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What Is Reality?

Let us start our development of a new understanding of reality at the most fundamental level. What is reality? Dictionaries define reality to mean all things that exist or have actuality, independently of our thinking or perception, as opposed to things which do not exist or are just figments of our imagination.

Common sense tells us that physical objects are real. Anyone who seriously doubts that tables, chairs, walls, doors, rocks, trees, people, dogs, cats, rain, the sun and similar physical objects are real is considered to be not all right in the head. If we can see it, feel it, smell it, hear it, taste it with one of our five senses, and especially if we observe it with multiple senses and/or if other people report the same experiences, we are strongly inclined to believe "it" is real, whatever it is.

What are these physical objects which we can perceive with our senses made of? That is a very old question. Ancient Greek philosophers such as Democritus and Leucippus believed that if you cut a physical object into smaller and smaller pieces, eventually you will reach something so small that it cannot be cut any further. The Greek word for "uncuttable" is atomos, hence our word "atom."

Most of us, we can safely assume, learned about the "reality" of atoms from school or our parents. Although we cannot perceive individual atoms with any of our senses, they can be observed with instruments. Researchers at IBM using an electron tunneling microscope have actually succeeded in producing color pictures showing individual atoms looking like neatly organized little fuzzy balls, and have even rearranged a group of atoms to spell IBM. Of course these "pictures" are not ordinary photographs taken with an optical lens using visible light, but are created through computer interpretations of signals created by an electron tunneling instrument.

Mini-Solar Systems

Back in the 18th and 19th Centuries, Isaac Newton's theories of physics, which accounted so well for the motions of the planets and other heavenly bodies, influenced scientists to believe that atoms obeyed the same laws of physics as the planets and other solid objects.

Niels Bohr in the early 20th Century formulated a model of the atom as a mini-solar system, with negatively-charged electrons revolving in orbits around a nucleus composed of positively-charged protons and neutrally-charged neutrons. Eventually this atomic system was found to be composed mostly of empty space. It was calculated, for example, that if the nucleus of an atom were the size of a tennis ball, the nearest electron in orbit would be several miles away. We are told that these electrons move so fast they can hardly be called particles at all, but are more like bundles of energy or waves, appearing at regular intervals like waves on the surface of a pond made by a splashing rock.

More recently, physicists have discovered and/or postulated a whole host of subatomic particles such as neutrinos, quarks and gluons which occur in atoms or which leave traces identified by sophisticated computers following collisions created in enormous high-speed particle accelerators.

The Fundamental Particles Of The Universe

Research in the 1980s carried particle physics almost as far as it can go. Two particle physicists, Gary Feldman and Jack Steinberger, reported in the February 1991 Scientific American that all physical objects (again, this is not all that exists in ultimate reality) in the entire universe from stars and galaxies to protons and neutrons, consist of three and only three fundamental particles: the "up" quark, the "down" quark and the electron.

Protons, by this theory, are composed of two up quarks and a down quark, and neutrons are composed of two down quarks and one up quark. The fundamental particles exist in three "families." In the electron family are electrons, electron neutrinos, up and down quarks. In the muon family are muons, muon neutrinos, "strange" and "charm" quarks. And in the tau family are tau particles, tau neutrinos, bottom quarks and top quarks. Although top quarks have yet to be observed, presumably they have too much mass to be created in today's high-energy particle accelerators.

Except for the first family, which comprises electrons, protons and neutrons, the other families, muon and tau, are highly unstable, lasting somewhere between a millionth and a ten-trillionth of a second, after which they split into other particles with lower mass.

All Matter Is Composed Of Ordered Energy

Of course these minute particles are not little solid bits of matter like tiny grains of sand but are small bundles of energy. They have mass (a measurement of inertia requiring force to put them in motion) as expressed in Einstein's famous formula E=mc2, which can also be written m=E/c2 that is, their mass is equal to their energy divided or "slowed down" by the speed of light squared.

Feldman and Steinberger discuss how these fundamental particles and others might have been created in the first seconds of the universe (note that once again we have some very bright physicists talking about creation as if it were a fact without acknowledging a Creator God):

"Shortly after the big bang, the cataclysmic explosion that created the universe and began its expansion, matter was so hot that a neutron was as likely to decay into a proton-electron pair as the latter was to combine to form a neutron. Consequently, as many neutrons as protons existed. But as the universe expanded and cooled, the slightly heavier neutrons changed into protons more readily than protons changed into neutrons." Thus protons became increasingly more common than neutrons.

"When the expansion brought the temperature of the universe below one billion [degrees Kelvin], protons and neutrons were for the first time able to fuse, thereby forming some of the lighter elements, mainly helium. The resulting abundances depend critically on the ratio of neutrons to protons at the time light elements were forming. This ratio, in turn, depends on the rate at which the universe expanded and cooled."

Feldman and Steinberger note that "Many questions remain unanswered. Why are there just three families of particles? What law determines the masses of their members, decreeing that they shall span 10 powers of 10? These problems lie at the center of particle physics today."

These questions assume causality and purpose. "Law" as we have seen assumes a supreme "Lawmaker" and a degree of order to extensive it could not be accidental, but instead was created.

The Order Of The Elements

Another familiar example of order at the atomic level is the periodic table of chemistry, which shows similarities among the different elements occurring in patterns that have to do with their atomic weight or number of atomic particles. For example, the group of elements called Group 0 includes helium, neon and argon, all which tend to appear as gasses, with neon and argon tending to emit light when electrified. Group 4 includes carbon, silicon and zirconium which are often found in clear crystalline state. The fact that all physical things are made up of atomic elements, and that all atoms of one type behave exactly the same under the same conditions, is a tremendous example of order in reality that cannot be ignored.

Moving up from atoms, we have molecules that also behave with unvarying consistency under the same conditions. Water freezes at 32 degrees F. (0 C.) and boils at 212 degrees F. (100 C.) with total consistency, under normal sea-level conditions. Every chemistry experiment involving a combination of elements to form new molecules, or existing molecules to form new combinations, will always yield the same results under normal conditions. There are laws of chemistry just as surely as there are laws of physics. If atoms and molecules did not behave in an orderly manner, life as we know it would not be possible. Glass could burn, water could explode, our fingers could freeze in the summer sun, and many other phenomena might occur which exist only in our imagination that is, not in orderly nature.

So-called solid objects, whose molecules do not move internally (although of course their electrons move constantly), contain a high degree of complex order. For example, a protein molecule such as hemoglobin found in blood consists of hundreds of atoms of oxygen and nitrogen surrounding an iron center. It has been estimated that there are more patterns of order which various complex proteins can form than all the grains of sand on all the beaches of the world indeed, the number is almost infinite.

Order And Fractals

In 1975 Benoit Mandelbrot coined the term "fractals" (from the Latin for broken or fragmented) to describe patterns which are found both in nature and "man-made," such as frost on a windowpane, the colors in peacock feathers, and many other "beautiful" phenomena. Mandelbrot, a researcher for IBM, and others have developed computer programs which translate certain mathematical formulas into patterns of swirling color as beautiful as anything found in nature. With the order of mathematics as their base, these fractals are clearly the result of complex order, just as the beautiful patterns of nature.

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