmed 'God particle' the Higgs-Boson.
And so it goes... limited only by our powers of observation and scientific prowess. Just like the seemingly infinite outer edge of the universe, the innerscape of an atom may descend deeper.
We are a construct of a multitude of memories, desires, fears and aspirations. We interact with others who are also a similar yet different construct.
What is the matter with you?
So what am I? A construct of subatomic forces that are randomly, serendipitously circling each other exchanging energy?
Where did they come from and where are they going?
The more we delve into the innards of ourselves the more we know we are but constructs of our physical and emotional selves. Our thoughts, beliefs, behaviours inhabit our physical body and influence who we are. We are a construct of a multitude of memories, desires, fears and aspirations. We interact with others who are also a similar yet different construct.
When we orbit each other, develop a friendships and relationships by exchanging elementary particles of thought. Our lives are in constant flux, a celestial dance.
We react and interact. We live and die. But at some level we have always been there.
Matter exists in some form. We circle this universe in an eternal quest. Be it as an elementary particle or a composite human.
Are we ultimately just bit players in this melodrama?
The Dance of Shiva is the cosmic dance of matter itself and of what matters...
The Dance of Shiva
I grew up as a Hindu, and I have always been fascinated by the Dance of Shiva.
In Hindu mythology, Shiva is one of the holy trinity ( Brahma and Vishnu the other two). Shiva is often depicted as a cosmic dancer ( Nataraja). The symbolic representation of Shiva has many mystical connotations that are strangely aligned to the some of our understanding of Physics.
In the image above he is depicted dancing amidst a circle of flames ( Agni) - this represents the ever changing Universe born out of the Big Bang.
He holds a small drum (Dhamaru) in his upper right hand. This represents the sound of the beat of time, the cosmic passage. The lower right hand is held palm facing out, asking us not to fear ( Abhaya-Mudra). This is the gesture of righteousness, of Dharma, giving solace from evil and ignorance.
In the upper left hand, he grasps fire itself, signifying his role in destruction before creation. The snake around his waist signifies Kundalini, the divine force that pervades everything. The second right hand points to the raised foot - so that we feel uplifted and rise above our mortal confines. The Demon ( Apasmara) he dances on is Shiva's triumph over ignorance.
The loose tresses of his hair flail wildly, knocking celestial objects in and out of orbit, creating stars, destroying galaxies, in an eternal chaos of the Universe.
The Dance of Shiva is the dance of matter itself and of what matters...
While majestic, virile and powerful Shiva's dance is also mesmerising, calming and fluid.
What matters to me...
My pursuit of understanding the physical universe has aided my perspective on life. I dare not think of them as profound universal truths but merely my own take on life... my perspectives.
- Just like those elementary particles even the smallest gestures, sentiments and displays of love count. They build to a bigger composite.
- The whole is but a sum of its parts. Those we love may have attributes that are negative and attributes that are positive. Even these attributes may change with time.
- We give and take energy to transcend states of mind.
- Life doesn't come wrapped in neat packages, the constituent parts that sum up the whole is a composite of matter and energy in a state of eternal chaos. Even something that appears solid is in a state of flux, an internal dance of particles and energy.
- There are many particles, but it is the forces of attraction and repulsion that govern them and guide their journey.
- Our journey is but a snapshot of the journey of our constituent matter. All matter is eternal, we are but a composite vehicle made for this ride.
The Journey goes on. We could waste a good journey sometimes worrying about where we came from and where we are going. It is always worth enjoying the journey that so many others don't get to be on.
Let us focus on living. And living as well as we can.
© Mohan Kumar 2013
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© Mohan Kumar 2013