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The general public seems to think matter is made of atoms. Have we forgotten that particle physics is only a model for the nature of matter?

Public Perception of the Nature of Matter

Particle physics describes matter in three (or four) dimensions, like the surface of a pond, but the nature of matter-energy that lies beneath the surface cannot be perceived by our three-dimensional senses. By wearing our particle-physics glasses, we hinder our exploration of alternative models to address such issues as dark matter, dark energy and quantum entanglement.

Everyone loves the Higgs boson - just another snooker ball - but the Higgs field - how did that work again? In fact how does a fridge magnet work? Whilst particle physics has brought us huge leaps in our understanding of how matter behaves, we have forgotten that this is only one of many models to explain the behavior and nature of matter and energy.

Public perception is that matter is made of subatomic particles called quarks and that this is a fact. Maybe some can remember that odd double-slit business in the museum of curiosities and others view quantum entanglement as science-fiction. Why? Because particle physics does not adequately explain them.

If matter and energy are not considered as isolated bodies or quanta, but as a single field (the Universe) with peaks and troughs, which we then perceive in our 3D existence, provides an instantly "visible" understanding of entanglement and suggests an alternative identity for dark matter other than particles.

And this too is only a model.

We are near the end of the 3D road in our exploration of matter and must begin to think in 4D, 5D, 10D..but how? I do not know of what new talents our neurobiology may find, but we are not going to grow another sensory organ any time soon. The best we can do is to develop new models and that means leaving our accelerators behind and going for a swim.


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  • Mar 19 2014: Hi Ariel, Thanks for your post. I would argue that public perception of any science is very important, but that's another question.

    I was happy to read, "Yes particle physics is only a model" because it is rarely acknowledged and I believe through good marketing we have overly invested in the particle nature of matter (although we did get Brian Cox in compensation) and rarely test other manifestations - how many particle accelerators were built compared to "wave accelerators" or "field generators" and whatever Young would have built had he had the money?

    What if effects that we attribute to dark matter and dark energy can only be explained by considering the non-particle nature of matter (field theories, string theory or other multidimensional solutions)?

    "Science is the search for the truth the whole truth and nothing but the truth" Ah, but which truth?
    The truth about matter is more complex than particles, as every physicist knows that these are only a manifestation we experience through our existence in three dimensions. The truth is that all matter and energy exists as a single universal continuum. In ten dimensions, at the last count.

    A pity that our experiences are only in 3D as I would love to see curved space and snap a photo inside a black hole.
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      Mar 20 2014: Hmmm, well to be fair science does need the budget that only the public could give so, touche. Yes truth seems to blur as we get deeper into science and the unknown in general because there is to few information for reliable verification. I believe this is the discussion by a recent book physics book that theoretical physics should even be called a science since its only based on very learned opinions called 'theories' or 'models'. Forgive my faulty memory, but I really can't recall at the moment. Point is, by truth I only meant what is categorically, undeniably, beyond reasonable doubt facts. Not theories, not models, maybe not even quantum entanglement because of a simple fact, we don't know much about it yet.
      • Mar 23 2014: But what is "really categorically, undeniably, beyond reasonable doubt" a fact? Facts are assumptions based on evidence in a defined system. OK, in day to day life we call certain expectations facts, as they are unlikely to change - like my coffee cup isn't going to fill itself and pigs will not fly.

        As Frank Bierbrauer said in his post, there is no problem stating that matter is made of atoms (the assumed fact) within a certain set of length and timescales, but this collapses at the quantum level. It could be said that we live with the acceptance of assumptions that we term facts, but these are only valid in the model we are discussing - be it quantum electrodynamics, particle physics or day-to-day life.
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          Mar 23 2014: Now we're falling into semantics. Of course we can never really verify what is actual 'fact' or 'truth'. There is no proof that would prove 'proof' to be true without certain assumptions. Godel made this clear. I also agree with this philosopher's view on 'truth' hrcak.srce.hr/file/76068
          But this is moot and academic in terms of 'usefulness'. As long a bit of information has been reliably verified to be true, then in all intends and purposes to us, it is true. However, this is still a long way away from the prepositions or theories where much is still unknown and thus, we cannot still hold it as 'true'.

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