Last Sunday I attended a Charleston discussion, led by local physicist Jack Mallah, about a bewildering science revelation: that nothing exists in the way it seems -- that our daily reality is somewhat an illusion. As Churchill said, it is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.
Dr. Mallah's presentation was deeply technical and abstruse, with talk of wave functions, multiple universes and other things I can't grasp. However, here's my personal take:
We're born into a tangible world of earth, sky, people, houses, tables, chairs and everything else. It seems totally real to us. But modern physics proves that the underlying reality is vastly strange and elusive.
The more you study fundamental units -- atoms -- the more they tend to vanish. If you could shrink to the size of an atom, the nucleus would be invisible, too tiny to see. The interior of atoms is virtually all vacuum. Researchers say that looking inside an atom would be like gazing at the night sky, with faraway pinpoints, nothing else.
That's why matter can be compressed astoundingly when empty space is removed between electrons, protons, neutrons, quarks, etc. If gravity pulls a collapsing star down into a white dwarf, the jammed-together substance weighs 10 tons per thimbleful -- something impossible to comprehend. But that's just the first stage of collapse. If a larger burned-out star shrinks down to a pulsar, a solid mass of neutrons, the matter weighs 10 million tons per cubic centimeter.
If a bouillon cube can weigh 10 million tons, how much actual matter is in a 180-pound man or 120-pound woman? Not enough to see with a microscope.
But pulsars aren't the final collapse. The last stage is black holes. If Planet Earth were compressed to its Schwarzchild Radius, where a black hole begins, it would be the size of a pearl. See what I mean about a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma?
Hypothetically, being stabbed by a knife might be as inconsequential as two vacant sections of night sky passing through each other -- but we all know that reality is much worse.
Comedian Tim Allen, actually a heavy thinker, went on a binge of physics study and wrote a book titled "I'm Not Really Here." He said ancient Asian mystics who contend that reality is an illusion apparently had a glimpse of truth, even though they didn't know the physics behind it. He wrote: