Tuesday, March 22, 2016

What is Real?

                 Below is a letter I submitted to Scientific American. It was not printed.

                After reading the article “What is Real?” from the August 2013 Scientific American, I have decided that an important question regarding the nature of reality is “What is a Boundary?” The article posits that particles and fields aren’t accurate representations of reality, so if they are not, then something else is. The article further proposes that relations between things or simply properties, such as mass and charge, are the constituents of reality.
                I would like to say that, fundamentally, a proton is little different from a star. A proton has a definite and indefinite boundary, much like our Sun. Consider the similarities: a proton and a star have radii (which implies a circular or spherical shape, as well as a boundary), they are affected by forces, they can be observed and they are both deadly and friendly to life. But there is an inconsistency, and that inconsistency is related to boundary in the form of the radii, which paradoxically help to define the boundary. This is interesting: the very fact that boundaries can be measured does nothing to define them. As an example, the influence of the Sun extends far beyond its surface (a boundary), so what is the true boundary of the Sun? Is it the surface or the magnetosphere? The solar wind or the gravitational pull? How can a boundary for the Sun be defined in such a way that agreement will be unanimous?
                When I think of the term boundary, I am referring to a definite end of an object in question, but not necessarily the start of a new object. For example, nothing new starts (that I know of) at any conceivable boundary of the Sun. There is a gap between the Sun and Mercury, a gap between Mercury and Venus, and so on. But…Mercury is contained within the influence of the Sun despite the fact there is an observable gap, which further implies there is no gap between the Sun and Mercury. So we have a situation where Mercury is both beyond and not beyond the Sun, since the true boundary of the Sun is not formally defined.
                If something as big and as easy to see as the Sun does not have a formally defined boundary, then how can the poor little proton ever hope to have one? A proton exudes a positive charge, which implies its boundary extends beyond its equivalent of a surface, much like that of a star. Also, a proton has an interior (which, again, implies a boundary). Is perhaps the interior of the proton, the quarks and gluons, the actual “event” that defines a proton and everything else just consequences? As an example, one could formally define a star as just the portion that undergoes the “event” of thermonuclear fusion and everything else a consequence. This leads to a reality made of events and consequences, which is simple, very simple. But this simplicity leads to infinite regression, since each “event” is really just a consequence. The big bang itself may not have been an “event”, for example, but a consequence of some earlier event, which itself may have been a consequence of an even earlier event, and so on.

                Bryan Singleton

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