Monday, March 19, 2007

Atomic headache

There is the great spectacle of scientific relativism, observable not only in the preliminary character of every scientific statement but also in the model aspect of scientific constructs and in the fact that terms like "atoms," "molecules," "energy," and "movement" are on a boundary line between model and concept. This gives a relativistic character even to scientific thinking. If you ask which model or concept is closest to reality you may receive the answer: none is; what we have here is a "game."

Paul Tillich

Absolutes in Human Knowledge and the Idea of Truth

I am thinking of atom and Plato’s idealism.

There are many models of atom presented. There’s the Thomson atom (1899), Rutherford atom (1911), Bohr atom (1913) and the Schroedinger atom.

But the truth is no one has seen an actual atom. All these models of the atoms are nothing but mere representation of physicists’ theories based on the characteristics that they observed that the atoms manifest. Let me quote Einstein: " In our endeavor to understand reality we are somewhat like a man trying to understand the mechanism of a closed watch. He may see the face and the moving hands, even hear its ticking, but he has no way of opening the case. If he is ingenius he may form some picture of a mechanism....but he can never be sure that his only picture is the only one which could explain his observation...He will never be able to compare his picture with the real mechanism...he cannot even imagine the possibility of the meaning of such a comparison. "

"The atom is not only an idea, it is an idea that we cannot even picture." (Zukav)

The classical concept about atoms (at least in RP government schools) is that atoms are particles but what is confusing is that atoms are also behaved like waves i.e. they are like light. (I’m not a physicist and I’ll leave it at that.) What is more confusing is that there are “particles” (my idea of particles is like a grain of sand but in physics particles is different) smaller than atoms called leptons and quarks, and then there are fermions and bosons (the odd and even classification of elementary particles) and the more the physicist dig deeper into the subatomic world the more theoretical and the more conceptual and the more idealistic their language becomes. I will not be surprise (a non physicist) if our search for the basic building bloc of the universe and reality will lead us to the immaterial world of the world of ideas or forms that Plato spoke about a few thousand years ago.

In reality our picture of the atom and the subatomic world is just an imperfect reflection of our ideas about them; we believe (well, some of us don't) that the atom and the quarks and the leptons and what have you in the future, they’re ideas, really, is the unit of material reality!

Of course Plato’s theory on ideas and forms is difficult.

But the more I look at it, the more I read about what is fundamental element that makes up the universe and reality the more I realize that everything ends up to ideas.

“If you ask which model or concept is closest to reality you may receive the answer: none is; what we have here is a "game."” Tillich

Tillich is right. What we have here is a game and sooner or later we may find Plato laughing in our faces.

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