The hunt for the thing

Lynne McTaggart

Ever since a physicist named Ibn al-Haytham developed the scientific method more than a thousand years ago, scientists have attempted to take apart the universe like one vast radio to examine its component parts.

For the last hundred years or so, they’ve been preoccupied with attempting to locate the tiniest of its building blocks.

In 1909, Nobel Prize-winning New Zealand chemist Ernest Rutherford and his colleagues at the University of Manchester created the Rutherford model of the atom, a tiny solar system of orderly electrons, after discovering what at first was believed to be its sun and the world’s smallest unit: the nucleus.

Rutherford’s model took a slight hammering when another colleague from Cambridge, British physicist James Chadwick, went on to discover an even smaller particle inside the nucleus — the neutron.

Chadwick posited that the constituents of an atom — the protons and neutrons — are the most fundamental units of our world — until it was discovered that, like a Russian doll, within these particles lay still smaller particles, which themselves were composed of smaller structures.

In 1969, science briefly congratulated itself on isolating what it thought was the most essential of the universe’s elements when the quark, was discovered —until a dizzying alphabet soup of other particles was also found in the following decades: muons and tauons, positrons and gravitons, particles with force and particles without force, plus strongly interacting “composite particles” like hadrons, hypothetical particles, born out of supersymmetry theories — even the Higgs Boson, the so-called ‘God particle.’

To make sense of all these entities, physicists produced the Standard Model, the Rosetta Stone of modern particle physics, which lumps all these hundreds of varieties of particles and impossibly complicated interactions into three families and their fundamental interactions and flavors.

However elegant the Standard Model as a theory, enabling physicists to reduce all these dozens of particles into mathematical shorthand, the bottom line is that they still cannot isolate one single structure and claim with any confidence that this is it, the smallest currency of the universe — the final individual entity out of which our world derives.

Most of the dozens of particles discovered after World War II are now thought not to be elementary but rather composites of particles; in fact, physicists now allow that it may be impossible ever to prove that these particles can be further separated into their component parts.

What scientists have settled for, in the Standard Model theory, is a fuzzy approximation that may have as much to do with the final truth of life as a cyborg has to a human being.

The Standard Model is likely to prove only a vague approximation for some more fundamental theory that will reveal itself once scientists have invented higher state particle accelerators — at which point we might discover that the tiniest of these particles isn’t in fact the smallest Russian doll but has more of those dolls inside.

One reason for this continuing difficulty in locating the smallest piece of the universe may be the simple fact that nothing, finally, exists independently.

While we consider matter discreet and definable, the fact is that it cannot be compartmentalized into anything definitive. Even the smallest structure of matter may prove impossible to separate from its neighbors, place a fence around and say with any finality that here is where it begins and there is where it ends.

For anything smaller than an atom, we cannot figure out if a subatomic thing exists on its own or as a composite of elements.

The closer scientists look, the more they discover how dependent on, and finally indivisible from, everything is with everything else.

The German physicist Werner Heisenberg, one of the fathers of quantum physics, referred to this fact as the ‘most important experimental discovery of the last 50 years.’ Heisenberg also noted that even the question of what particles ‘consist’ of ‘no longer has any rational meaning.’

In fact, the very word ‘particle,’ with its suggestion of a separate and corporeal reality, is a misnomer.

When particle physicists get down to the bottom layer of matter, there isn’t really anything there.

Although Rutherford’s model is still taught in high school physics, and atoms are still rendered as a grouping of tiny, well-behaved billiard balls with orderly little orbits around a central nucleus, subatomic particles more closely resemble a tiny coalescence of energy — a smeared out, uncongealed puff of vibratory nothingness.

Vlatko Vedral, a professor of quantum physics at Oxford University, once remarked that it is more correct to say that a particle is a little coalescence of energy within a larger field of energy, much as a knot exists on a length of rope.

Although we classify everything in the universe as separate and individual, individuality, at the most rudimentary level, does not exist.

We cannot discover the most fundamental parts of our universe, no matter how hard we look, because they only exist in relationship to the other parts.

Quantum physicists fruitlessly continue to hunt for the thing, even though, in the very act of searching, they alter it.

Life is established not within a thing but in what I call the Bond, the space between two things: between subatomic particles, between particles and the background Field, and between mind, or consciousness, and matter.

You and I are creations entirely of our interactions with the universe.

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Lynne McTaggart

Lynne McTaggart is an award-winning journalist and the author of seven books, including the worldwide international bestsellers The Power of Eight, The Field, The Intention Experiment and The Bond, all considered seminal books of the New Science and now translated into some 30 languages.

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3 comments on “The hunt for the thing”

  1. "Quantum physicists fruitlessly continue to hunt for the thing" - a quest that exemplifies and perpetuates our vain, egocentric attachment to our illusory "selves" as separate sovereign entities.

    "The ego is a ring of defense around nothing." - Krishnamurti

    Just bought "The Bond" - really looking forward to it! In the meantime - in resonance:

    "The Oneness Duality – variously represented as: Creator/Creation; consciousness/phenomena; emptiness/form; Darkness/Light; spirit/body; thought/energy; ethereal/material; mind/matter; Heaven/Earth; implicate order/explicate order; res potentia/res extensa; absence/presence; red pill/blue pill; nothing/everything; hole/doughnut ……etc.

    Life is our voyage on the razor’s edge [ / ] between. Like a coin that is phenomenal only so long as it bears both a heads and a tails, we are each a living breathing ‘one’ that forms a unique and transitory interface between ‘zero’ and ‘infinity’: 0 < 1 < ∞…..a lifetime that defines a specific illusory divide between nothing and everything."

  2. Great article - thank you. My late husband was a physicist and on our first date we discussed quantum physics - how romantic. Now as an organisation change consultant I have become fascinated by the quantum world. We are becoming aware of plasma and how this operates in our bodies and in groups eg creativity. This is all far away from the Newtonian mindset that our medical profession seems to favour (even if they don't realise it).. We slip slide and interact and come up with novel ideas, produce emotions.
    Anyhow I have become aware how I have your book The Bond and haven't read it yet - I must!

  3. Excellent post. You always bring us back to "reality" that we are all "one" despite our best attempts to prove otherwise. Every bit of matter is empty space. Even all those subatomic “particles” are just vortices of energy.

    Max Planck won the 1918 Nobel Prize in Physics. In 1931 he said, “I regard consciousness as fundamental. I regard matter as derivative from consciousness. We cannot get behind consciousness. Everything that we talk about, everything that we regard as existing, postulates consciousness.”

    Albert Einstein said, “Concerning matter, we have been all wrong. What we have called matter is energy, whose vibration has been so lowered as to be perceptible to the senses. There is no matter.” And he even said, “Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.”

    Nikola Tesla said, “The day science begins to study non-physical phenomena, it will make more progress in one decade than in all the previous centuries of its existence.”

    It seems that scientist need to wake up to the fact that these three men explained our reality better than all the research data from their Hadron collider. It is time to change our perspective and look the other way thru the proverbial telescope to realize that we are focusing on the wrong solution to our question of what is the elemental "thing" to our universe, as Planck said over 90 years ago it is consciousness, and not a "thing"

Why wait any longer when you’ve already been waiting your entire life?

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