I'm Quarky

by wootbot

Zeno's Atom

1st Place in Derby #294: You Be The Algorithm, with 251 votes!

Remember when you were a kid and you were told that an atom was the smallest particle (the original definition of "atom" was something that could not be divided any further)? Then you learned that atoms were made up of even smaller bits called protons, electrons, and neutrons. Then you learned that even THOSE were made up of tinier things made of quarks. And most recently, you learned that quarks might be made up of tiny, vibrating, multi-dimensional strings.

At a certain point it makes you wonder: Is there a "smallest" unit of matter? Or does it just keep subdividing forever and ever, all the way down? Maybe we just assume nature should be composed of "bits" because that's how our brains work, so we keep looking for tinier and tinier portions.

Take Zeno's Paradox. No, really. In a nutshell, Zeno's Paradox shows that, when running a race, you will never get to the end. Why? Because between the start and the end, you will get halfway, and then you will get halfway between the halfway-point and the end (3/4 of the total distance) and so on. So that, even when you are a fraction of a centimeter from the end, you will still need to traverse another half of a distance.

Well, the reason the world doesn't work like that is because it isn't actually cut into halves. Partitioning is the human brain's way to make sense of nature, but it is actually a smooth continuum. And maybe, just as there are no real fractional lines in space, there is no smallest bit of matter.

Boy, this sure wasn't funny.