The Substance of Matter
Since the time of the Greek Philosophers, and possible even before that, people have sought to understand the nature of the universe. If we put aside the speculation of metaphysical belief, we are left with the scope of speculation within science itself, which might be articulated in a more physical question:
What is the substance of the universe?
Today, some believe the essence of this question has been answered in the form of the standard particle model , although the actual details now appear to be buried in quantum field theory (QFT), encompassing Quantum Electro-Dynamics (QED), Quantum Chromo-Dynamics (QCD) and Electro-Weak Theory (EWT). However, the semantics of these models can create a seemingly ambiguous description that requires ‘conceptual’ point-mass particles, e.g. electrons, which exist within an array of ‘conceptual’ quantum fields, e.g. static, scalar, vector and spinor, where particle interactions are described in terms of equally ‘conceptual’ force-carrier particles, e.g. bosons. While some might rightly challenge the over emphasis of the word ‘conceptual’, the counter-argument is that any idea of physical reality within the quantum model appears to have come to rest on mathematical probability, where further debate reduces to one of ontological or epistemological preference.
Note: In the current context, ontological is used to describe what things are, while epistemological is used to define what we think we know about what things are. As such, an ontological model would be more orientated to a physical cause and effect description, while an epistemological model might be more orientated toward mathematical abstraction.
So is the substance of universe physical or mathematical?
In one of the opening sections of speculative science, it was argued that any fundamental description of the universe might only require the definition of space, time and energy. For it was argued that the idea of mass being necessarily to define energy has to be reversed; although in order to proceed with this idea, the concept of energy as a scalar quantity would require a mechanism by which it could be transported in space and time. In this respect, the physics of waves might be the only obvious possibility that is capable of transporting both energy and momentum, which then brings us to the next question:
How would these waves propagate through space and time?
From a historical perspective, this question appears to be the central and divisive issue, which prevents mainstream science from seriously considering any speculative model that makes reference to space as a medium of wave propagation. For the non-existence of space as a wave medium is generally believed to have been empirically proven by the Michelson-Morley experiment and then theoretically superseded by Einstein’s relativity, such that the need for its existence was negated. Today, many will also cite Maxwell’s equations as evidence that electromagnetic waves self-propagate through space without any need of space as a medium of propagation. However, at the time of publication of Maxwell’s theory, in 1865, mainstream consensus was possibly more open to the idea that the underlying nature of the universe being predicated on energy propagating on waves linked to the fabric of space. We might use a quote by James Maxwell himself to highlight this position:
In fact, whenever energy is transmitted from one body to another in time, there must be a medium or substance in which the energy exists after it leaves one body and before it reaches the other and if we admit this medium as a hypothesis, I think it ought to occupy a prominent place in our investigations, and that we ought to endeavour to construct a mental representation of all the details of its action, and this has been my constant aim in this treatise.
Of course, this does not mean that we should simply forget the note of caution attributed to William Clifford in his paper ‘The Ethics of Belief’ , which has been so often quoted throughout this website:
`it is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone,
to believe anything on insufficient evidence`
However, it might also be highlighted that the idea underpinning a wave structure of matter was possibly first outlined, some 130 years ago, by William Clifford himself. For Clifford was also a well-respected mathematician who introduced what is now termed ‘ Clifford algebra ’ as an extension of ‘geometric algebra’. For Clifford had a special interest in mathematical physics and geometry and was possibly the first to suggest that gravitation might be a manifestation of an underlying geometry and made the following series of statements at the Cambridge Philosophical Society in 1870:
That small portions of space are in fact of a nature analogous to little hills on a surface which is on the average flat; namely, that the ordinary laws of geometry are not valid in them…that this property of being curved or distorted is continually being passed on from one portion of space to another after the manner of a wave…that this variation of the curvature of space is what really happens in that phenomenon which we call the motion of matter, whether ponderable or ethereal that in the physical world nothing else takes place but this variation, subject (possibly) to the law of continuity.
While the scope of Clifford’s contribution to mathematics may not now be well known, James Beichler wrote an article in 2010 entitled ‘Twist and Shout’ that details his work. Likewise, James Chappell and Derek Abbott published a technical paper, in 2013, entitled ‘Geometric Algebra: A natural representation of 3-space’ that also acknowledges the contribution and ongoing relevance of Clifford’s work in the field of mathematical science. In 1890, Ernst Mach forwarded the idea that the law of inertia depended on all the matter of the universe, which is today known as Mach's Principle. This idea was initially an influential factor in Einstein's development of general relativity, as Einstein perceived the overall distribution of matter, as specified in a 'metric tensor' , as a factor in determining whether a frame of reference is rotating. Subsequently, research into frame dragging and the conservation of gravitational angular momentum also came to consider Mach’s principle within certain solutions of general relativity. However, today, many see Mach’s principle as being too vague, mainly because a number of its interpretations have been proved false. However, encapsulated in the early work of Clifford and Mach was the suggestion that mass and charge do not exist as an isolated property of a particle, but rather as a property of a wave-field structure that extends throughout space. In this context, ‘particles’ or ‘matter’ or ‘substance’ all simply become an emergent property of an underlying energy wave structure, which might be linked to the ‘fabric of space’. While this claim will undoubtedly cause the alarm-bells of mainstream physics to sound loudly, it would seem that general relativity is still often encapsulated in the quote by John Wheeler:
All the matter of the universe tells space what it is.
Then space tells the matter of the universe how it must behave.
Of course, mainstream science will argue that the intended inference of this quote has to still be considered in the context of the Michelson-Morley experiment and the apparent self-propagation of EM waves through the empty vacuum of space. Even so, there still seems to be an implication that there is some aspect of space that is allowed to curve; while Einstein also wrote:
Hence the material particle has no place as a fundamental concept in a field theory.
Continuing along the historical timeline, the foundations of quantum mechanics and its description of the atomic structure would lead to the ‘duality' of wave-like and particle-like properties. In 1922, Compton provided a measure of experimental evidence that light had a particle-like nature, as predicted by Einstein as early as 1904. Then, in 1924, deBroglie appeared to reverse the argument by forwarding the hypothesis that an electron particle also had a wave-like nature. This said, subsequent developments in quantum physics would abstract the description of both the particle-like nature of light and the wave-like nature of particles in terms of an essentially mathematical description of Schrodinger’s wave function [ψ] . While Schrödinger initially forwarded the idea that the wave function described a wave that was real, this idea was rejected by Max Born, who argued that the wave function only represented a probability of finding a ‘particle’ in a region of space, after the wave function had collapsed. The subsequent support for Born’s interpretation would eventually lead to a series of ‘theoretical interpretations', essentially mathematical in scope but often wrapped in a philosophical framework, which simply predicted the probability of some given outcome. This trend then continued in the post-war era to the point that the mathematical model was considered by many to have become the new de-facto description of reality, but not necessarily by all. However, somewhat at odds with this view, the experimental development of the particle model only seemed to lead towards an apparently never-ending list of new particles. So while some did try to question this mathematical interpretation of reality, it came to be consider as the only practical approach within the ‘shut up and calculate' school of theoretical physics; even although it was one that Edwin Schrodinger himself never really came to embrace:
Let me say at the outset, that in this discourse, I am opposing not a few special statements of quantum theory held today (1950s), I am opposing as it were the whole of it, I am opposing its basic views that have been shaped 25 years ago, when Max Born put forward his probability interpretation, which was accepted by almost everybody.
Likewise, it might be said that Paul Dirac, another eminent physicist in pre-war quantum mechanics, also became increasingly concerned about the consequences of a discrete point particle in respect to the infinity associated with Coulomb’s force law that would later require a mathematical correction known as ‘renormalization’. To quote:
This is just not sensible mathematics. Sensible mathematics involves neglecting a quantity because it turns out to be small, not neglecting it because it is infinitely large and you do not want it! Of course the inference is that the basic equations are wrong and radical changes need to be made."
Later, in 1945, Wheeler and Feynman would try to model the electron as spherical inward and outward electromagnetic waves in an attempt to explain radiation forces; although Milo Wolff would later argue that there are no spherical solutions of an electromagnetic wave equation involving vectors. However, the idea that every particle might be linked to outward and inward waves permeating the universe might have a possible solution, if ‘scalar waves’ were considered. However, this possible solution did not emerge until 1985, when first proposed by Milo Wolff, who then went on to describe a solution that might now be recognised as the ‘WSM model’ .
So where is this model today?
Despite the efforts of Wolff, and others, this model appears to have failed to gain any acceptance in the face of mainstream developments anchored in quantum theory. Of course, it might be argued, as in the case of cosmology, that any idea outside of mainstream research and development can simply be starved of resources such that they become side-lined into obscurity.