What does knowledge of the atom reveal about the nature of reality?

In this brilliant programme, Jim Al-Khalili reveals what maths and science have to tell us about the nature of reality.



He looks at our understanding of the atom during the last century. Paul Dirac (1902-1984) predicted the existence of anti-matter using maths alone. In 1928 the Dirac Equation implied that for every atom in the universe there is a corresponding anti-particle somewhere in the universe.

He also explains the disturbing ‘measurement problem’ in physics; an atom only appears in a particular place when it is measured. He suggests that one implication of this is that the act of observation creates the entire universe. He then explains the paradox of Schrodinger’s cat.

How we interpret the significance of quantum physics is discussed; intriguingly there is little consensus amongst physicists. Professor David Deutsch argues for a ‘many worlds’ interpretation of quantum physics suggesting that we exist in different states of mind in different universes. Whereas Professor Andrew Jackson claims we don’t need to worry about the metaphysics of quantum theory so when people worry about where atoms are when they are not being measured should “shut up and calculate.”

He quotes Niels Bohr (1885-1962): “We must be clear that when it comes to atoms, language can be used only as in poetry.”
The knowledge issue remains, how do we know what the true nature of reality is. The programme also shows the power of maths and science to reveal what the possibilities are. The perspectives given by different particle physicists on the programme serve to show what genuine debate and excitement there is surrounding our knowledge of the atom. The more we seek to understand the atom, the more paradoxically complex it becomes. Watching this programme might just refuel or even ignite an interest in the perspectives of particle physicists. The way that trillions of atoms come together to form rocks, mountains and people is still unexplained and remains a frontier for science to explore. It leaves you wondering about why consciousness has emerged as a property of matter. It also calls into question the perspectives of religion on this matter too. Enjoy watching the programme!

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