Could there be a basic particle?
No matter how you split, dice or slice it, a particle is a basic unit of matter.
The Atomists (a pre-Socratic group of early Greek philosophers, from which the word “atom” originated) asserted that all matter is composed of tiny indivisible units which are the basic building blocks of matter.
Today, we know that even these atoms may be split into tinier, even more fundamental particles. When you get down to that scale however, the question then becomes: “Is it matter or energy, we are dealing with?”
When we arrive at the realm of subatomic particles (electrons, quarks, photons, neutrinos, and muons, to name a few), we are no longer dealing with solid matter – according to quantum mechanics (a division of particle physics) these subatomic particles exhibit “wave-particle duality” and literally flicker in and out of existence. No matter how immaterial they may be however, they are still basic units of matter as we know it.
In the 20th century, scientists discovered that the atom (formerly thought to be indivisible) is composed of even smaller entities – electrons, neutrons, and protons. Experiments later showed that neutrons and protons are in turn composed of quarks. The trend of empirical evidence leans in the direction of ever-tinier subatomic particles – this raises the question of whether matter is infinitely divisible. So far, experiment has not been able to answer this question.
Basic means essential, inherent, intrinsic, fundamental, underlying, indispensable … need I go further? All subatomic particles of matter, whether divisible or indivisible meet the criteria for “basic”. Without leptons, you don’t have atoms; without atoms, no molecules – without molecules, no matter.
A crumb is a basic particle of a donut, which may be broken down into further particles including molecules, then atoms … then atomic nuclei, and sub-nuclei can be broken down even further – yes even crumbs have crumbs – till you are looking at a whole lot of “hole” where donut used to be. For all practical purposes, it is still a donut though, but we see, at its most basic level, it is really quite immaterial. Yet it is not a vacuum, devoid of matter. Modern physicists assert that there really is no such thing as an empty vacuum, except in theory; there will always be a few “particles” floating around – even in deep space, even if they are little more than radiation signatures. Can those particles can be broken down further … and further, ad infinitum?
How far can this system of division and sub-division of particles continue? Particle physicists and philosophers alike are still pondering this question – but one thing that cannot be denied is that a particle IS and always has been basic to whatever substance it is a part of, at any scale, even from an atom to a theoretical construct – or crumb of a crumb of a crumb.
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