Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Does Matter Really Exist?

  1. Mar 21, 2009 #1


    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    My question is: Does Matter Really Exist?

    First of all, because I am not a physics student, my use of the term "Matter" in the above question might not be correct. By "Matter", I mean something that is physically real, has size and shape (three dimensions), and is solid.

    I enjoy reading books on Quantum physics, and I have the impression that the answer to my question is "No". It appears that Atoms are composed of Electrons, Protons, and Neutrons, all held together by forces (Strong and Electromagnetic). The Protons and Neutrons are apparently composed of Quarks, and the Electrons and Quarks are (theoretically) composed of vibrating Strings, which are point particles (or maybe one-dimensional) of the Plank length (very small).

    So, to me this means the asphalt road that my dog and I just got through walking on was not really there. I was really walking on force fields. If there is "anything" else there, I guess it could be those tiny "Strings", but they really don't have size either.

    Am I missing something? I have to be. How can something composed of concrete or steel be so strong, but really "not there"?

    Thanks in advance, Daisey
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 21, 2009 #2
    It may be the case that what we call physical reality is nothing more than a purely mathematical reality, http://arxiv.org/abs/0704.0646" [Broken]

    Then, you inevitably end up with a multiverse of all possible mathematical worlds. It could be that our universe described by quantum mechanics happens to be a particular member of the set of all these possible worlds. Or perhaps quantum mechanics arises as a consequence of the fact that the same observer lives in many different mathematical universes.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 4, 2017
  4. Mar 21, 2009 #3


    User Avatar
    Gold Member


    Thanks. I have read about those theories. It would seem the ultimate truth about reality must be something similar what you suggest if matter is in fact not real.

    Can you suggest any good books on the subject? Preferably one written for the layperson (not a textbook)?
  5. Mar 22, 2009 #4


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    Can you define what it means for something to "exist"? It doesn't seem to be a scientific concept to me. I mean, science is about finding theories (which are sets of statements that make predictions about results of experiments), and about doing experiments to find out how accurate those predictions are. "Existence" doesn't seem to fit into that. You need a theory just to define the relevant concept properly. (Example: The concept "photon" is defined by QED). Now what would a proof of existence be? An experiment that verifies some prediction of the theory? Why should we interpret such an experiment as evidence of existence, when the theory that defines the relevant concept is wrong? All theories are known to be wrong: QED says there's no gravity, and GR says that matter behaves in a way that's completely inconsistent with quantum physics experiments.
  6. Mar 22, 2009 #5
    whatever there is is in the form of potenials. These potentials manifest into reality when an observer is observing. Which means that whatever u percieve as reality is just and just a subjective reality that depends on the observer. The "objective reality", if there is such a thing, exists beyond any observer and is unreachable to the mind of man. On the other hand can an subhective reality even exist if there wouldn't be any objective reality behind the curtains. The answer to that depends on whether u ask a hindue or a buddhist. The buddhist will say that there is no need to an objective reality and all is an illusion, while the hindue will say that the illusion is the manifestation of God which is the reality behind the curtain.

    Physically we say that the electron is a point in space with properties. A point by definition has no extension in space. Our study of the electron comes from its interaction with it surrounding (duality). So the electron doesn't take any space, but u cannot say its not there, because u experience it when it interacts with it surrounding...
  7. Mar 22, 2009 #6

    Vanadium 50

    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor
    2017 Award

    Of course matter exists. However, it sounds like your definition of "matter" may include properties inconsistent with observation. Of course that doesn't exist.
  8. Mar 22, 2009 #7
    for me its the word existence that is relevant, do u exist because I can see your tracks on this forum or do u exist without me interacting with you, objectively?

    Does matter have proberties, strange enough extension in space is not included on the fundamental level, or is matter just properties of space. Take an electron for instance, does it have mass and charge or, is it such as that there is charge and mass coexisting in a certain point in space with no extension?

    And would those proberties even be there in the first place if noone or nothing would interact with them.

    I don't say I know the answers?
  9. Mar 22, 2009 #8

    Vanadium 50

    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor
    2017 Award

    I think this has passed science and gone over to philosophy. Bad philosophy at that - you are about an inch from the old, tired "brain in a vat" idea. That was stale in 1641, and it hasn't improved with time.

    Objects can be touched, probed, felt and measured. If you want to argue that this doesn't make them real, what is? If you want to then argue "nothing is", this is Solipsism.

    Now, if you want to discuss whether the properties of various objects are as you expect - that's science.
  10. Mar 22, 2009 #9
    No, no, question is GOOD, you no good. You not knowing answer this good question.
  11. Mar 22, 2009 #10
    I agree question is good !! and it is not because you don't know that you have to reject the question
  12. Mar 22, 2009 #11
    I would never make the misstake of arguing that nothing is real, if that would the fact then there is no point in discussing anything, cause nothing would be real.

    And the philosophy you are referring to I have no clue. I've been thinking about the double split experiment. I'm not the one who came up with the words potential of possibilities. How come the math describing the particle ( the wave function) is not real valued, which means that it doesn't have a physical measurable quantitie, while on the other hand the absolute value of the function is real and even if it doesn't always gives us a difnite value, but instead a mean value its still real.

    We observe the particle first when it interacts with our detectors. Before that we have no knowlege about the particles position, how can u say that it existed as a particle before you detected it, you can't.

    I'm not saying I know anything, I'm just wondering about all these phenomenas and thinking, maybe our ansestors knew more then we give them credit for.

    what if the truth does not appeal to your mental attitudes, would you accept it or would you kling to your beliefes where you feel safe and secure?
  13. Mar 22, 2009 #12


    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    Exactly what my question is about. What are we in reality "feeling" when we touch a rock? Are we touching the atoms and molecules? Do these things have extension in space? Or does our hand have the illusion of "touching' something when in reality the is simply a force pushing back on our hand (the electromagnetic forces generated by all the atoms and molecules)? Because in reality, are not all those atoms and molecules composed of things which themselves have no extension in space?

    I read that in the beginning everything in the universe was compacted into a single point in space (the big bang). I fail to understand how this could be physically possible unless all this mass we are talking about has no extension in space to begin with.
  14. Mar 22, 2009 #13
    In my opinion and following GR equation, space and matter (atoms and molecules) are linked. You are living in a fluid called space-time like electrons, molecules... and of course you can have interactions with them.
  15. Mar 22, 2009 #14
    No, matter does not exist.
    With science we can observe and describe our experience to such a degree that prediction and manipulation of our existence is possible. But that just means our 'theory of matter' is useful. It doesn't mean that physicality exists beyond the fact that its a useful model of our experience.

    The big bang isn't just about matter. Its about space itself. When we talk of a bang, its not like an explosion, where rocks and debris go flying through space. Its about space, itself, expanding. So the 'matter' we see is just changing its state to conform with a change in space. You seem to be hung up on the idea that what we experience is 'matter' in its natural or pure form. But really, assuming a big bang model is reasonably accurate, this is just the way matter is, at this time, its a property of space/time.

    Space/time as we conceive it, doesn't really exist either, but it is a useful description of what we experience.

    What causes our experiences is the harder question.
    Some say its all mind.
    Other claim it all comes from god.
    And physics seems to point in the direction of energy fields.

    Regardless, the real nature of the universe is nothing like the 'matter' we experience.
    That's just a convenient way of thinking about the world.
  16. Mar 22, 2009 #15
    I'm not sure about any popular books that write about the multiverse in the way Tegmark has argued. I'm sure that Paul Davies has written one or more books about the multiverse. Also, Alexender Vilenkin has written a popular book on the multiverse, but this is based on eternal inflation as explained in this article:


    I don't think that there are any books written by physicists yet who promote the view taken by Tegmark.
  17. Mar 22, 2009 #16
    Our ancestors were as intelligent as we are and a lot can be done with logical thinking. Plato thought that substances were made with triangles (made into 3D figures) as the atomic building blocks. Newton thought the universe was made with numbers. Possibly Vedics knew a lot more. But lets not say that they had magic powers just because it was a long time in the past. If you got into a time machine and went back there you would not find gods and angels walking around rather a smelly place with a lot of disease and you would want to come back here quite quickly.

    But those two in particular were suspicious about matter being made of tangible 'particles' because the whole idea about indivisible particles of 'substance' is intrinsically illogical it stinks so to say. No science needed to know that, just clear thinking.

    So in my view the thread question is that matter consists of something mathematical or informational in nature as does space itself and not particles as in String Theory (what are they made of?)
  18. Mar 22, 2009 #17
    That's a interseting question. Clearly, whatever we feel is always a computation performed by the brain. As long as we are not dreaming or hallucinating, this computation is based on information obtained from the external world. So, we can say that the brain generates a virtual reality that is modelled after the real world. What we experience is always this virtual reality and not the real world.

    Actualy, it may be the case that we exist one level deeper still. The brain takes information from the real world and represents this in some way and then reacts to this input. The way the information is represented defines a virtual world. Now, this also happens in organisms such as insects that are hardly conscious. In more complex brains, information is proceesed further.

    By taking the processed information (in the virtual world) as input, the brain simulates a deeper virtual world. This then allows the brain to simulate what would happen if a certain action is taken as a response to a certain input from the real world without actually acting that out in the real world. The brain then selects the best action. So, this suggests that we exist at least one level deeper: in a virtual world located inside a virtual world based on information from the real world.

    Now, if the real world is fundamentally purely mathematical in nature, then the virtual world we inhabit is no less fundamental than the "real world" it is embedded in. The question is then why our world happens to be simulated inside another world. If all mathematical models are universes in their own right, then so is the "virtual" universe we live in, so there should be a copy of us living in such a world that is then not embedded in the "real" universe (i.e. the one described by the Standard Model and General Relativity).

    The answer maybe that any consistent theory of this type needs to have defined a probability measure which favors worlds that can be specified using less information. This also makes it possible for observers living inside a universe to do physics at all.

    Now, the copy of me who lives in the non-embedded virtual universe would have to be specified using a huge amount of information. This cannot be reduced any further unless you choose the state exactly as it is in the embedded version (but in the non-embedded version, there is no reason why you would constrain the evolution so that it exactly follws what could have been obtained in the embedded version).

    The embedded version of me that lives in "this universe", could presumably be specified using very little information (initial conditions plus the fundamental laws of pysics). Then, that would mean that the embedded copies of me have a much larger probability than the non-embedded copies.
  19. Mar 22, 2009 #18


    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    JoeDawg - Wow. Now that makes sense, and confirms my suspicions. I find it very interesting (in fact, unbelievable) this concept is not taught in basic physics classes. It appears to me the reality we experience is in fact closer to being something from a science-fiction movie (like 'The Matrix'). And 99% of people live their lives not realizing this.

    This is an exciting subject. I have my answer. Thanks to everyone that replied. :wink:
  20. Mar 22, 2009 #19

    I'm not saying that angels and gods were walking the earth then and now nor am I saying that they are not. Scientists laugh about the idea, still we are capable of accepting the fact that everything is made of string of the 10 to the power of -34 and it vibrates on different levels of existence or dimensions. The same people who laugh about any idea that doesen't fit the frame of mind. On the other hand you must agree with me that how we percieve reality differs from person to person. And we don't even have to take into consideration the psychological facts. I have bad sight so I see things more blurr on a distance then others do. A child have a different perception of reality then an adult. Animals don't see the world as we do. There are frequencies that no human can see, yet you accept them because you we able to create a machine to detect them.

    A God wanted to play a trick on a know it all people so he smashed them into flatlanders, shrinking their brain and perception. The flatlanders soon forgot that there were something outside there world. There were few people who still remembered what it is to be three dimentional, and they knew that, that is the way should be. Nothing magical about it. But the flatlanders put their fingers in their ears and screamed plasphemy, nonsence, there is no such thing as magic.

    No there is no such thing as magic, but live a lie for too long then you wouldn't realise the truth even if it hit u in the face.

    Thanks for your patience
  21. Mar 22, 2009 #20


    User Avatar

    Staff: Mentor

    The word "virtual" means not real. Our brains provide their own interpretation of what our senses detect, but that interpretation is of a real reality, not a reality invented by your brain.

    Ie, a person who is color blind and a person who is not have brains that interpret their sight sense differently (or have eyes with different capabilities). Does that make what they are looking at different? The difference is merely in the perception of the real.

    Important caveat: a halucination is, by definition, something you see that isn't really there.
    Last edited: Mar 22, 2009
  22. Mar 22, 2009 #21


    User Avatar

    Staff: Mentor

    I hope you didn't leave too soon because the reason JoeDawg's answer isn't taught in science class is it is 100% pure nonsense.
    Well the first sentence quite obviously contradicts the third because you used the word "existence" in it. :rolleyes:

    daisey, yes, it is possible that we are just living in the Matrix, just like it is possible that there is a god who created the universe and doesn't want you to know anything about it. These extremely improbable possibilities don't have any effect on how our theories work, so they are empty possibilities - you could invent an infinite number of similar ones and they wouldn't mean anything more than just idle speculation.

    A scientific theory, by definition, is a description of reality. It presupposes that the universe exists and obeys certain set rules. A theory is an attempt to find those rules and is useful precisely because it is a description of reality. No theory can ever prove anything to 100% certainty, but every time a theory succeeds in predicting something, the odds of it being wrong get a little bit smaller. Thus each time a theory works, it strengthens our understanding of reality and decreases the possibility that what we think is reality is in reality a cruel joke by a despotic creator.

    Now the despotic creator thing is possible, but that also is a little bit misleading because it doesn't mean that what we experience isn't reality, it just means that there is more to reality than we can currently see. Whether we eventually learn what else there is to reality is, of course, the entire purpose of science.
  23. Mar 22, 2009 #22


    User Avatar

    Staff: Mentor

    By the way, in The Matrix, Morpheus defines "real" as "electrical signals interpreted by your brain". Later when they go back into The Matrix, neo says "I had all these experiences - none of them happened". Didn't they? Did he eat noodles at that restaurant or not?
  24. Mar 22, 2009 #23


    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    OK. That also makes sense. So, based on the most widely accepted and taught scientific theories, when we "feel" a rock, what are we feeling? Apparently it is NOT anything in our world that has extension in three-dimensional space, right? I realize now we have no way of determining what it "really" might be, only how our minds interpret it. But in the three-dimensional world we all exist in, there is still nothing three-dimensional there, right? :confused:
  25. Mar 22, 2009 #24


    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    I guess what I'm wanting to confirm from you, Russ, is that when we feel a rock, we interpret it to be a "solid" object. But what we are really feeling, based on accepted scientific theory, is not anything that is "solid", but is just the manifestation of the forces of nature. Right?
  26. Mar 22, 2009 #25

    You can say that the interpretation of reality defines the virtual reality, or a (simplified) model of reality. My point is simply that what we experience is not the real world but whatever the brain is computing. There are people who have phantom pain in a amputated leg. This is caused by the brain still modeling the their body with the leg still there (and presumably in bad shape). Now phantom pain isn't necessarily any less painful that pain in a real leg...

    Of course, you can say that "whatever the brain is computing", also is grounded in the real world, in the sense that it is generated by whatever the neurons in the brain are doing. But what matters is then what it is that is computed, not whether the computation is accurately modeling the real world.
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook