The Infinite Divisibility of Matter

“From the time of the ancient Greeks there have been debates about the ultimate nature of matter.” One such debate is whether matter is infinitely divisible or whether it consists of fundamental blocks which are themselves indivisible. According to the online article “Continuous Matter or Atoms” by David Raymond, it wasn’t until the late 19th century that real progress began to be made on this question. Various advancements in technology provide positive arguments that matter is infinitely divisible The establishment of the atom as the smallest particle of matter followed by the discovery of subatomic particles followed by the discovery of the various masses and behaviors of these subatomic particles determines that matter is infinitely divisible.
The first argument from a technological standpoint comes from David Pratt’s article, “The Infinite Divisibility of Matter” in which he discusses the progression of the atomic theory. The atomic theory is the idea that each chemical element consisted of it’s own unique kind of atom and that everything else was made from a combination of these atoms. Scientists believe that the atom was the smallest unit of matter and was therefore not a divisible entity. Then, in 1897 the electron was discovered. In 1911 the proton was discovered and in 1932 the neutron was discovered. AH, so at that time in our “technological” state of knowledge, the electron, proton and neutron were the smallest building blocks of matter and were therefore, not divisible. But in the decades following the discovery of the electron, proton and neutron over two hundred additional subatomic particles were discovered.
Another important advancement in technology which indicates infinite divisibility was the development of a machine which could accelerate atomic and subatomic particles. “The original accelerator was developed in the 19th century and is called the Crookes Tube.” Scientist JJ Thomas measured the charge to mass ratio for both electrons and positive ions in the Crookes Tube. He found that positive ions typically had charged to mass ratios several thousand times smaller than electrons. This advancement progressed our understanding of matter from knowing not just that the atom was comprised of smaller entities – neutrons, protons and electrons but that they had vastly different masses.
A third advancement in technology was the discovery made by Marie and Pierre Curie and Henri Bequerel. They were the first to discover a more fundamental divisibility of atoms in the form of radioactive decay. “Some forms of decay give us a strong hint that even particles such as protons and neutrons which make up atomic nuclei are not atomic in the sense of the original Greek, since neutrons can change into protons in beta decay and vice-versa. We now have excellent evidence that protons, neutrons and many other sub-nuclear particles, are made up of particles called Quarks. Quarks and electrons are currently thought to be fundamental in that they are supposedly indivisible and are hence the true “atoms” of the universe.”
Indeed, technological advancements – from the discovery of the atom and the now defunct establishment of its being the absolute smallest particle of matter to the discovery of the electron, proton and neutron and the establishment of their various sizes and properties – to the discovery of over two hundred subatomic particles – to the research on radioactive decay which gave us other sub-nuclear particles called Quarks, is a definite indication that matter is infinitely divisible. We are only limited by our technology and our brain’s ability to fathom infinity.