Some Thoughts About Physics

Sometimes you have a new thought, an idea, or eureka moment, but it’s not gutsy enough to expand into a reasonable length article or essay. So, here’s another potpourri of thoughts dealing with physics and related, too good not to record, but with not enough meat available to flesh out. People reading this will hopefully be somewhat familiar with the terms and jargon used. If not, well that’s why dictionaries exist!

The Why Question

Can anyone explain exactly why the south pole and the north pole of a magnet attract? Or why and how the north pole of a magnet repels another north pole? You know what happens, but the how and why is beyond you to explain. You know an electron and a positron will annihilate upon contact. You know what happens but not the how and exact nature of why what happens. You know that the electric charge on a proton is equal and opposite of that on an electron. Can anyone tell me why? Can anyone actually tell me what electric charge actually is? You know what it does but how does it do it and why does it do it?

The “why” of things – the “why” question is central in coming to terms with life, the universe and everything. There is a much deeper “why’ question in physics which is, for example, why should electromagnetism or EM (whatever that actually is) opposites attract and EM sameness repel? Why isn’t it the opposite or why for that matter either case? It’s the question that Einstein asked which was whether or not God had any choice in the matter when creating the laws, principles and relationships of physics, or, as Hawking put it, “what breathes fire into the equations”.

Explanations are all well and good but fail to come to terms with why it has to be this way and not some other way. That’s the “why” that can’t be explained or answered.

Consider for example some made-up bizarre properties regarding the north pole (NP) and south pole (SP) of a magnet. Why not have NP to NP result in nuclear fission and SP to SP result in nuclear fusion and SP to NP result in superconductivity. Or place some chemicals between NP and NP and get an exothermic reaction; between the SP and SP you get an endothermic reaction but between SP and NP no chemical reaction takes place at all.

Put another way, can you imagine that if you reset the clock back to the Big Bang and start over again or imagine another universe entirely, where NP and NP attracted and ditto SP and SP but SP and NP repelled each other. If not, why not. Or, to put it another way as per Einstein’s question, can there be more than one set of physics?

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Is Electric Charge An Emergent Phenomenon?

Premise: Electric charge is not an emergent phenomenon.

Electric charge is seemingly not dependent on and has no relationship to velocity, angular momentum, ‘spin’ or mass. Thus electric charge is an independent something and so it must exist or be a property in its own right in and of itself. It might be part of a team of properties, but has its own independent existence. Electric charge may be fundamental although I doubt electric charge has to exist of necessity. Yet we couldn’t exist without electric charge being in existence, so might this be an example of design and fine-tuning?

So what exactly is electric charge? Just calling electric charge a force or a field or a whatsit or a thingamabob isn’t itself all that enlightening.

One $64,000 question is why is electric charge restricted to values of plus or minus 1/3rd, 2/3rds or 3/3rds? This must mean that electric charge comes in units or packets or quanta of 1/3rd and that an electron is (among other things) a composite of three packets of negative electric charge. But is a packet of electric charge a solid material physical entity or is it immaterial and can it really exist independently of a particle substrate like an electron (muon or tau) or a quark and if so why does it attach itself to these kinds of particles (also a positron and of course anti-quarks) but not to another type like a neutrino?

Premise: Electric charge is an emergent phenomenon.

On the other hand maybe electric charge is an emergent property such that if you have a particle with the mass of an electron (or a positron) and the ‘spin’ of an electron (or a positron) and the angular momentum of an electron (or a positron), another property will emerge which we call electric charge.

It seems rather implausible that three 1/3rd packets of negative electric charge would just happen to intersect each other and with a particle with the mass, ‘spin’ and angular momentum of a pseudo-electron to all now come together to form a traditional electron. [An electron without any electric charge would have to be a pseudo-electron, not a real electron of course.] That would also imply that you can have a particle with the mass, ‘spin’ and angular momentum of an electron, a pseudo-electron, without a 3/3rds unit of negative electric charge. So again electric charge must be an inherent but emergent property but one which doesn’t arise in all types of particles.

Something is screwy somewhere!

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The Conversion of Energy to Matter

We’re all familiar with the concept of the creation of energy from matter, especially in nuclear matters like nuclear energy or in radioactivity/particle decay like the neutron decaying into various bits and pieces plus energy. The ultimate form of energy from matter is matter – anti-matter annihilation into pure energy.

The question is, has anyone observed the creation of matter from energy? There’s the vacuum energy that can create virtual matter – anti-matter particles, but these annihilate each other back into pure energy again quick-smart. There’s Hawking radiation of course whereby Black Holes lose mass via radiation energy that escapes and I guess in theory that ‘radiation’ could be in the form of particles with actual mass created via the vacuum energy whereby one virtual particle gets created outside of the event horizon.

I gather high energy particle accelerators smashing together particles create ‘new’ particles which might be a direct result of the energy expenditure.

But on a more down to earth level, in our ordinary day-to-day existence, do we ever observe matter being created from energy?

For example, if you strike a match, some of the mass represented in the form of the match-head chemicals get converted to heat and light energy. Do you ever see light and heat energy morph into match-head chemicals? Sunlight is required for photosynthesis but does any of that sunlight actually become incorporated into and become plant matter or is it only a kind of catalyst? These kinds of examples – ordinary examples we all could see.

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Gravity at Absolute Zero

Although the concept of absolute zero is theoretically impossible to achieve, if it were achieved – in theory – then all motion would cease. However, even if that were the case, wouldn’t gravity still be operational and thus even at absolute zero wouldn’t there be motion due to gravitational effects? Is this just another already established reason, apart from the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, why absolute zero is theoretical only and never achievable? I would think that this should be a reason on the grounds that there doesn’t seem to be any significant relationship between temperature and gravity. Gravity should be a constant regardless of the temperature of the objects under mutual gravitational attraction, even if that temperature were absolute zero. Of course motion due to gravity is energy and any energy present negates the possibility of achieving absolute zero. The theoretical question is, what is the theoretical state of gravity if one could achieve a temperature of absolute zero?

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Regarding Radioactive Decay

Now I realise that there is a lot of literature on radioactive decay that explains what happens. However, I haven’t seen much in the way of literature that tells me why things happened when they happened. Say you go out and buy a uranium-238 atom and plunk it down in your lab. Ten seconds later the atom is still there and intact; eleven seconds post plunking it has gone poof. Why that should be if there was no change in the atom’s environment for the duration of that one second interval is still to me an anomaly.

Perhaps there is a hidden environmental variable* we are not aware of. If there was a change in the atom’s local environment say due to the quantum jitters or a neutrino whacking into the U-238 nucleus, well that’s still a cause, and therefore causality rules.

Another thought. Assuming there is no causality, let’s say you had a multi-billion atom hunk of some radioactive substance. You also have two random number generators, one for how many atoms go poof and the other to determine how many units of time that number of atoms go poof in. Run that until all those billions of atoms have decayed. Would you end up with a traditional half-life relationship? I personally doubt it. Even if you just used one random number generator that determined the number of unstable nuclei that went poof every fixed unit of time I doubt you’d come up with graphing a half-life curve.

Lack of causality reminds me of the late Carl Sagan’s done to death quote about how “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence”. Although that observation was probably directed at the macro world, I think it equally adaptable to the micro world too, only I would drop the dual use of “extraordinary” as something extraordinary is in the mind of the beholder and what’s extraordinary to you may not be extraordinary to me and vice versa. To me the abandonment of cause-and-effect is something that’s certainly extraordinary.

Things like the conservation laws and past-to-future forward-causality (and what other kind of causality is in operation unless there’s time travel from future-to-past at the quantum level** – cue in the theme to “The Twilight Zone” here), should not be given up for lost except as a last resort. In fact, as I recall, it was an apparent violation in the conservation laws applicable to Beta Decay that led the late Wolfgang Pauli to postulate the existence of the neutrino – confirmed in his lifetime – and thus restore the established status quo.

*Yes, I’m aware that Einstein proposed hidden variables to explain quantum anomalies and actual experiments have tended to result in having Albert striking out at the plate with respect to hidden variables. There really is spooky action at a distance. However, I have a hidden variable hidden up my sleeve (that Einstein probably couldn’t have conceived of in his wildest thought experiment) which unfortunately is not original to me so I can take neither credit nor blame for the scenario. Stay tuned for the bombshell (or the fizzer) in the days to come.

**Which certainly has been postulated by the late Richard Feynman and others, and is apparently exhibited in the delayed double-slit experiment so I shouldn’t be too hasty in ruling out future-to-past causality – but it’s still causality, even if back-to-front. Something happens then something else happens in turn.

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A Lone Electron Universe

Imagine a universe that consists of just one and only electron. Given that scenario, would it be meaningful to talk about the electron’s electric charge or its gravity?

If “yes”, what’s the charge and gravity acting on or is it just radiating away? If it’s just radiating away, can it radiate away indefinitely?

If “no”, then are these properties of charge and gravity imaginary, immaterial and illusionary? If so, and if now this thought-experiment universe now contained just two and only two electrons, then electric charge and gravity would now appear to have meaning, but where did they come from if they were imaginary in a one-electron universe?

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Perpetual vs. Perpetual Motion vs. Perpetual Motion Devices

Perpetual (infinity; everlasting; forever; eternal).

Perpetual: There are lots of things that are perpetual. That magnet sticking to your fridge would presumable stick for all eternity. The strong nuclear force holding the quarks in a proton together will presumable remain in place for an infinite amount of time. Presumable the gravity between two objects of mass will remain in place perpetually.

Perpetual Motion: You can have perpetual motion. Newton’s First Law of Motion states that an object in motion will remain in motion and not change its velocity unless acted on by an external force (i.e. – friction, or gravity for example). So, if you shot a bullet in a perfect (albeit unattainable) vacuum, it would keep on keeping on forever and ever. Presumably an electron ‘orbiting’ an atom will do so forever and a day. In a similar way, the vacuum energy a.k.a. quantum foam a.k.a. quantum fluctuations a.k.a. the quantum jitters are a mandatory example of perpetual energy since no elementary particle (mass or the equivalent in energy) can sit still since that would violate the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. Presumably galaxies will continue to rotate long after each and every star in them has gone extinct.

Perpetual Motion Devices: These are not allowed under the laws, principles and relationships of physics. It all starts with the First Law of Thermodynamics which basically states that energy can neither be created nor destroyed but only changed in form from one kind of energy to another. Based on that First Law alone, the Patent Office will toss you out on your ear (or other parts of your anatomy) if you submit an application for a perpetual motion machine. Why? You can’t expect something for nothing – there’s no such thing as a free lunch when it comes to energy as per that First Law. In other words, it’s for the simple reason that such a theoretical perpetual motion device would have to have an energy output greater than the energy input which then in theory could be recycled back into the device to produce even more energy output which could then be used as input to create even greater energy output, etc. Even if the energy output were equal to the energy input you would still not have an everlasting or perpetual workable device for the reason that some of the energy output would be waste energy that wouldn’t be productive – i.e. heat. So, if you input 1000 units of useful energy, and you get out 999 useful units of output energy and 1 unit of non-productive heat, that’s not a perpetual motion device since you could only recycle and input 999 units for your original expenditure of 1000 units – a losing proposition. For example, you put 1000 units of chemical energy into your car’s gas tank (gasoline), you don’t get 1000 units of kinetic energy (motion) in return which by some magic wave of the wand could be converted back to fuel in the tank. Some of your chemical energy gets converted into heat energy which wafts away without assisting in moving your car. It would be nice if 1000 units of chemical energy would ultimately translate into an infinite number of kinetic energy units and thus you never had to fill up your tank at the gas station, but…

Still it is interesting that you can have something that’s perpetual and something that has perpetual motion but not a perpetual motion machine!

Black Holes and Antimatter

If an electron meets and greets a positron (an anti-electron), you’ll get 100% conversion of matter into energy and a big Ka-Boom to boot. Now the premise is, if you have enough electrons in one place and at one time, you could create a Black Hole (of electron-stuff). And if you have enough positrons in one place and at one time, you could create a Black Hole (of positron-stuff). In neither case would the corresponding electric charges extend beyond the respective Event Horizons for the same reason that ‘light’ (of any wavelength / frequency) can’t extend from inside a Black Hole to the outside of a Black Hole (i.e. – beyond the Event Horizon). But now the question is, what happens when the electron-ness Black Hole meets and greets the positron-ness Black Hole? Will you get total annihilation into pure energy, a really big KA-BOOM, or will you just end up with a larger Black Hole?

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