What are the Constituents of Matter?


What are the Constituents of Matter?


Author(s): Alfred Kaufman
ISBN: 978-1-921138-09-6
Pages: 148
Published: January 2016
Subject: Technology
Format: Print

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This essay seeks to understand just what it is that modern science tells us about nature. For the longest time the story told by science appeared to be fully reflective of our common experience: nature was discovered as a collection of reciprocally influencing objects governed by laws which were consistent with that experience. And then, about a hundred years ago, the story suddenly became obscure. Science introduced into nature quantum objects which were supposed to look nothing like anything we had ever seen before and the laws governing them no longer appeared to make much sense to us. Thereafter, what science told us about nature was no longer quite as clear. This shift in the story is conspicuous and bespeaks of an earlier moment in the development of science when the project might have inadvertently taken a step which would eventually make her strange. In search for that fateful decision, the essay retraces the main steps that science had taken along its development from pre-modern times onward and, having found it, inquires into alternative decisions that might have been made at the time things began to change.

The search locates the decision which led to quantum strangeness within the corpuscular theory of matter and specifically identifies it as the decision to experimentally observe the constituents of matter as if they were real objects. The essay argues that there were both philosophical as well as theoretical indicators suggesting all along that those objects were probably not objectively real and recounts in some detail the reasons why those indicators went largely unheeded. It then proceeds to determine just what those constituents are if not objectively real and to specify the unique manner in which such objects are what they are. This focus on what constituents of matter are, rather than on how they constitute the inside of natural objects, classifies the essay as an investigation of the ontological side of modern science. Finally, the essay considers the alternative ontologies which could have been entertained for these objects at the time the decision was made to experimentally observe them and shows how 'skipping over' such alternatives generated the specific ways in which quantum mechanics, the theory describing the results of such experiments, had to be strange.

The need to introduce these ontologically different objects alongside those which populate our daily experience changes the meaning of science. Science does not discover the laws which objectively govern nature but rather it constructs an explanation for the observed behavior of natural objects. Its guiding principle is therefore not to accurately capture any such laws but to maintain instead the self-consistency of the explanatory structures that it creates.

Dr Alfred Kaufman graduated from New York University with a doctoral degree in theoretical high energy physics. He has worked in the field of system analysis providing technical and strategic advice to the Defense Department while maintaining an active interest in the foundations, both structural and philosophical, of modern physics.