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Infinite divisibility of matter?

  1. Apr 27, 2014 #1
    Hi all.

    I'm rather a novice in the realm of physics, aside from a class in high-school and my own independent interest.

    I often wonder if matter is infinitely divisible. What if it's possible to divide quarks, gluons, etc, we just don't have the methods?

    Does anyone have input on this idea? Is there some law which would prescribe the infinite divisibility of matter? Or, at a certain point, does matter simply become energy if we further divide it?


  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 27, 2014 #2


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    It's not a matter of "methods", quarks and electrons are believed to be fundamental particles, which means by definition that they are indivisible.
  4. Apr 27, 2014 #3
    Okay. But I am still no further to understanding.
  5. Apr 27, 2014 #4
    Fundamental particles don't turn into energy when divided. They are the smallest building blocks and cannot be divided. Physicists have considered the possibility that electrons and quarks might be made of even smaller particles usually called preons but the preon theory has not paned out. It seems that electrons and quarks are truly fundamental.
  6. Apr 27, 2014 #5


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    Its basically an unanswerable question.

    What it really is is a variant of the its turtles all the way down argument.

    You see what science is about is correspondence with experiment. You have a theory with certain premises and see if it matches experiment. But what do those premises depend on? Answer that - and so on it goes - you always have unanswered questions - unless of course - its turtles all the way down. But even then you never know if the next level may be something other than a turtle :tongue::tongue::tongue::tongue:

  7. Apr 28, 2014 #6


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    Basically, we should not invent smaller divisions of matter than what is given in the Standard Model unless we can provide some evidence that they exist, or at least a compelling mathematical beauty. We must use Ockham's razor as a guide. For now, it looks like there are no smaller levels.
  8. Apr 28, 2014 #7
    It is not that at a smaller point they would become energy; they already are energy.

    While the Standard Model isn't 'pretty', there is yet to be anything to better explain what we see now, that involves smaller particles than Bosons, Leptons and Quarks.
  9. Apr 28, 2014 #8


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    Your original question was "I often wonder if matter is infinitely divisible." These answers are saying "As far as we know now, no".
  10. Apr 28, 2014 #9
    What do you mean by "While the Standard Model isn't 'pretty' "? I think it's plenty pretty.
  11. Apr 28, 2014 #10
    The lack of prettiness that I refer to is the arbitrary constants. They work, but the need for them makes the theory, for me at least, less pretty than others like relativity.
  12. Apr 28, 2014 #11


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    Some bits like the idea of gauge fields are of dazzling beauty, others like the number of arbitrary constants look a bit of a kludge.

    It's this dichotomy that convinces me at least, and I suspect many others, there must be something deeper.

  13. Apr 29, 2014 #12
    Maybe this is just the "wrestling match" between particle physics and quantum physics, but as I understand it even from the view of stodgy ol' Albert (playful sarcasm here :) ) that all Matter IS Energy. I don't comprehend yet "truly fundamental particles".

    Two recent discoveries seem to me to bolster this concept. With the discovery of what appears to be Higgs, we now have a mechanism by which energy can become "massive", be matter. It looks to me that as we go down in scale the divide between energy and matter becomes blurred and may be a construct of our material world bound senses. I'll get to the second shortly.

    The 50 ton elephant in the room is, as almost always, Gravity. We have yet to determine if Gravitons even exist let alone whether they can be classified as we now classify Particles. The entire field of all the variations on possible Quantum Gravity has been thrown for a loop (pun only slightly intended) by the findings of ESA's Integral gamma ray observatory. This data appears incredibly profound in that it seems accurate some 10e9 times smaller than Planck Scale! yet Planck Length is supposed to be the smallest length that anything can even be, if I understand that correctly. However it is also very possible that things like "length" may cease to have meaning excepting "way up here".

    It is fascinating to me, as well as perplexing (and apparently to OP as well) that some 2500 years later we still are debating Zeno's Paradoxes ie - Grainy vs/ Smooth
  14. Apr 29, 2014 #13


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    Look up the definition of energy and then look up the definition of elementary particle. They are not the same.

    The higgs mechanism explains why objects have mass. IE, rest mass. It does not explain how energy "becomes massive" and I see no blurriness anywhere.
  15. Apr 29, 2014 #14
    The method for testing this would disprove string theory right? I don't think we can get that small.
  16. Apr 29, 2014 #15

    I am quite aware of the difference in definitions, however, in the interest of reason, I did exactly that and still see "blurriness". It is my understanding that prior to the first few minutes after the Big Bang zero matter existed, all was energy. According to The Standard Model, the first nuclei were formed approximately 3 minutes in. It is also my understanding that E=MCe2 is not a casual statement that energy results during fission. It is a true equation with transposable integers ie Matter is a form of energy and can be broken back down into that state and vice versa.

    Apparently you're a hardcore particle guy and that's fine but "Damn!, those Gravitons!"
  17. Apr 29, 2014 #16


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    Not true. High energy EM radiation and particles/antiparticles were constantly being created and destroyed during this time period.

    Well, except that the "M" stands for mass, not matter, and that isn't the full form of the equation anyways. The full form is: e2=(mc2)2+(pc)2
    Where "p" is momentum.

    My biggest reason for not agreeing with you, other than the fact that the definition of energy is the ability to perform work, is that the energy content of an object depends on the frame of reference it is viewed from. To a proton moving at close to light speed, the Earth has an incredible amount of kinetic energy. So I don't agree that a quantity that can be altered just by changing reference frames can make up anything. It's like saying "momentum" makes up something.

    I have no idea what you mean by this.
  18. Apr 30, 2014 #17
    Thank you for that clarification.... or maybe not, since now I will ponder this, probably for months if not years LOL . Seriously though, this is an important difference in what I thought I understood about The Big Bang. Thanks. I understood that atomic nuclei were originally created probably through up quarks and down quarks, but was actually unaware of anti-quarks... a pretty big hole in my learning.

    :redface:Yes I did fall into that all too common trap where I injected the blurriness, specifically between mass and matter. Doh!

    I think I have a grasp of interdependence, relativity. It is just as difficult for me to imagine "momentum" divorced from anything else as it is to conceive of matter divorced from energy since I can't conceive of a Universe in which exists solely, a self-contained, single particle.

    I just meant that we have yet to discover the nature of gravity or even if a Graviton exists and this seems to be the "bugger all" problem faced by any approach to the remaining difficulties in The Standard Model. Perhaps I've read too much Smolin, but I'm wrestling with the full implications of ESA Integral findings apparently so far under Planck Scale. I apparently have a lot of reading and thinking to do.
  19. Apr 30, 2014 #18


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    Is that any different from everything else? The Standard Model is only a model which happens to include a large number of other entities 'satisfactorily'. Just explaining the relationships doesn't say anything about the true 'nature' of them.
  20. Apr 30, 2014 #19
    I think you'll recall that I had multiple questions in the introduction to this post, and the individual that replied only offered a blanket definition.

    Now that others have responded, I would agree that my questions have been answered.
  21. Apr 30, 2014 #20
    I suppose that depends on your position on Standard Model and whether or not you differentiate between the parts that are extremely solid (usually older, more easily testable phenomena) and the newer, more difficult and less tested parts. Whatever words you choose to describe it, Gravity is a fly in the soup, the single most perplexing enigma.

    It also depends on how you weight your data. I'll bet on 10 to 1 odds any day, but I might hesitate on 2 to 1. 1 to 1? I'll wait for more data. The point is, at some level of odds it is sufficient and well within reason to consider something "true". After sufficient accretion, newcomers have to "beat the champ". A "tie" just won't do.

    It seems to me we are at a stage now with Standard Model somewhat analogous to the point where Evolution faced the test of the discovery of the base mechanism, DNA. Just as it bolstered Evolution, I'm betting that with the creation of so many disparate and newly powerful tools the Standard Model will come out stronger than ever. If I understand correctly, recent discoveries have laid waste to many Quantum Gravity efforts as well as some subsets of String Theory, while all the many tests at LHC, for example, seem to consistently bear out Standard Model. The next several years promise to be quite the shakeout....pretty exciting.
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