Monday, January 2, 2012

The Oscillating Electron

This is currently my favorite physics “oddity” – check it out …

Why does every electron “look” exactly like every other electron?

Because there is only one electron in the entire Universe.


Aren’t there anywheres from one to over a hundred in any given atom, and aren’t there megagazillions of atoms in the tiniest little hair poking out of your skin?

In fact, the number of atoms in the universe is guesstimated to be somewhere around

10 ^ 78


10 ^ 82

which are, of course, numbers with 78 to 82 zeroes after them.

That’s a lot of atoms. A hydrogen atom has only one electron, while an atom of uranium has 92. So multiply that gargantuan number by a factor of 10 or 100 or so to get an idea of how many electrons exist in the universe.

Physicist John Wheeler believed that there is only one electron in the Universe.

Now, I don’t know how far down the facetious scale Wheeler is taking us. I don’t really think it matters, for the reasoning is truly wonderful.

Most of us are aware of the Big Bang – the “birth” of the Universe in which all matter, energy, and space burst outward from a singular point. The best analogy is not an explosion, but a massive balloon being blown up at hyperspeed. We live on the surface of the balloon, so in effect the Universe is bursting outward from every single point.

There is only one thing that can stop such outbursting – and that’s gravity. Gravity from all the matter in the Universe. So the big question is, is there enough matter to slow the expansion of the Universe? Right now, observably, the answer is no; that’s why there is so much interest in dark matter (and energy), “dark” meaning not “black” but “undetectable.”

But Wheeler assumes that there is more than enough matter to slow the Universe’s expansion. In fact, there is enough to cause a reversal after 50 or so billion years. This contraction will lead to a Big Crunch, which itself ultimately leads to another Big Bang. This is the model of the Oscillating Universe.

Once upon a time, there was a Big Bang which shot forth a single electron. It traveled forward in time billions of years until – the Big Crunch, where it moves backward in time as the Universe contracts to a singularity. Then, the Big Bang again, spewing that solitary little electron, forward in time, backward in time to Crunch. Ad infinitum.

What is the difference between an object traveling in space and one traveling in time? Objects in space can not see duplicates of themselves, but objects in time can! Just think, if I go back in time a year, I can sneak around and spy on myself.

So there is this electron that lives through a series of Big Bangs and Big Crunches. How many? Oh, I don’t know … how about

10 ^ 78


10 ^ 82

or a similar amount by a factor of ten or a hundred? In other words, a megagigantazillion of Bang-Crunches. Now … see where Wheeler is going with this?

There is only one electron, but we experience a megagigantazillion time-copies of it.

To which I can only add: how cool is that idea? Yeah, it goes against Christian theology, yeah, it mirrors that nut-job Nietzsche’s belief in Eternal Recurrence. But It Is So Cool!

Man I wish I stuck with physics …

(Note: this neat little anecdote is better described in Michio Kaku’s excellent book, Beyond Einstein. Great for beginners or those re-introducing themselves to cutting edge physics from a 1980s point-of-view.)

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