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Particles – “I want to be a particle of your light”

A general view of ALICE (A Large Ion Collider Experiment) cavern and detector during a behind the scenes tour at CERN, the World’s Largest Particle Physics Laboratory on April 19, 2017 in Meyrin, Switzerland.

In physics a particle is defined as a tiny unit of matter. But what is matter?

Subatomic physics discoveries along with the development of semiotics (the study of signs) have thrown the entire notion of matter into question.

Erwin Schrödinger, an Austrian physicist, saw the particle as a standing wave, which is a relatively stable energy pattern. For others, particles are seen as wave packets of energy.

Particle physicists also hypothesize what the media has sensationalized as the “God Particle.”¹ If its existence is confirmed, the God Particle apparently would resolve some of the inconsistencies found in theoretical physics.

Time to step back and think intelligently, something that some scientists fail to do. My main beef with the claims of some researchers rests on the problem of subjectivity.

How may we confirm the independent existence of something when the longstanding debate about subjectivity (biased observation) vs. objectivity (unbiased observation) is unresolved, and might always be?

An example of simulated data modelled for the ...

An example of simulated data modelled for the CMS particle detector on the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN. Here, following a collision of two protons, a is produced which decays into two jets of hadrons and two electrons. The lines represent the possible paths of particles produced by the proton-proton collision in the detector while the energy these particles deposit is shown in blue. (Wikipedia)

Physicists play a high priced game and convince a good number of people that they’re getting at some basic truth when arguably they’re just fabricating a historically relative worldview.

As any sociologist worth his or her salt with note, scientists carry out experiments within a given framework that, consciously or unconsciously, not only advance knowledge but also reinforce and legitimize beliefs about (a) how best to proceed and (b) what our world is all about.

So alleged high-tech “confirmations” run the risk of becoming, at bottom, a biased way of saying that a particular truth game is the truth game.

But science is no abstract game. It’s a human enterprise that takes money to operate. The general public is easily enchanted by glimmering machines and Photoshopped lab results. And this popular enthusiasm probably makes it easier for scientists to get funded.²

Not that I’m a Luddite, dead against anything new. Physics, of course, can be theoretically useful and reap many practical rewards. Our limits as a species should not deter us from exploring and developing new ideas. However, we would be wise to remember that ideas like the God Particle are culturally relative stories and certainly not the whole story.

¹ Many scientists, themselves, see this as an irresponsible metaphor for the hypothesized Higgs Boson particle.

² I have no data on this but it seems like common sense. Science exists in society. If nobody in society is interested in something, chances are funding won’t happen. Enthusiasm can have a ripple effect throughout the whole system.

† Title quote from Bruce Cockburn, “Hills of Morning” from the True North album Dancing in the Dragon’s Jaws. One of the things I like about Cockburn’s “peak period” lyrics is his intelligent mix of science and spirituality.

Related » Democritus, David Hume, Philipp Eduard Anton Lenard, Particle-Wave Duality, Thomas Young

 Lithuania joins CERN as associate member (

 Clash of the particle people (

 Physicists find new particle with a double dose of charm (

 CERN’s LHCb experiment announces observation of a new particle (

 Can World’s Largest Atom Smasher Solve the Universe’s Deepest Mysteries? (

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Max Planck

Max Planck (Karl Ernst Ludwig 1858-1947) was a German physicist who taught in Berlin from 1888. His work on thermodynamics and radiation challenged Newtonian physics, leading him to develop quantum theory, for which he won the 1918 Nobel Prize for Physics.

He was one of the first to publicly support Einstein‘s special theory of relativity, well before others grasped its import.

The inaugural award: Max Planck (left) present...

The inaugural award: Max Planck (left) presents Albert Einstein (right) with the Max Planck medal of the German Physical Society, 28 June 1929, in Berlin, Germany. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

While the idea of quantum theory has mostly been within the purview of scientists and New Age thinkers, its practical applications should be more apparent soon.

As noted at

More recently, we’re seeing a practical application where the conventional “bit” in computing is surpassed by the quantum “qubit,” which isn’t bound by the traditional laws of binary processing.

Who was Max Planck?

Is General Relativity a (partial) Return of Aristotelian Physics?

French Satellite Will Test Einstein’s Theory of Relativity

Researchers create a first frequency comb of time-bin entangled qubits

Einstein Theory Tested by Satellite Could Shake Scientific Foundations

Explaining weirdness with weirdness

Chilling Scientific Inquiry

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Erwin Schrödinger

English: Photograph of physicist Erwin Schrödi...

Erwin Schrödinger early in his professional career. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Erwin Schrödinger (1887-1961) was an Austrian physicist who attempted to overcome the apparent particle- wave duality with his now famous wave equation.

Various interpretations of Schrödinger’s wave equation have arisen. For some, particles are seen as wave packets. Others suggest that the particle is similar to a standing wave—a relatively stable energy formation that doesn’t travel through a medium.

While some like to see science as some kind of solid rock that tells us the “truth,” the ambiguity surrounding the interpretation of Schrödinger’s work tells us just the opposite. Science involves speculation, myth and a lot of limitation and uncertainty.

However, to sum up the latest consensus on what the wave equation means to people today, we could say that the whole idea of “matter” is recognized as a construction of the senses, mind and society. Underneath that social construction of reality,¹ we just have energy, for lack of a better term.

English: Wave particle duality p known

Wave particle duality (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

New Age enthusiasts tend to champion this idea, suggesting the entire universe is merely energy. Meanwhile, some old school theologians still talk about the reality of matter and the (supposed) indisputable authority of Aristotle‘s views on that topic. Some even go as far to say that animals do not enjoy an afterlife because they do not have souls and are made entirely of matter.²

A better approach, however, would consider the replacement of the old idea of “matter” with that of “energy” but also look to spiritual experience as somewhat mysterious yet qualitatively different from energy.³

For his outstanding work in quantum mechanics Schrödinger won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1933, sharing it with Paul Dirac.

Image via Wikipedia

¹ I’m alluding to the sociological classic, The Social Construction of Reality by Berger and Luckmann.

² Others say that animals do have souls, but still do not enjoy an afterlife. See these links.

³ What do I mean by this? Well, I recall conversing with someone who liked to work out. He enjoyed his endorphin rushes after vigorous exercise. I used to be a long distance runner, so knew what he was talking about. Since my running days, however, I have experienced what C. G. Jung and others call the numinous. And what Catholics (and other Christians) call the indwelling of The Holy Spirit. In those essentially spiritual experiences I have noticed a range of difference. And all of the spiritual experiences were qualitatively different from an endorphin rush (which we can assume more closely correlates to chemical changes than, say, sitting in a church).

Related » George Berkeley, Philipp Lenard, Particle, Wave, Thomas Young 


Special Theory of Relativity

The Special Theory of Relativity is one of Albert Einstein‘s theories developed in 1905 which, in its most basic form, says:

  • in non-accelerated (i.e. inertial) frames of reference, physical laws always and everywhere apply regardless of the frame of reference and
  • the speed of light (in a vacuum) is constant independent of the speed of the observer

Because the speed of the observer is a frame of reference, the above statements seem to conflict. To resolve these apparently conflicting statements, complex equations were developed, leading to the famous e=mc², where ‘e’ is energy, ‘m’ is matter, and ‘c’ is the constant speed of light.

English: USSR stamp dedicated to Albert Einste...

USSR stamp dedicated to Albert Einstein (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

According to this equation, mass increases with velocity and decreases with a loss of energy.

The implications of this theory are profound. In essence, space and time are interwoven, and not separate entities. Wikipedia says:

Time and space cannot be defined separately from each other. Rather space and time are interwoven into a single continuum known as spacetime. Events that occur at the same time for one observer could occur at different times for another.

What follows from this is hard for many to understand. But it has been experimentally supported:

We are each in our own, individual spacetime because we have each moved in unique directions and velocities in our lives.

So, according to this theory (and the evidence that supports it), while it appears that many events happen at the same spacetime among us, they do not. The reason it appears that things happen at the same spacetime is due to the extremely tiny spacetime differences among us.

Related Posts » General Theory of Relativity


Add to this, report errors, suggest edits or voice your opinionAdd to this, report errors, suggest edits or voice your opinion

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Standing Wave

In physics a standing wave is a uniform and relatively stable wave pattern of energy that doesn’t travel through a medium. Put differently, each point on the standing wave has a constant amplitude.

Standing wave in stationary medium. The red do...

Standing wave in stationary medium. The red dots represent the wave nodes. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

By way of example, imagine a long skipping rope extended on a smooth surface and held by two people at either end. When wiggled left to right by one person at a precise frequency, this particular type of wave differs in that its waveform (the height and shape of the curve) doesn’t move down the rope but remains stable, forming a uniform pattern.

Circular Standing Wave

Circular Standing Wave (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Wikipedia adds:

This phenomenon can occur because the medium is moving in the opposite direction to the wave, or it can arise in a stationary medium as a result of interference between two waves traveling in opposite directions. The most common cause of standing waves is the phenomenon of resonance, in which standing waves occur inside a resonator due to interference between waves reflected back and forth at the resonator’s resonant frequency.

For waves of equal amplitude traveling in opposing directions, there is on average no net propagation of energy

Erwin Schrödinger argued that all particles of matter are in fact standing waves of energy.

The implications of his theory are profound. It suggests that so-called matter within the universe isn’t really solid. We merely perceive it as solid through our senses and minds.


Related Posts » George Berkeley, Wave, Thomas Young



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Thomas Young (1773 – 1829)

English: Wave particle duality p known

Wave particle duality p known (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Thomas Young (1773-1829) was an English scientist, physician and Egyptologist. He made important contributions toward deciphering the Rosetta Stone, has been called the father of physiological optics, and has made other significant contributions in the history of ideas,¹ but he’s remembered most for conducting the famous double slit experiment in 1803.

In this experiment light was said to behave like a wave due to an observable interference pattern. This suggests that light is a type of energy, as opposed to a collection of particles.

In 1905 the view of light as energy was challenged or, perhaps, better said, confounded by the Hungarian-German Nazi Philipp Lenard, whose own experiments demonstrated that light also behaves like a particle, which is normally understood as a unit of matter.

Diagram for the double-slit experiment

Diagram for the double-slit experiment (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Until this point in Western intellectual history, a history that Richard Nisbett² and others say is almost obsessively concerned with rational categories, matter and energy were thought to be entirely different because, according to previously available observational frameworks, matter behaved differently than energy.

Since the discovery of the apparent duality of light as matter and energy, however, an entirely new series of experiments and theories have arisen about the enigmatic “stuff” of the universe.

This search includes what physicists have recently called the “God Particle” (Higgs boson). If its existence is confirmed, this would apparently resolve some inconsistencies in theoretical physics, as it now stands.

Related Posts » Democritus, Hume (David), Particle, Particle-Wave Duality, Schrödinger (Erwin), Standing Wave


² Richard E. Nisbett, The Geography of Thought: How Asians and Westerners Think Differently… and Why. New York: The Free Press, 2003.

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Flyleaf of the book of Alexandr Aksakov: Animi...

Flyleaf of the book of Alexandr Aksakov: Animism and Spiritism, 1906 Edition (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Animism is the belief that natural objects like rocks, rivers, mountains and trees, as well as animals and people have a spiritual, animating principle.

The pioneering anthropologist Sir E. B. Tylor (1832 -1917) developed a theory of animism to try to explain the origins of religion. Tylor believed that so-called primitive man developed a belief in spirits existing in nature from the actual experience of sleep, dreams and breathing. Like many researchers who think they know better than the people they are researching, it was probably too much of a stretch for him to take the idea on its own terms.

Today, it’s not entirely clear if animism should be defined as a religion, per se, or simply as a widely held belief. One of the complications that comes out of the belief in animism is the view that matter and spirit are the same. This differs from the view that matter and energy are equivalent. But not many people are able to appreciate the subtlety of this distinction. Many New Age and subatomic physics enthusiasts say that matter and energy are the same, and therefore assume that matter, energy and spirit are the same.

This view is at odds with religious perspectives that claim spirit pervades matter/energy but is qualitatively different from it. But again, if someone is merely looking at the problem intellectually, or with limited experience, they’ll probably think it’s all the same.