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Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Reality & Illusion - Science

Reality– meaning something that exists. Illusion – meaning something that seems to exist. Reality is absolute whereas Illusion is relative and temporary. Prima Facie it looks like a straightforward scenario and easy to distinguish between reality and illusion.

This series of articles intend to explore the two using different paradigms from Science, sociology, politics, finance etc.

Solid matter - reality or illusion.

Matter is composed of 2 states - solids and fluids. Solid is the matter with definable boundaries and fluid without definable boundaries and takes up the boundaries of the container. So far so good. But the problem starts when we go on to define the properties of solids. Solid, we usually percieve, is something which does not have any empty volume inside it. Let us consider a block of iron of, say, 1 kg with no visible holes in it. Visible here being defined as visibility with naked eye and also with the most microscopic visual aid which human beings have devised till now I.e., electron microscope. Since, no holes are there and it has a definable boundary, so we call it a solid.
But is it so, let us go inside our solid block and see what is there?

The basic building block of nature is atom. An atom is composed of a nucleus containing neutrons, protons, pions and various other sub atomic particles surrounded by electrons in their orbits around nucleus, in a somewhat similar fashion as solar system. Just like solar system, an atom also has majority of its volume as empty space. The difference being that virtually all the mass of atom is concentrated in its nucleus with electrons having negligible mass.
The rough diameter of nucleus is 10
-12 cm and that of atom is 10-8 cm. So in a solid, as we call it, the 2 neighbouring nuclei (possessing nearly all the mass of atom) are kept apart from each other by a distance which is minimum 10,000 times their own diameter by a thinly spread out organization of electrons, with very little mass.
So, the solid which we know off is basically composed of maximum empty space with regular sprinkling of mass. So, the idea that our 1 kg has no holes is an illusion which we term as reality. The reality is that it is full of holes or rather it is holes only with small amount of solid mass scattered in the empty space.
If only we could minimize ourselves to the sub atomic mass, then suddenly the solid as we see will disappear and we will be facing huge empty spaces with small condensed masses scattered about. By the way, when we say that cosmic rays, gamma ray radiations etc. pass directly through thick walls also, what we mean is that these rays are so small that they are able to pass through the empty spaces in the atoms without colliding with nucleus or electrons in the same way as our spacecrafts pass through vacuum without colliding with any heavenly bodies. We call the universe as empty with stars and planets dotted, so there is no reason we should call a solid as full.
Hence the concept of solid as perceived by general people, comprising 99.99999% of human population, is illusion but is treated as reality.

Dual reality or Dual illusion –

Reality#1: Universe is infinite.

Reality#2: Speed of light is the speed limit of universe.

We never realize that the above 2 realities are mutually exclusive. Let us consider the evidences as we see them. It has been conclusively proved that the Galaxies are accelerating away from the centre of universe, by observing the Doppler shift in the spectrum of light reaching us from those galaxies. You can see and understand the Doppler shift if you listen to a train or speeding bus/car whose horns are blowing as it approaches you and then passes. You will notice a qualitative change in the sound of horn as it approaches you and then moves away from you. This is due to shift in the wavelength of sound. The same holds true for light also. As an object recedes from us, the light that we receive faces a shift in its wavelength. Using same principles, when light from galaxies was analyzed, it was found that the galaxies were accelerating outwards. This is physical evidence, which is true by the virtue of it being present.
So,let us presume that the Galaxies at the start point of their motion were at zero speed and the acceleration started. (This is a simplistic view, but will suffice for our purpose). As the time increases the speed of the galaxies, also increases and we do not have any factor or evidence that they are going to slow down. So a moment in time is reached when those Galaxies will cross the speed of light, 1,86,000 miles per second. There is no one in the Universe who will push the brakes and ask them to go slow so that they can abide by our laws of physics and can maintain a speed equal to or below the arbitrary speed limit we have set up. The only way it was possible was if Universe was finite, but that is out of question as Universe is infinite.

Hence, the reality that we believe in about speed of light is an illusion. An illusion that even great scientists believe to be reality and in order to preserve this illusion go to great extents, even to the extent of twisting facts to suit the theory. That is for another discussion, in another time.

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