The subject makes the universe, what makes things up? For those who think about it, this question is long complicated, especially for physicists. Reflecting recent trends in physics, my colleague Jeffrey Eischen and I have described an updated way of thinking about the subject. We suggest that matter not made up of particles or waves, as was thought long ago, but – more fundamentally – matter made up of pieces of energy.
From five to one
The ancient Greeks held five building blocks – from bottom to top: earth, water, air, fire and ether. Arthur explained the matter by filling the sky and the rotation of the stars, as observed from the point of space of the earth. These were the first basic elements from which one could build a world. Their ideas about physical elements have not changed dramatically in nearly 2,000 years. Then about 300 years ago, Sir Isaac Newton introduced the idea that all things exist in points called particles. One hundred and fifty years, later, James Clark Maxwell introduced electronic magnetic waves – the inherent and often invisible form of magnetism, electricity and light.
The particle acted as a building block for mechanics and as a wave for electromagnetism – and people fixed particles and waves as two building blocks of matter. Simultaneously particles and waves become the building blocks of all kinds of matter. Einstein proposed a remedy for his general theory of relativity. Using the mathematical tools available to him at the time, Einstein was able better explain some physical phenomena and to solve long-standing paradoxes about inertia and gravity. Instead of improving particles or waves, they move away as they propose an increase in space and time.
This was a huge improvement over the five elements of the ancient Greeks, but was flawed. In a famous series of tests known as the double-slit test, light sometimes acts as a particle and at other times acts as a wave. Wave and particle theory and mathematics allow scientists to make incredibly accurate predictions about the universe; those rules divided into the largest and smallest scales. Using new mathematical tools, my colleague and I demonstrated a new theory that could accurately describe the universe. Instead of basing the theory on space and time, we have considered that there could be a building block that more fundamental than particles and waves.
Scientists have realized that particles and waves are the opposite of existence: a particle is the source of matter that is present at a point and exists everywhere except the points that the waves create. My coworker and I thought it made logical sense to have an underlying connection between them.