Exercise 36

EXERCISE 36: The infinitely small


In this Exercise, you will be getting an idea of the world of small.

Prepare yourself as you would for a standard meditation. Place a copper penny on your table next to your candle. Look at the copper penny.

Now, note that there are 3 million layers of atoms in that penny. Atoms all arranged in a tight formal structure, three million thick.

If you could look at the atom itself – a physical impossibility because of its tiny size – you would need to understand relative dimensions. We need to imagine that the nucleus of the atom is like an orange at centre of baseball field. Gnats flying around at the outside of the field would indicate the relative size and distance from the nucleus of the electrons. Thus the single atom is almost nothing at all. Relatively speaking, the atom is almost entirely empty space! Of the volume of a standard baseball field, the only matter in it are an orange and a bunch of gnats. That’s it. Nothing else.

If you could now look at the nucleus, the picture changes dramatically again. You would discover the same relative dimensions, the same minute particle size in a vast ocean of space. Only at this level, particles are blinking in and out of existence, randomly, as it were. Whether they are particles or wave structures depends strangely on what we as observers are looking for. We cannot seem to be able to determine what the particles in themselves are. At this level of reality there is an uncertainty built in to the nature of reality. What is reality anyway?

Now consider this: if all space were removed from a human body, it would collapse to the size of a gain of sand. Atoms are 99.9% space. What then is your human body? What are you if you are 99.9% empty space?

Yet when I slam my hand on the table, I hurt myself. If 99.9% of matter is space, what is prohibiting my hand to penetrate through the table? Forces. In the end, what you experience as solid are force fields built around certain concentrations of energies which hold things together.

In the end, you are held together by some unique system of forces which ceases to be at your death, allowing the elements to return to a simpler state for the time being.

Reflect on this incredible strangeness. What is the nature of the universe, then? Is matter an illusion?

Describe your reactions in your journal.