Physics — Classic and Quantum

Classical and Quantum

The laws of nature are but
the mathematical thoughts of God.

Math, science, history
Unraveling the mystery
It all started with a Big Bang
The Barenaked Ladies

This article presents the historical development of classical and quantum physics. It is intended for the layman who is interested in New Age topics, metaphysics, and spirituality. This is the first of four intended to provide background information that can serve as a bridge between modern physics and ancient metaphysics. The second article concerns the spooky behavior of matter at the quantum level, such as spatial and temporal nonlocality, i.e., the disappearance of time and space. The third article summarizes the holographic model of the universe, and the fourth introduces string theory and brane cosmology. If you start to get overwhelmed by new terms or concepts, don’t panic. You will not be tested on it later.

The present article begins with the publication of Sir Isaac Newton’s discovery of gravity and the publication of his Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica in 1686. Newton’s treatise marked the end of what was called natural philosophy and the beginning of classical physics. It goes on to describe how quantum physics was developed in order to account for the inadequacies of classical physics regarding the properties of light and the electromagnetic spectrum. The essential theoretical differences between classical and quantum physics are presented, including such phenomena as wave-particle duality, quantum jumps, the quantum wave function, and non-causal correlations between particles. The philosophical implications for scientific determinism are explored. The standard model of particle physics and the four forces are also included.

In our everyday experience, we are aware of ourselves, other people, houses, cars, cats, and dogs as distinct and separate things. We know that all these things are made up of matter, and all things made of matter seem to follow certain natural laws of space and time. For instance, in this world that we experience daily, no two objects can occupy the exact same space at the exact same time, and no object can be in two or more places at once. In this world described classical physics, time moves in one direction—from the past to the present and into the future.

We know that matter is acted upon or interacts with energy (or force). Matter appears in three states—solid, liquid, and gas. (There is a possible fourth state—plasma, but we do not ordinarily encounter it.) Some things made of matter are solid like trees and buildings; some things are liquid like water, milk, and oil; and some things are gases like the air in the atmosphere and the helium in a balloon. Applying energy in the form of heat can turn solid matter into liquid matter and liquid matter into gaseous matter. Removing heat can turn gaseous matter into liquid matter and liquid matter into solid matter.

Grof referred to this normal, ordinary, everyday state that is matter-oriented as hylotropic consciousness:

In the hylotropic mode of consciousness, an individual experiences himself or herself as a solid physical entity with definite boundaries and with a limited sensory range. The world appears to be made of separate material objects and has distinctly Newtonian characteristics: time is linear, space is three-dimensional, and all events seem to be governed by chains of causes and effects. Experiences in this mode support systematically a number of basic assumptions about the world, such as: matter is solid; two objects cannot occupy the same space; past events are irretrievably lost; future events are not experientially available; one cannot be in more than one place at a time;1

The Classical Physics of Sir Isaac Newton

Physics, or natural philosophy as it was once called, is the study of the natural or material world and its phenomena. It is the science of matter, energy, and their interactions. Classical physics is the scientific discipline that studies matter and energy and describes the natural laws that govern them.

Classical physics was born July 5, 1686.2 With the financial backing of the English Astronomer Royal Edmond Halley (1656-1742), English astrologer and alchemist Sir Isaac Newton (1643-1727) published his Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica. In his Philosophiæ, Newton presented his three laws of motion, his work on calculus, and his theory of gravity. Newton based much of his work on the ideas of the Prussian astronomer, astrologer, cleric, and military commander Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1543), the Danish astrologer and alchemist Tycho Brahe (1546-1601), the Tuscan astrologer and mathematician Galileo Galilei (1564-1642), the German astrologer and mathematician Johannes Kepler (1571-1630), and the French philosopher René Descartes (1596-1650), the father of modern philosophy. Newton’s Philosophiæ secured him the Presidency of the Royal Society in 1703.

Newton’s law of universal gravitation was the birth, and later the death, of classical physics. According to Newton’s law of universal gravitation, the force of gravity (F) between two objects (for example, the sun and earth, the earth and an apple, or the sun and an apple) could be determined by multiplying the mass (in kilograms) of the first object (m1) by the mass (in kilograms) of the second object (m2) and by the gravitational constant (G), and then dividing the result by the square of the distance between the two objects (r). Newton’s formula for gravity is written as F = Gm1m2/r2. The G is a constant called the gravitational constant, Newton’s constant, and the universal gravitational constant and has been determined to equal the product of (6.67428 ± 0.00067) x 10-11m3kg-1s-2. G is approximately equal to 6.674 x 10-11N(m/kg)2.

Newton’s law of universal gravitation works well in classical physics, which deals with objects larger than atoms. Three centuries later, after the discovery and development of quantum physics, particle-physics, and the standard model, Newton’s formula brought about an abrupt halt in the progress of physics. In the quantum-particle-standard-model version of physics that developed during the 20th-century, the smallest particles of matter—electrons, quarks, etc.—are assumed to be point particles with no dimensions—no length, no height, no depth. With no length, no height, and no depth, point particles have no distance between them. That is, r (the distance between any two point particles) equals zero. Therefore, r2 equals 0 x 0 = 0. Anything (in this case Gm1m2) divided by 0 equals ∞ (infinity), that is, F = Gm1m2/02 or F = ∞.

Thus, according to Newton’s formula, the force of gravity is infinitely strong between any two point-particles. If this were true, no particles of matter would be able to separate into individual particles. There would be no space existing between particles. What is important to understand here is that when the classical physics model or equation for the strength of gravity is applied to the point-particles of quantum physics, the result (infinity) is impossible. Gravity, as understood by classical physics, is not compatible with quantum physics. Therefore, classical physics and quantum physics are incompatible. They cannot readily be combined into one theory or model that explains all of physical reality. (Gravity presents other challenges to the quantum physics model that render classical physics and quantum physics incompatible and therefore fails to provide a complete model or theory of the physical universe.)

In addition to gravity and planetary motion, Newton gave us his three laws of motion: the law of inertia, the law of acceleration, and the law of reciprocal actions. Newton’s law of inertia states that a physical body will remain at rest if it is at rest, or continue to move at a constant velocity if it is moving, unless an outside force acts upon it. Newton’s law of acceleration states that the net force on a body is equal to its mass multiplied by its acceleration. His law of reciprocal actions states that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.

In addition to his contributions to physics, Newton was an astrologer, an alchemist, and a Rosicrucian. His occult or esoteric analysis of the Bible led him to predict that the world as we know it would end in 2060 and be replaced with a new heaven and a new earth. As mentioned above, Newton, Copernicus, Brahe, Galileo, and Kepler were each either astrologers, alchemists, or both. Even Descartes is believed to have been a Rosicrucian, a member of one of the ancient, mystical orders of the Rosy Cross.

The Heliocentric Solar System, Electromagnetic Fields, and Einstein’s Relativity

The early Christian church had adopted the Aristotle/Ptolemy or geocentric model of the universe, that is, the idea that the Sun, Moon, planets, and stars revolved around the Earth in perfectly circular orbits. Church authorities believed that this model was the one and only model of the universe endorsed by the Bible. In 1514, Copernicus resurrected the ancient, heliocentric model that the Earth and planets revolve around the Sun in circular orbits.3 Galileo and Johannes Kepler publicly supported the Copernican model.4

In 1609 Galileo revealed that he had observed moons orbiting Jupiter. Galileo’s observations also called into question the belief that all celestial bodies must orbit the Earth. This crack in the Aristotle/Ptolemy model opened the door to the possibility that the other bodies (the Sun, Mercury, etc.) did not necessarily orbit the Earth. By replacing Copernicus’ circular orbits with elliptical ones, Kepler was able to predict the motion of the planets accurately. In his Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica, Newton analyzed the elliptical motion of the planets and, using his law of universal gravitation, explained the planetary orbits.

During the two hundred years following Newton’s work, our understanding of the physical universe grew thanks to the experimental science of classical physics. Then, in the late 1800’s, classical physics took a dramatic turn. Building on the work of English chemist and physicist Michael Faraday (1791-1867), Scottish physicist James Clerk Maxwell (1831-1879) expanded the realm of classical physics with his unified model of electromagnetism.5 He demonstrated that electric and magnetic fields travel through space in the form of waves moving at the speed of light. In 1861 Maxwell theorized that light waves gave rise to both electric and magnetic fields. Maxwell discovered that the universe was made up of fields of energy that interact with one another. His research led to field theory physics, a sub-field of classical physics.

German-born physicist Albert Einstein (1879-1955) expanded the realm of classical physics even further with his special theory of relativity in 1905 and his general theory of relativity in 1915. With his special theory of relativity, Einstein demonstrated that the independence of the speed of light required actual physical changes in the spacetime framework. His general theory of relativity demonstrated that the mass-energy of matter and its momentum create actual curvatures in spacetime fabric.

McEvoy and Zarate distilled the worldview according to classical physics into six basic assumptions:

The first basic assumption is that classical physics regards the universe as a giant machine, set in a framework of absolute time and space (or relative time and space thanks to Einstein). The laws of motion in the universe are understood to be similar to the laws of motion of a machine. Any complicated movements that cannot be easily understood by the machine analogy could be broken down into simpler movements until they resemble mechanical motion.

The second assumption is that each and every motion has a cause. The universe can be understood as a chain of causes and their effects. This assumption is referred to as the law of cause and effect, or the law of causality.

The third assumption is that if the state of motion is known at one point, it can be determined at any other point in the future or the past. This principle is known as determinism.

According to the fourth basic assumption, the properties of light are completely described by Maxwell’s electromagnetic wave theory and have been confirmed by experimentation.

The fifth assumption is that there are two physical models representing energy—the particle model and the wave model. The models are mutually exclusive; energy must be either a particle or a wave, but never both.

And sixth is that it is possible to measure to any degree of accuracy the properties of a system like its temperature, speed, or mass.6

Classical Physics and Determinism

Classical physics describes the motion of objects in terms of position, mass, force, velocity, and acceleration in a four-dimensional context of space and time. Classical physics has been applied successfully to the behavior of solids, liquids, and gasses. Its laws have also been successfully applied to objects as large as planets, stars, and galaxies. Given an accurate description of every particle in the universe at some particular moment, classic physics can predict the subsequent development of the universe with nearly complete accuracy. This characteristic of classical physics is known as determinism or casual determinism.

Classical physics is dominated by the principle of complete determinism. Theoretically, everything is predetermined. Every event is causally determined by a chain of prior events. Future events are completely predictable because they are causally determined by a combination of physical laws and of past and present events. Even the thoughts, emotions, and actions of every individual are caused by past external and internal physiological events.

The determinism of classical physics is also referred to as the clockwork universe theory. According to classical physics, the universe works like a perfect machine, like a gigantic clockwork wound up by the hand of God and left to run on its own. Due to his religious beliefs, Newton was never comfortable with the deterministic nature of his physical laws, but he was unable to find a reasonable alternative.

The determinism of classical physic excludes the phenomena of consciousness and free will. In classical physics, consciousness and free will are epiphenomena, i.e., secondary phenomena that result from the electrochemical activity in the brain. According to this viewpoint, there is no value in studying either consciousness or free will because they do not affect or interact with the physical universe. If either did affect the physical universe, the clockwork universe theory would have to be abandoned in favor of a theory that includes such immaterial variables.

The clockwork universe theory suffered a temporary blow by the German physicist Rudolf Julius Emanuel Clausius (1822-1888) and his second law of thermodynamics.7 The second law of thermodynamics states that the total entropy of an isolated thermodynamic system tends to increase over time. In other words, without an input of energy from some outside force, a system loses energy and order. It decays. The second law of thermodynamics suggests that, without some outside source of energy, the clockwork universe will wind down and stop.

Entropy is also the basis for the claim by classical physics that time can move in only one direction. Take an egg, for example. There is a certain order in the composition of the typical bird’s egg—its shell, its yolk, etc. If the egg is broken, there is a loss of order in the egg’s structure. Returning the egg to its pre-broken form is impossible according to classical physics and the second law of thermodynamics. Therefore, it is impossible to move backwards in time.

Determinism and the clockwork universe theory suffered their greatest blow by the spooky behavior displayed by atoms and subatomic particles. Although classical physics is useful in the prediction of the behavior of matter and energy at the macroscopic level—our everyday level of reality, the laws of classical physics fail to predict the behavior of matter and energy at the atomic and subatomic levels. It is this spooky behavior at the atomic and subatomic levels that led to the development of quantum physics.

From Classical Physics to the Mysterious Universe of the Quantum

At the ordinary level of everyday consciousness, we know ourselves, others, and the world through our physical senses—vision, hearing, touch, taste, and smell. Some of us are born with one or more of these senses missing; some of us are born with one or more of these senses strongly emphasized; and some seem to be born with one or more of these senses so finely attuned that the phenomena of higher sensory or extrasensory perception comes to mind.

Everything in our ordinary, everyday world of distinct objects is made up of atoms. Atoms are made up of electrons, protons, quarks, and other subatomic particles. Every solid object, including your own physical body, is composed of these ultramicroscopic particles. Anything that exists in the real or macro-world exists in the world of atoms and subatomic particles. The world of atoms and subatomic particles is the world of the quantum, where matter and energy no longer obey the rules of classical physics.

Quantum physics is the specialized branch of physics that deals with matter and energy as it exists at the levels of atoms and of subatomic particles. Quantum physics was born on December 14, 1900, when the German physicist Max Planck (1858-1947) published his work on the quantum nature of light. At the time, no one suspected that his findings were the beginning of an entirely new, scientific model for understanding reality.

The following century saw discoveries in both classical and quantum physics. Since no scientific field of study stands alone, completely independent of all others, advances in classical and quantum physics have mutually influenced one another. Sometimes a physicist works in both classical and quantum physics. For example, in 1905 Einstein published papers on his special theory of relativity, a topic germane to classical physics. The same year he published a paper on the photoelectric effect, a phenomenon of quantum physics.

Classical physics takes a materialistic worldview and describes reality as consisting “of a fixed and passive space containing localized material particles whose movement in time is deterministically governed by mathematical laws.”8 “Consciousness, thought, and mental phenomena are viewed as mere epiphenomenon of matter”9 and “nothing more than the complex functions of the material brain governed by physical laws.”10 However, at the quantum level, the deterministic laws of classical physics no longer apply and consciousness becomes the major player.

James Clerk Maxwell’s Electromagnetic Spectrum

Most of what we refer to as energy colloquially is often some part of the electromagnetic spectrum. The electromagnetic spectrum consists of various types or forms of energy including visible light, infrared light, ultraviolet light, radio and television waves, microwaves, x-rays, and gamma rays (Figure 53). As mentioned earlier, in 1861 James Clerk Maxwell demonstrated that electric and magnetic fields travel through space, in the form of waves, and at the constant speed of light. He theorized that the energies of the electromagnetic spectrum consist of moving waves of varying frequencies that travel through space and spread out or radiate as they travel.

The energies of the electromagnetic spectrum consist of moving waves of varying frequencies. The higher the frequency, the more energy it contains. In addition to frequency (measured as cycles per second or Hertz), the energies of the electromagnetic spectrum can be measured as wavelengths (meters) and as energy (electron volts).

The waves or vibrations of the electromagnetic spectrum penetrate both space and matter. When electromagnetic waves penetrate matter, they can add to or increase the energy of the matter at the level of subatomic particles, thus increasing the motion of the subatomic particles and the motion of the atoms that make up the matter of an object. For example, when a heated object is applied to some part of the body, the heat radiates into that body part, increasing the energy of the atoms of the particular body part. The end result is that the body part feels warmer.

However, if the electromagnetic waves deliver too much energy to the body part, the motion of the subatomic particles increases and the particles escape the atoms, causing the atoms to combine with other types of atoms. The end result is that the body part is burned or destroyed.

In addition to electromagnetic waves, we are surrounded by waves or vibrations carried primarily by matter. Explosions, earthquakes, and animal stampedes cause solid matter to vibrate. Tossing a stone into a lake creates waves in the water. The air (a combination of gasses) carries sound waves, including the sounds of human speech.

As human animals, we have specialized sensory organs that detect certain ranges or frequencies of waves. Our eyes detect what we call visible light. Our ears pick up a particular range of sound waves in the air. We have a variety of receptors that detect waves and moment in solid objects like the movement of escalators and movements of the earth during an earthquake.

There are many wave frequencies for which our bodies lack receptors, such as radio waves, microwaves, ultraviolet light, x-rays, and gamma rays to name a few. Just because we cannot sense such frequencies does not mean that these rays do not affect us. Over-exposure to such rays can result in burns, sickness, and death.

We are surrounded and penetrated by a multitude of waves. Waves are everywhere, and they crisscross or collide with one another continuously. Waves of similar amplitudes and frequencies may combine, producing waves of new amplitudes and frequencies. Waves of opposite amplitudes may cancel each other out. Whatever the end result, when waves produced by two or more sources cross one another, they interfere with each other. The resulting new pattern is referred to as an interference pattern.

Max Planck’s Quantum Physics

Quantum physics arose out of classical physics in an effort to answer questions about atoms and subatomic particles that classical physics could not handle satisfactorily. That is, the laws of classical physics predicted that experiments with atoms and subatomic particles should produce certain results. However, the experiments turned out differently. Quantum physics is that body of knowledge that grew out of the best intellectual efforts to make sense of these strange results.

For example, according to classical physics, when a black-body is heated, it should emit energy at various wave lengths of the electromagnetic spectrum—heat, microwaves, light, ultraviolet light, x-rays, and cosmic rays. A black-body is anything that normally absorbs all the wave lengths of visible light that strike it; a black-body does not reflect any visible light and, thus, appears black to us. A piece of coal or sealed box might be a good example of a black-body.

When coal is heated, classical physics predicts that all wave lengths of the electromagnetic spectrum should be emitted. If we are standing next to a fi re place that is burning coal, we feel the heat and see the coal turn a reddish-orange. Classical physics, in general, and electromagnetic wave theory, in particular, predicts that energy emitted from the black-body should take the form of light waves of various frequencies, changing in a continuous manner as the energy of the black-body is increased or decreased. However, Planck observed that the changes in light waves were not continuous—that is, they did not flow smoothly from one frequency to the next.

In order to understand the failure of classical physics to predict the black-body phenomenon correctly, Planck proposed that light and similar waves could not be emitted in a continuous manner as the wave lengths varied. Instead, light consisted of discrete units, which he called quanta. Each quantum carried energy of a specific wave length. Each quantum of light had a certain amount of energy; the greater the energy, the higher the frequency of the waves carried by the quanta. Planck calculated the energy of each quantum, using the formula E = hv, where E is the energy of each quantum, v is the quantum’s frequency, and h, referred to as Planck’s constant, is 6.63 X 10-34 joule-seconds.

In effect, what Planck was proposing is that, instead of continuous waves of energy, light took the form of individual packets or particles. Planck used the Latin word quantum, meaning a specific, discrete amount, to describe these packets of light energy.

Until then, the electromagnetic spectrum was thought of as waves of continuous frequencies. Now, Planck was describing light, as well as all the other waves of the electromagnetic spectrum, as particles. According the classical physics, energy could be either waves or particles, but not both. In 1905 Albert Einstein presented additional evidence supporting the theory that light manifested as particles. When certain metals are struck by a beam of light, they emit (release) electrons. This process is referred to as the photoelectric effect. The photoelectric effect was at odds with the electromagnetic wave theory of light, which described light as waves. Einstein proposed that this effect was the result of the particle nature of light. Using the particle concept and a numerical constant discovered by Planck, Einstein was able to predict accurately the energy changes seen in the photoelectric effect.

One of the best ways to conceive of this different interpretation of light is to imagine light as a ball rolling down a ramp. This is the classical interpretation of light as a continuous wave. The ball rolls down the ramp in a continuous manner even if it changes speeds.

Now imagine a ball bouncing down a staircase. This is the new interpretation of light as a discrete particle. Light, as a particle, jumps from one step or from one level of energy to the next.

The particles or quanta of light were later called as photons. We now know that sometimes visible light appears as if it were made of photons and displays the characteristics expected of particles of matter. At other times, light displays the characteristics expected of waves. This duality of light is referred to as the complementary principle. Further research has concluded that all forms of energy can manifest as either waves or particles.

As it turns out, this wave-particle complementary principle is not only a characteristic of energy, but of all matter and force fields at the quantum level.11 In 1924 the French Prince Louis de Broglie (1892-1987) proposed that electrons as well as all forms of matter also appear as waves under the right circumstances.12 “Matter waves” have frequencies, amplitudes, and wave lengths like energy waves. However, the wave lengths of matter waves are extremely short, too short for observation under most experimental conditions today. The short wave lengths also contribute to our perception of matter as solid, or fairly solid in the case of liquids and gasses. Later, it was discovered by the British physicist Paul Dirac (1902-1984) that every particle of matter also behaves like a wave. In what became the quantum field theory, every force field also has its own kind of particle that carries that particular force.13

Quantum Mechanics, Theory, and Physics

Quantum mechanics is the branch of physics that studies the behavior of atoms and subatomic particles.14 It describes the nature of atoms and their building blocks, the subatomic particles—electrons, protons, and neutrons.15

Quantum physics (or quantum mechanics) has been defined as the theory of the behavior of matter and energy, particularly at the level of atoms and subatomic particles,16as the theory developed from Planck’s quantum principle and Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle,17as a physical theory based on the idea of the quantum (a discrete amount) and quantum jumps (a discontinuous transition)—first discovered in connection with atomic objects,18 and as the framework of laws governing the universe whose unfamiliar features such as uncertainty, quantum fluctuations, and wave-particle duality become most apparent on the ultramicroscopic scales of atoms and subnuclear particles.19

By the end of the 1920’s, physicists had developed a largely theoretical body of thought or quantum theory to explain a number of observed oddities in the behavior of subatomic particles. According to quantum theory, reality at the quantum level does not exist separately from or independently of human observation—reality comes into existence only when it is observed or measured by the human mind. The orthodox interpretation of quantum theory states that there is no deeper level of reality than that studied by quantum physics. However, many quantum physicists disagree concerning this “orthodox” interpretation of quantum physics.

According to physicist David Bohm (1917-1992), quantum theory has four primary features:

The first feature is the indivisibility of the quantum action. In classical physics, when something moves from one state of being (position, etc.), there is a continuous series of intermediate states between the initial state and the final state. But when a quantum particle moves from an initial state to a final state, there are no intermediate states. The movement is said to be discontinuous. The quantum particle vanishes from one location and instantly reappears in another. This action is referred to as a quantum jump.

The second feature is the wave-particle duality properties of quantum particles. Subatomic particles, such as electrons, can show different properties (e.g., particle-like, wave-like, or something in between), depending on the environmental context within which they exist and are subject to observation. Under some conditions they behave like waves, while under other conditions they behave like particles. Yet, they are always both waves and particles. This paradox is the complementary principle mentioned above.

The third feature is that the laws of quantum mechanics are statistical and do not determine individual future events uniquely and precisely. The properties of matter are revealed in terms of statistical potentialities. That is, at the quantum level, every physical situation is characterized by a quantum wave function. This quantum wave function is not directly related to the actual properties of an individual object, event, or process. Instead, it is a sum of probability curves. Each curve gives the probability or likelihood that a particular object, event, or process will occur. Each of these potential situations are mutually incompatible; i.e., only one can manifest or be actualized. There is no way to determine which one will manifest; there are only probabilities associated with each possible outcome.

The fourth feature of quantum physics is what is referred to as non-causal correlations. Two particles, such as electrons, which were initially part of a quantum system, when separated, show a peculiar non-local relationship, which can best be described as a non-causal connection, no matter how far apart they are (as demonstrated in the experiment of Einstein, Podolsky, and Rosen). That is, when two or more quantum particles have been associated with each other and are subsequently separated by time and/or space, whatever happens to one of the quantum particles is instantaneously reflected in the other quantum particle. According to Einstein’s theories of relativity, nothing can travel faster than the speed of light. However, no matter how distant in time/or space two or more correlated (related, associated) particles are, there exists some form of instantaneous information sharing among them. Because this sharing is instantaneous, it takes place faster than the speed of light. Physicists disagree as to how this information sharing occurs.20

Point-Particles and the Standard Model

Particle physics is the study of the basic elements of matter and of the four fundamental forces. Ironically, particle physics got its start about four hundred years before the birth of Christ. The Greek philosopher Democritus (ca. 460 BC-ca. 370 BC) and his student Leucippus proposed that matter was composed of indivisible units called atoma or atoms. According to Democritus, atoms were indestructible and in constant motion. Atoms came in various forms, shapes, and sizes and occupied empty space. The soul was made up of particularly fine, spherical atoms.

Twenty-four hundred years later the atomic theory was revived when J. J. Thomson (1856-1940) discovered the electron in 1897.21 The proton was discovered in 1919 by Ernest Rutherford (1871-1937), the father of nuclear physics. Nuclear physics is the study of the atom and its nucleus, subatomic particles, and their interactions. Radioactive decay, nuclear fission, and nuclear fusion are phenomena covered by nuclear physics.

The neutron was discovered in 1932 James Chadwick (1891-1974). Eleven years earlier (in 1921) Chadwick and E. S. Bieler proposed the existence of the strong nuclear force. The first particle accelerator, a 9-inch cyclotron, was built at the University of California Berkeley in 1931. As more and more powerful accelerators came on line, a pantheon of subatomic particles were discovered or created. The list of elementary and composite particles continued to grow. Murray Gell-Mann and Kazuhiko Nishijima independently suggested the existence of quarks in 1961.

In 1974 Greek physicist John Iliopoulos presented the standard model of particle physics. The standard model evolved as new discoveries in quantum mechanics were made. The standard theory treats the particles of matter and the force-carrying particles as point-particles. Point-particles are particles without length, width, or depth. Some point-particles have mass; most do not. It does not account for gravity and Einstein’s theory of general relativity. The standard theory has been very successful in explaining experimental data arising from quantum mechanics. However, physicists must turn to general relativity to explain our larger universe.22

Over 200 subatomic particles have been discovered. Most of these are composite particles, made of two or more elementary particles. Some particles are virtual particles, lasting for extremely short time periods. Virtual particles are created and destroyed during exchanges between otherwise natural particles.

In addition to ordinary matter, the physical universe contains antimatter. Antimatter is matter that has the same gravitational properties as ordinary matter, but has an opposite electric charge as well as opposite nuclear force charges and opposite spin.23 Matter is made of particles; antimatter is made of antiparticles. An antiparticle is a particle with the same mass as the particle concerned but with the opposite ‘charge-like’ properties. When a particle and its antiparticle meet they can annihilate one another releasing energy.24

The Four Forces–Gravity, Electromagnetism, and the Strong and Weak Nuclear Forces

According the physics in general and quantum physics in particular, particles of matter interact with one another by means of four fundamental forces of physics—gravity, electromagnetism, the strong nuclear force, and the weak nuclear force. A fundamental force or fundamental interaction is a mechanism by which matter particles interact with one another by exchanging something. That something is one of the fundamental forces.

Gravity was the first fundamental force to be identified but has yet to be fully understood. Gravity affects all matter particles. The laws of gravity, or the ways in which it affects particles, are well known. In regards to gravity, it is assumed that matter particles interact by exchanging gravitons. As of yet, gravitons have not been seen in particle accelerators. And, as previously mentioned, the laws of gravity as seen in our everyday world are incompatible with the phenomena seen at the quantum level. Thus, gravity is still a mystery in terms of both quantum physics and the standard model of particle physics.

Humans have had some awareness and understanding of electricity and magnetism since the dawn of man. Maxwell discovered the links between electricity and magnetism, unifying them into the single force of electromagnetism. He described their interactions in terms of waves and fields. Planck’s discovery of the quantum was the first step towards understanding how the electromagnetic force is carried by photons. Photons are the quantum particle associated with light waves or more generally electromagnetic radiation.25

The strong nuclear force (also called the strong force and the strong interaction) is the force that holds quarks together to form protons, neutrons, and other composite particles.26 The strong nuclear force also holds protons and neutrons together inside the nucleus of the atom. The strong nuclear force is carried by gluons. Eight different types of gluons have been identified.

The weak nuclear force (also called the weak force and the weak interaction) is the force that causes the beta type of nuclear decay in atoms. In the process, other forms of radiation occur. In other words, the weak nuclear force is responsible for radioactivity. Three different particles have been identified as carrying the weak nuclear force called weakons—the W+, the W-, and the Z.

Fermions and Bosons

The standard model divides particles into two groups—matter particles and force-carrying particles. Matter particles are called fermions.27 Force-carrying particles (also called messenger particles) are called bosons.28

There are twelve elementary fermions and their twelve antiparticles. The twelve fermions are divided into six leptons and six quarks. Leptons are fermions such as the electron and the neutrino. Leptons are not influenced by the strong nuclear force.29 Quarks are matter particles that are influenced by the strong nuclear force. Six varieties of quarks have been identified.30 The six leptons are divided into three flavors, and the quarks are divided into three groups. Together the leptons and quarks are grouped into three generations or families.

The four forces are mediated by the force-carrying particles—bosons. The electromagnetic force is carried by photons. The strong nuclear force is carried by gluons. The weak nuclear force is carried by weakons. It is assumed that gravity is carried by gravitons.

Predictions of the Standard Model

The standard model predicts the existence of another boson called the Higgs boson and of superparticles. As mentioned above, some particles have mass and some do not. For example, photons and weakons have many similarities. They are the messenger particles of the electromagnetic and weak nuclear forces. Their greatest difference is that of mass. Weakons have mass and photons do not. The electroweak theory unifies the electromagnetic and weak forces. According to this theory, these two forces were one force when the universe was very young and extreme temperatures and pressures existed. At that time the messenger particles of the two forces were symmetrical. In particle physics, symmetry refers to a characteristic of particles or physical systems. If, when a particle or physical system undergoes certain changes or transformations, other properties or characteristics of the particle or system remain unchanged, symmetry exists.

As the universe expanded and cooled, the symmetry of the electromagnetic and weak nuclear forces broke, leaving massless photons and massive weakons. It is hypothesized the symmetry was broken by the Higgs mechanism, a phenomenon of the Higgs field. The Higgs field, proposed by the English physicist Peter Ware Higgs (ne. 1929), is a hypothetical, non-zero vacuum field believed to permeate all of space. The Higgs field is believed to be created or mediated by Higgs bosons, which have not yet been observed. If the Higgs field exists, then space is never empty.

In particle physics, supersymmetry is the theory that for every fermion (matter particle) there exists a corresponding boson (a force carrier) and that for every boson there exists a fermion. The corresponding particle in both cases is called a superparticle. The standard model predicts the existence of fermions, bosons, their superpartners, and their antiparticles. At this time no superparticles have been observed. The lack of evidence for the existence of superpartners may mean that current particle-accelerators are incapable of producing superpartners because of the heavy mass associated with superpartners. It is also possible that the theory of supersymmetry is incorrect.

Hadrons and Conceptons

A hadron is a composite, subatomic particle composed of quarks.31 Since quarks interact by means of the strong nuclear force, so do all hadrons. Hadrons are divided into mesons and baryons. Mesons are composed of an even number of quarks and antiquarks. Mesons are, in turn, divided into two categories based on the types of quarks and antiquarks they contain. Mesons are also called bosonic hadrons, because they convey the strong force. Approximately 140 types of mesons have been observed. Baryons, on the other hand, are made up of three quarks.32 Baryons are matter particles and, so, are called fermionic hadrons. Protons and neutrons are common baryons. Approximately 120 types of baryons have been observed. In case you wondered, there are also antihadrons, the antimatter equivalents of the hadrons. These are divided into antimesons and antibaryons, and so on.

All these particle names are part of the esoteric vocabulary of the quantum physicist. It is not important that you understand these concepts to the same degree that a quantum physicist understands them. You need only keep an open mind to understand the quantum mechanical view of nature33 and a willingness to free yourself of the constraints of everyday visualizable reality and to exercise the imagination freely.34 Quantum physics imparts an understanding of nature in which there is no radical separation between mind and world.35

And, if all these particle names do not appeal to you, I invite you to try on the approach of Richard Bach in Running from Safety:36 Some common positive conceptons are exhilarons, excytons, rhapsodons, jovions. Common negative conceptons include gloomons, tormentons, tribulons, agonons, and miserons. As you may surmise from a deeper understanding of quantum physics, his conceptons are not necessarily less real than those particles named by physicists.


1. Grof, 1985. Pp. 345-346.

2. Hawking, 1988, p. 187.

3. Gamow, 1961, pp. 51-88.

4. Gamow, 1961, pp. 27, McEvoy & Zarate, 1996, p. 5.

5. Gamow, 1961, pp. 27, 42, 48; Goswami, Reed, & Goswami, 1993, p. 141.

6. Gamow, 1961, pp. 27-32, 34, 42, 46-49, 50, 62, 205; Walker, 2000, pp. 15, 16; Wolf, 1988, pp. 18, 95, 295.

7. McEvoy & Zarate, 1996, p. 18.

8. McEvoy and Zarate, 1996.

9. McEvoy, & Zarate, 1996, p. 4.

10. McFarlane, 2000.

11.  McFarlane, 2000.

12.  Ford, 2004, p. 46.

13.  Ford, 2004, pp. 184-200; McEvoy, & Zarate, 1996, pp. 14, 110-119; Walker, 2000, pp. 48-49.

14.  McEvoy, & Zarate, 1996, p. 14; Walker, 2000, p. 64.

15.  Laszlo, 2004, p. 31; Talbot, 1991, p. 7.

16.  Talbot, 1991, p. 33; Zohar, 1990, p. 21.

17.  Wolf, 1988, p. 327.

18.  Hawking, 1988, p. 186.

19.  Goswami, A., Reed, R. E., & Goswami, M., 1993, p. 282.

20.  Greene, 1999, p. 420.

21.  Bohm, 1980, pp. 162-164.

22.  McEvoy, & Zarate, 1996, p.70.

23.  Lewis, 2003, p. 144.

24.  Greene, 2003, p. 413.

25.  Hey & Walters, 1987, p 169.

26.  Hey & Walters, 1987, p. 172.

27.  Lewis, 2003, p. 144.

28.  Greene, 2003, p. 415.

29.  Greene, 2003, p. 414.

30.  Hey & Walters, 1987, p. 171.

31.  Greene, 2003, p. 420.

32.  Hey & Walters, 1987, p. 171.

33.  Hey & Walters, 1987, p. 169.

34.  Nadeau, & Kafatos, 1999, p. 39.

35.  Nadeau, & Kafatos, 1999, p. 39.

36.  Nadeau, & Kafatos, 1999, p. 39.

37.  Bach, 1994, p. 181.


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2. Ford, K. W. (2004). The quantum world: Quantum physics for everyone. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Press.

3. Gamow, G. (1961). The great physicists from Galileo to Einstein (Biography of physics). New York, NY: Dover Publications, Inc.

4. Goswami, A., Reed, R. E., & Goswami, M. (1993). The self-aware universe: How consciousness creates the material world. New York, NY: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam.

5. Greene, B. (1999). The elegant universe: Superstrings, hidden dimensions, and the quest for the ultimate theory. New York, NY: Vintage Books.

6. Grof, S. (1985). Beyond the brain: Birth, death, and transcendence in psychotherapy. Albany, NY: State University of New York.

7. Hawking, S. (1988). A brief history of time: From the big bang to black holes. New York, NY: Bantam Books.

8. Hey, T., & Walters, P. (1987). The quantum universe. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

9. Laszlo, E. (2004). Science and the akashic field: An integral theory of everything. Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions.

10.  Lewis, L. E., Jr. (2003). Our superstring universe: Strings, branes, extra dimensions and superstring-m theory. New York, NY: iUniverse, Inc.

11.  McEvoy, J. P., & Zarate, O. (1996). Introducing Quantum Theory. Lanham, MD: Totem Books.

12.  McFarlane, T. J. (June 21, 2000). Quantum physics, depth psychology, and beyond (Rev. ed.). Retrieved February 18, 2005, from

13.  Nadeau, R., & Kafatos, M. (1999). The non-local universe: The new physics and matters of the mind. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, Inc.

14.  Talbot, M. (1991). The holographic universe. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers.

15.  Walker, E. H. (2000). The physics of consciousness: Quantum minds and the meaning of life. New York, NY: Basic Books.

16.  Wolf, F. A. (1988). Parallel universes: The search for other worlds. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster.

17.  Zohar, D. (1990). Quantum self. New York, NY: William Morrow and Company. Inc.

Source by Gene F. Collins, Jr., Ph.D.