In a Hole In a Hole Dwelt a Nothingness

Problems 28: The Muon and the Green Great Dragon.  Part One: In a Hole In a Hole Dwelt a Nothingness?

  • Why Muons were real, even when no one had believed they should exist. Or could explain why they did exist.
  • Why atoms are not really ‘a hole in a hole’.
  • Why any native English speaker would know that a ‘green great dragon’ was bad English, but would be unlikely to know why.
  • How the question ‘why’ is very different for human matters and for the physical universe.
  • How religions came in waves of ideas, and gave us ways to organise our thinking that had not existed before.
  • How religions show their human origin, by always supposing that it was a universe made as a dwelling for humans and similar creatures

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On the edge of space, a naked proton that has wandered the universe for hundreds of millions of years slams into Earth’s atmosphere.  It hits an atom that is part of our atmosphere: which atom barely matters.  Proton meets proton with enough energy to abolish the unobservable quarks within each proton.  There is a moment of pure undefined energy, similar to the very first moments after the Big Bang.  Then it becomes something more regular: a rare particle called a pion.

The pion rapidly decays into something stranger but less unstable; a muon, along with a neutrino.  The neutrino is likely to pass undisturbed through the entire solid Earth and out into interstellar space, never again encountering normal matter.  The muon will pass through the atmosphere; pass through you if you happen to be in the way.  Mostly it will perish deep underground: not because it hits anything but because it is unstable.  It will end its brief existence by becoming an electron and two more neutrinos.

The existence of muons also refutes the common notion that we somehow create the subatomic world by observing it.  Muons were particles that should not have existed, and yet are real.

In this article, I talk about rules, and how to break them.  Whether they can be broken by a mere human.  Whether even an entire human society or civilisation could remould them.  And the importance of knowing what can be changed and what can’t.

Why would a typical native English speaker never talk of a ‘green great dragon’?  Why can’t they explain why this would be wrong?  Why we talk of dragons at all, since we know they never existed?  And why do phenomena like muons forced us to accept them as facts of life, even though our original world-view said that they should not exist?

As a human reading this philosophical essay, you personally interact with the wider world at two levels.  One social: the vastly complex material and social world that humans have built for themselves, and which humans collectively can rebuild or revise.  Another that is much more alien and surprising: the physical world which human understanding has tried to formalise as physics, geology, chemistry, biology etc.  These persist and apply to our lives, whether we want to believe in them or not.

Available from Athol Books.