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The Odd Theory That the Universe Contains Just One Electron

There are electrons everywhere. What if it's the same one, though?

By Francis DamiPublished about a month ago 3 min read

The observable cosmos is thought to contain about 1082 atoms. You can therefore reasonably assume that there are at least 10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 in the observable universe as well, since every element in the periodic table contains at least one electron.

Or can you? One theory put forth by theoretical physicist John Wheeler, who discussed it with fellow physicist Richard Feynman, states that electrons are so incredibly strange that they appear to be many because they are moving forward and backward in time. As strange as this sounds, it is a reaction to the fact that electrons are identical to other elementary particles in terms of mass, spin, and negative charge; you can swap one electron for another and never be able to tell the difference.

Wheeler proposed that electrons and positrons were one particle, negatively charged when traveling forward in time and positively charged when traveling backward in time. The positron, its antiparticle, is likewise identical to the electron in terms of charge, mass, and spin. Interestingly, they are even the same as electrons except for their positive charge.

"I received a telephone call one day at the graduate college at Princeton from Professor Wheeler, in which he said, 'Feynman, I know why all electrons have the same charge and the same mass'," Feynman recounted in his 1965 Nobel Lecture.

"The reason being that every electron is the same! "Suppose that the world lines that we were previously considering in time and space were a tremendous knot instead of only going up in time," he continued over the phone. "Then, when we cut through the knot by the plane corresponding to a fixed time, we would see many, many world lines and that would represent many electrons, except for one thing."

If this is a normal electron world line in one section and it reverses itself and travels backward from the future, we have the incorrect sign to the correct time - to the correct four velocities - which is the same as altering the charge's sign. Consequently, that portion of the path would behave like a positron."

Given that it has traveled through time an unfathomably large number of times, that would make the particle ancient. It is highly improbable that this explanation—which would be entertaining—of the shared properties of electrons and positrons is accurate. As Feynman points out, there are not nearly as many positrons as electrons in the universe, and there is more matter than antimatter. If positrons and electrons were the same elementary particle going forward and backward in time, you'd expect there to be an even number.

Wheeler's argument was rather weak: "Well, maybe [the missing positrons] are hidden in the protons or something." Feynman was profoundly affected by the phone call, even though it was merely a thought experiment and was probably not meant to be taken seriously. Feynman went on to write a paper explaining how positrons might be conceived of as electrons traveling backward in time.

The universe is thought to contain around 10 to the power of 80 atoms. The number of electrons in the cosmos can be reduced to around 10 to the power of 80 if we disregard the fact that many atoms contain more than one electron.

While electrons are considered stable in theory, 6.6×1028 years is frequently reported as the experimental bottom bound on the electron's mean lifetime. With the help of this, we can see how this theory functions in reality.

According to the hypothesis and these calculations, the single electron that exists has made 1080 trips around the cosmos, requiring 460 septillion years each time. The one electron in the One-Electron Theory is 10105 years old because we can double these figures for each time the electron had to travel through time.

Though there is a problem with this thought experiment, all of this is worth considering. There should always be an equal number of positrons and electrons at any given location if a single electron moves forward in time as an electron and backward as a positron.

fact or fictionspacescience

About the Creator

Francis Dami

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  • Esala Gunathilakeabout a month ago

    Well written

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