Throughout the course of human history, our contemplation of the cosmos has been a constant pursuit. Humans have observed the celestial dance of the sun, moon, planets, and stars adorning the sky. They've strived to comprehend the fundamental nature of the world around them and the mechanisms by which they perceive their surroundings.
The pursuit of uncovering the fundamental laws governing nature has been a long and continuous journey, characterized by incremental advancements. Take, for instance, Aristotle's ancient hypothesis, which posited that everything in the universe was constructed from four essential elements: earth, fire, air, and water. It took nearly two millennia, until the 19th century, for this concept to be debunked when indivisible particles, now known as atoms, were revealed.
Similarly, Plato's theory posited that vision operated through rays of light emanating from the eyes, interacting with objects to convey information about their color, shape, and size. It took nearly a thousand years to realize that it was the rays from the objects that entered our eyes, enabling us to see.
The understanding of planetary motion also evolved, transitioning from a geocentric model, where the Earth was the center of the universe, to a heliocentric model where the sun took center stage, with Earth and other planets orbiting it. This shift in perspective took about 1500 years.
Once, phenomena like thunderstorms and solar eclipses, which cast darkness upon the daytime sky, were enshrouded in mystery and often gave rise to superstitions and myths. However, with the advent of science and scientific thinking, these mysteries began to dissipate. The modern scientific age, commencing in the 16th century, fostered rational thinking and established the idea that every phenomenon in the universe should have a logical and scientific explanation.
By the late 19th century, scientific understanding of the universe had grown significantly, culminating in several key revelations:
We inhabit an infinite three-dimensional universe, always in existence.
Time exists independently of space and flows uniformly from the past through the present and into the future, with time moving at the same pace on Earth, the Moon, and Mars.
The universe adheres to well-defined laws, allowing for precise predictions when forces are applied to objects.
Light exhibits both wave and particle characteristics, a fact that is incontrovertible.
There is no theoretical speed limit for movement; the more energy applied, the faster an object can travel.
All matter in the universe consists of minuscule particles known as atoms, stacked together like tiny solid cubes.
True vacuum represents a state without motion or energy.
All objects in our environment are real, existing even when unobserved.
There is only one observable universe, and the existence of alternate universes in different states is not a possibility.
Over a century has passed, and these principles have remained largely unchanged in our understanding of the universe. Any deviation from them would be both surprising and shocking. Notably, these conclusions were the fruit of three centuries of scientific exploration, spanning from the era of Newton in the 17th century to the late 19th century.
However, the astonishing revelation is that none of these findings align with our current understanding of the laws of physics. How can this be? These findings are deeply relevant to our everyday experiences.
These certainties were shaken and disproven by the scientific revolution that dawned in the early 20th century. This revolution, akin to a seismic upheaval, continues to resonate a century later.
The aim of this series of articles is to elucidate the laws of physics governing the functioning of our universe in the simplest possible terms. A deeper comprehension of nature and the laws of the universe leads us to the realization that we inhabit an enigmatic and incomprehensible universe.
In the early 20th century, it became evident that the principles of physics, as originally formulated by Newton and his successors, held true primarily when dealing with large-scale objects, objects traveling at velocities significantly less than that of light, and under typical conditions. However, when dealing with minute entities such as electrons and atoms, as well as in scenarios characterized by exceedingly weak light signals and objects moving at very high speeds, these conventional laws proved inadequate. The revelations surrounding the nascent laws of quantum mechanics and the theory of relativity were both perplexing and awe-inspiring. For example:
Light behaves as a wave but can exhibit particle-like characteristics in certain experiments.
It is impossible to simultaneously measure both the position and velocity of a particle, irrespective of the precision of the measuring instruments.
The vast, seemingly empty expanse of the universe is imbued with boundless energy.
Nothing can surpass the speed of light.
Clocks run slower in proximity to massive celestial bodies, and the gravitational field further dilates time.
Light undergoes bending when it traverses the vicinity of massive entities such as the Sun and stars, even though light itself lacks any mass.
Our understanding of the cosmos is limited, encompassing only a fragment of its totality, while the majority remains hidden from our view. The observable universe merely offers glimpses of the impact exerted by this concealed matter and energy on the behaviors of celestial bodies like stars and galaxies, leaving us oblivious to their underlying composition.
The universe perpetually extends its boundaries, yet the true character of what lies beyond them remains shrouded in enigma.
Time commenced around fourteen billion years ago, concomitant with the birth of the universe. Events preceding this epoch elude our understanding. The nature of space and time prior to that period remains an enigma.
An individual traveling close to the speed of light experiences a longer lifespan relative to a stationary individual.
This is just a glimpse; there are numerous such startling results. My forthcoming articles will delve into these and other similar laws.
At the onset of the 20th century, two distinct revolutions took place. The initial revolution is entirely attributed to Albert Einstein, as he conceived his theory of relativity during the early years of the century. His concepts sparked a radical shift in our comprehension of space and time, fundamentally altering our view of the cosmos. The theory of relativity's most pivotal contribution lies in its capacity to illuminate the genesis and development of the universe.
The second revolution was the emergence of quantum mechanics, which matured over approximately three decades. Quantum mechanics provided a set of laws capable of explaining the behavior and interactions of objects. These laws markedly differ from those discovered by Newton and that we observe in our daily lives, challenging our long-standing perceptions of reality.
Despite their profoundly counterintuitive nature, quantum mechanics and the theory of relativity stand as two of the most successful theories in human history. Their remarkable success lies in the fact that, even after more than a century, no observation contradicts their predictions, despite significant advances in measurement instruments. For instance, we can measure time to the billionth of a billionth of a second, distance to a thousandth of a meter, temperature to a millionth of a degree, and weight to a billionth of a gram. We can manipulate atoms, chilling gases to the point where atoms and molecules lose their individuality. We can perform experiments where light exists as a single 'photon,' and even observe the interaction between a single 'photon' and a solitary atom. In all such experiments, the outcomes markedly deviate from the predictions of 19th-century physics but align perfectly with the forecasts of quantum mechanics.
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