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Antimatter a misnomer?

  1. Jun 11, 2012 #1
    "Antimatter" a misnomer?

    This is my first post on PF. Hello all.

    Noting the fact that antimatter has a positive inertial mass and probably an equal, positive gravitational mass, isn't the term a misnomer? I know it has an opposite electrical charge and magnetic moment compared to normal matter, which means the two are partially eachothers opposites. However, I feel it is a stretch to call them mirror images of eachother. Antimatter can indeed annihilate with ordinary matter, but this makes new particles, sometimes even massive ones, rather than the two cancelling eachother out. I therefore propose that what is now called antimatter should really be called "complementary matter" or "Dirac matter".

    I'm suggesting this renaming scheme because it's conceivable that one day "true" antimatter with a negative mass may be discovered or predicted in some theoretical framework. What would you call this stuff then?

    Discuss.
     
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  3. Jun 11, 2012 #2

    ZapperZ

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    Re: "Antimatter" a misnomer?

    What about if we ignore the label that many things are given, and just understand the physics that describes it?

    I mean, we could go on and on on the mislabeling of the word "spin" given to the spin quantum number, etc.. etc. But we won't, because at the end of the day, one has to understand the physics! Call it a cow, or call Pluto a planet if you wish. Mother Nature doesn't give a hoot what you call it, as long as you understand what she's trying to say!

    Do not get so hung up on the name given to things. Physics is difficult enough to understand as it is. Putting useless effort into something meaningless as this is a waste of time.

    Zz.
     
  4. Jun 11, 2012 #3
    Re: "Antimatter" a misnomer?

    Why not just get rid of language all together then? Ludwig Wittgenstein, the philosopher, used to say: "There are no philosophical problems; there are only linguistical problems." I feel that one may similarly state: "There are no real physics problems....."

    It's strange to me that so much effort is put into deriving all sorts of beautiful equations, while at the same time physicists tend to use ordinary language in a very trivial or even sloppy way. I'm not suggesting that normal language is as precise as mathematics, I AM suggesting that using proper terms can help tremendously both in the process of thinking and communication.
    I kind of understand your point but there's a difference between using words in an analogous fashion if something can not be described any other way, or conversely applying an incorrect term to a particular thing.
    It's pretty arrogant to label a question or effort of a person completely unknown to you as meaningless, useless and "a waste of time". It's meaningful to me and my logic isn't flawed as far as I can tell. I wouldn't tell you that making 20k+ posts on an internet forum is meaningless; apparently you find it meaningful and that's fine with me.
     
  5. Jun 11, 2012 #4
    Re: "Antimatter" a misnomer?

    You have a good point, but one thing I have noticed is that people's less thoughtful naming can lead to a lot of confusion and a barrier to learning concepts that they normally could pick up quite easily. Even your own example of spin is a great example. The first time I read about it, within milliseconds of the word "spin" being read by my brain, I immediately began forming an image of a sphere spinning in my head, before I even had any idea what the book was talking about. Perhaps that was my naive error, but it certainly was a barrier to clarity for a new learner.

    Sure, it is easy for an experienced physicist to understand the true meaning of a concept, and to ignore its name, but when someone is first learning material they often gravitate or form their thoughts around the words and context being used to describe the concept. I have had plenty of confusion over simple ideas because misleading terms or perspective (usually the perspective of someone who already understood the concept) were getting in the way. That's why its so important to ask questions from a teacher, because they can't read everyone's mind as to how their language is being interpreted, and that's why its often easy to get stuck during self-study in a textbook since you can't ask for a different wording.

    Anyway, I think the term antimatter has too much use and acceptance already for it to change any time soon, but he has a good point.
     
    Last edited: Jun 11, 2012
  6. Jun 11, 2012 #5

    ZapperZ

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    Re: "Antimatter" a misnomer?

    It has never been a hindrance in physics. It may be a hindrance to laymen who simply took the words at face value. But this is true in ALL aspects of life, and in many subject areas, not just physics. Try looking in Economics, Business, Biology, etc... They all have their own meanings for familiar words. If one is too lazy to actually learn what those words and phrases mean in their respective context, then there's nothing anyone one else can do.

    I label the EFFORT as being meaningless, because in my profession, we have NEVER debated on the NAME. Why? Because that is a label that is attached to an idea or a concept, and we are more interested in the latter. I have never, ever, seen a situation where the name or the label got in the way of progress in physics. Have you? You are then proposing to solve a problem that doesn't exist! That is why I call it a waste of time. You have not shown any concrete evidence to the contrary. You only speculated on what such-and-such might cause, which doesn't require any solid evidence to back it up.

    Zz.
     
  7. Jun 11, 2012 #6

    ZapperZ

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    Re: "Antimatter" a misnomer?

    That is why one has to LEARN these things. Again, this isn't specific to just physics. I've seen more convoluted usage of many words in Economics!

    When one simply memorizes and put everything one knows in the WORD itself, one then is setting oneself up to a lot of pain and suffering. I would never one to work or collaborate with someone like that. It shows that this person stop thinking right at the point where they encounter something familiar, without bothering to check how such a thing is used. I would even go one step further by saying that a lot of social problems that we have today is due to people who put labels on people and ideas, and THEN think they know all there is to know about those people and those ideas.

    Zz.
     
  8. Jun 11, 2012 #7
    Re: "Antimatter" a misnomer?

    You have all good points. My only complaint is that it can sometimes impede the learning process if the term is misleading. On the other hand, it would be really annoying for all the jargon to be so exact that it gets in the way of making sentences readable for everyday users of the terms.
     
  9. Jun 11, 2012 #8
    Re: "Antimatter" a misnomer?

    In software development, there is a saying: 'Naming is everything'. In my opinion, the problem is not when things get the 'wrong' name, we can live with that as you say. It's when terms get overloaded and you end up having the same word for very different concept because someone was too lazy to use 5 mins to think about a good name for a concept. You end up using mental energy to discerns things over and over again while working with them, and while communicating having to specify which version we mean.

    This problem also occurs in math and physics, where some things get overloaded because their creators were too lazy to find a good word. But. yes, it's less of a problem than in SD.

    /Frederic
     
  10. Jun 11, 2012 #9

    ZapperZ

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    Re: "Antimatter" a misnomer?

    Think about this: we will have to invent NEW words for almost everything in QM.

    After all, "particle", "wave", "position", "momentum", etc... are all classical concepts that may or may not be appropriate in QM. When something no longer becomes a "good quantum number", what do you call it?

    Maybe we have different experiences. I had never been distracted or confused by the names given in physics. I've always assumed that the terms and names have their own meanings and definitions.

    Zz.
     
  11. Jun 11, 2012 #10

    ZapperZ

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    Re: "Antimatter" a misnomer?

    I'm not so sure "overloading" is an issue in physics. Can you point out to some specific examples?

    Zz.
     
  12. Jun 11, 2012 #11

    ZapperZ

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    Re: "Antimatter" a misnomer?

    P.S., this thread is being moved into the General Discussion forum because it is a discussion ABOUT physics, and not physics.

    Zz.
     
  13. Jun 11, 2012 #12
    Re: "Antimatter" a misnomer?

    Here is an example of terms causing confusion just because of the naming used:
    http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v190/n4776/abs/190621a0.html

    Flux in general can be ambiguous and mean different things depending on the context, and even modifying words used with flux, like flux density, can still be ambiguous but mean very specific things in context.

    What one person considers flux could refer to energy flow or power flow (intensity) or other things entirely different (fluid flow, EM field flow). If I talked about sound with a sentence like "the sound source's flux at 0 degrees", would you automatically be thinking in terms of energy or intensity? I have seen times when the same term I used in hydroacoustics for flux referred to intensity while another time in nuclear context it referred to just energy flow (ignoring time). I had to confirm the differences with another reference source to establish that the two fields use the term in similar but different ways, and then update this in my head - if there were different terms or more care taken to introduce them, I wouldn't have had to spend that extra energy and time researching the difference and still would have learned the concept that the author was trying to explain.

    Again, this is generally not an issue for the scientific community, and it is nothing more than an annoyance or barrier to learning because at the end, the math and experimental results are what physics relies on rather than English. I just am still learning a lot, and recently was in school so I have sympathy for those who are not already through the awkward stage of learning fundamental glossary terms.
     
    Last edited: Jun 11, 2012
  14. Jun 11, 2012 #13
    Re: "Antimatter" a misnomer?

    There are special words with specific meanings in all different fields, I concur. Sometimes they are erroneous and then they should be changed. For example, the term "junk DNA" causes confusion in people who study genetics or biology. It isn't clear at all that junk DNA actually constitutes junk and doesn't have some physiological function. For example to create evolutionary flexibility due to the possibility of frame shifts occuring in the so-called junk DNA, making new genes from "nothing". Such a hypothesis only makes sense and can only be tested if the old and premature term is thrown out and changed, for example, to "non-expressive DNA".

    I can not give and example of a person being discouraged to develop a particular new idea in any field of science because he wouldn't be in the history books now would he? DragonPetter makes a good point though. I do know that physics evolved out of natural philosphy and that Einstein was an avid reader of Ersnt Mach's work on relativity (retating bucket) and that ideas such as negative matter, black holes, et cetera are very old ideas that may have inspired many great physicists in modern times. Have you ever heard of the (quantum) Zeno-effect? Plato's absolutism? Does the word "platonics" mean anything to you?

    Words have meaning and meaning has consequences!
     
  15. Jun 11, 2012 #14
    Re: "Antimatter" a misnomer?


    Where do you get the idea that the antimatter means negative mass or "mirror image"?
    If you want to discard the meaning already well established in science and look at the world itself, what will world like antibody, antitank, antiaircraft, antigen, etc will imply? An object that looks like the mirror image of the original? Not at all. Rather something that annihilates (or tries to) the original.
     
  16. Jun 11, 2012 #15
    Re: "Antimatter" a misnomer?

    Just to clarify , "junk DNA" is not used as a standard term in biology (AFAIK that is; every book or paper that I've read refers to it in a colloquial sense)
     
  17. Jun 11, 2012 #16
    Re: "Antimatter" a misnomer?

    Anti- and annihilate are not exactly synonyms. I don't think a person would automatically associate the two or assume anti implies an annihilation process.

    Anti is more synonymous with opposite, and I don't think (I could be wrong) charge and spin are the entire story of what is "matter". One really has to study the topic to a certain extent to understand why its called antimatter, and what the term truly implies, and any initial misconceptions from the term are only going to leave opportunity for confusion and hindrance in learning. I do think antimatter is not that confusing (the term might cause some minor confusion, but at least the implication is valid to a large extent and it is a unique term) compared to the above example that I mentioned with flux.
     
    Last edited: Jun 11, 2012
  18. Jun 11, 2012 #17
    Re: "Antimatter" a misnomer?

    I get your point. The difference between your examples and fundamental particles is that in your example there is a clear directionality of intent. It doesn't make any sense to say that an antiparticle annihilates a normal particle and not the other way around. An antiparticle is called that way because it is the opposite, or mirror image, of a "normal" particle.

    Complementary matter is a better term because antiparticles don't really annihilate eachother but rather add their mass-energy to form new stuff of a different nature, i.e. mass-energy is conserved.
     
  19. Jun 11, 2012 #18
    Re: "Antimatter" a misnomer?

    I just realized another very common but very confusing term that leads to a lot of misunderstanding and misconception that we should all be familiar with.

    The imaginary number i can cause our minds to attach some meaning of the English word "imaginary" with the mathematical description. It almost always is futile to try to make this connection, but for someone's head in a whirlwind of new concepts, it can easily get mixed up or its entire and true meaning can be misconceived.

    If you don't believe me, there are plenty of books on amazon that try to demystify the imaginary numbers even though it is fairly straight forward to use them as a mathematical tool and to define the square root of negative 1.
     
  20. Jun 11, 2012 #19

    ZapperZ

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    Re: "Antimatter" a misnomer?

    I'm not sure how that is related to this thread and how that supports your argument.

    Words have MEANINGS. It is the responsibility of EACH person to understand the MEANING of each of the words being used in the CONTEXT that they are used! There is no excuse for laziness.

    Zz.
     
  21. Jun 11, 2012 #20

    ZapperZ

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    Re: "Antimatter" a misnomer?

    Sorry, but I have never had that problem. And someone who has his/her "head in a whirlwind" has other issues as well, not just trying to figure out what "i" means.

    Furthermore, if that person has issues with using that symbol, then follow what electrical engineers do and use the symbol "j"!

    BTW, this has now comes down to an issue of not words, but symbols. Do you want to know how many physical concepts are represented by a symbol such as "H"? Is it a Hamiltonian, or magnetic field? Or maybe it is the unit Henry?

    Again, the point here is that there is a reason why there is an educational process! We don't just learn "E=mc^2". We learn what it MEANS and how it is used! And when we understand that, we can replace it with anything or call it anything we like. It doesn't change what Mother Nature wants us to know!

    Zz.
     
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