Friday, July 23, 2021

The Unseen is More Real Every Day

I sit on a cushioned chair at my desk and drink coffee out of my favorite plain-white coffee cup, the handle the perfect size for my fingers. In front of me, my computer, phone, and thermos of ice water. All around me are things I've gathered into my orbit over the years -- books, furniture, plants and knick-knacks. All tangible, all “real.”

But one of the first things I learned in high school chemistry is that we swim in a sea of the unseen. Atoms, molecules, and the electrical bonds that hold them together. I’ve been fascinated ever since with the idea that there is more empty space on Earth than there is matter.

Every item I mentioned before – my computer, furniture, coffee – has more empty space in it than firm matter. In fact, when I consider the science, it’s hard to believe they are even there at all. My hot coffee, after all, is made up of agitated molecules (in a warmed state) that if heated even more would change into a gas and disappear from view. Its molecular bonds would let go and those molecules would separate and float off to perhaps bond with the orchid across the room.

Even my very hard wood desk, heavy and thick, is hardly there at all. Most of its substance is empty space, with (relatively) huge spaces between atoms and molecules that make up its matter.

This idea of nothingness has only increased in my mind over the decades. Not only are solid objects mostly empty space, but it turns out the universe is mostly empty too. During my lifetime, the existence of black holes in space has been discovered. We’ve learned there is more emptiness in the universe than matter – and the empty space called black holes has tremendous energy. Throw in dark matter and dark energy, and there is even more of the universe to not see. All this stuff unseen and incredibly powerful.

The idea of ghosts and cosmic energy, therefore, doesn’t faze me a bit. This is child’s play compared to the “real” world. The unseen world which comprises most of the universe – those black holes, dark matter, all the atoms and molecules – is constantly moving. My heavy thick desk, though I can’t budge it an inch, is in microscopic motion. If I recall correctly from that long-ago chemistry class, the atoms in solid objects still are in motion, just a little slower than in liquid or gas. Light my desk on fire and the heat will excite the atoms to move faster – smoke will rise and millions of atoms of what used to be my desk will set off my smoke alarm and drift away. Seemingly impossible, my desk will fly.

One of my favorite things to do is walk by the river that flows through my city. I watch the rapids, keep an eye out for herons, and enjoy the lush summer foliage in the trees. All real and tangible.

But, like many followers of this blog, I have a fascination for the unseen. For those things that can’t yet be defined. Their existence is unquestionable. And, if this can be true, then can’t anything be possible?

These ideas keep my imagination primed and keep the stories flowing.

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Nancy Gideon said...

I will never look at my desk the same way again, Julie!

Maureen said...

Interesting! I've always find things in the world that we now take for granted- like a microwave, the Internet etc as magical since I can't quite wrap my mind around how these work. Great article!

Diane Burton said...

Wow. This is pretty deep. Not sure I understand it all. But then do I need to understand? I guess I'll just accept what is.

Melody DeBlois said...

Your blog made my morning. Thinking about black holes and the desk that's moving under my laptop as I write fascinated me. Nothing is as it seems.

Marilyn Barr said...

Love, love, love this article! My Master's degree is in particle physics. I love thinking about the atoms of the laptop balancing on the empty space of the desk. If you go to level small enough, something is resting on nothing!