Coming to terms with scale limits is like coming to terms with prejudice. Both beliefs limit our understanding of the universe. Enlightened people no longer believe in prejudice, but the same cannot be said for scale limits. Judging from the literature, many scientists and science writers believe that there is nothing smaller than elementary particles and nothing bigger than the Big Bang.
In experiment after experiment people of different ‘races’ have turned out to be equally capable and intelligent. Presumably the statistically equal distribution of intelligence not only applies to people over geographical space, but also over historical time. Presumably, people in the seventh century Persia were no ‘stupider’ than people in Philadelphia today. They may have ‘known’ less, but they were no less capable of knowing.
What does this tell us about scale in our universe? Let us take a look at the bottom end. Right now we believe that the bottom end of the scale is Planck’s constant and the sixty or so elementary particles. Everything that we know of is made of sixty or so tiny energy structures (Gell-Mann, The Quark and the Jaguar: adventures in the simple and the complex, 1995). We can’t see any of these structures, but we can measure their effects with high tech tools. By categorizing these effects we have been able to give these structures distinct names like ‘electrons’ and ‘quarks.’ In 2010 when this investigation was written, the bottom end of the scale of causality was these sixty or so ‘quanta,’ but this was not always the case.
At the beginning of the nineteenth century John Dalton re-proposed a classic type of elementary particle. He proposed that each chemical element was composed of tiny distinct ‘atoms.’ This was revised at the beginning of the twentieth century when the hydrogen nuclei was thought to be an ‘elementary’ particle. However, in 1911 Ernest Rutherford discovered that most nuclei contained ‘protons’ and ‘neutrons.’ In 1964 Murray Gell-Man and George Zweig discovered that these protons and neutrons were composed of ‘quarks.’ In just over one hundred and fifty years the bottom end of our scale of causality went from elements, to atoms, to nuclei, to protons, to quarks. The logical question this incites is; where does this all end? What indications do we have that our current ‘quanta’ are truly at the bottom of causality?
Science is founded on replication. If an experiment can be replicated it can be verified. If it is true that scientists in the twentieth century consistently found smaller scale levels, what about the nineteenth century? What about the eighteenth, seventeenth and sixteenth centuries? Can the twentieth century experiment be replicated? Do the equally clever scientists of each century equally believe that they know what the materia prima of the universe is? Have they all equally been proven wrong by the next generations of scientists? What would we find upon careful inspection?
We would find that the scientists of each century were all more or less equally intelligent (we wouldn’t want our experiment to be inherently prejudiced?). We would find that they were all equally convinced that their system explained causality because they are famous for claiming so. We would find that they were all proven more right than their predecessors and more wrong than their antecessors. And finally we would find that they were all equally restricted by the technology of their age because proof depends on exactness of measurement and this has continually improved.
If this investigation were of a different character we could take the time to conduct this experiment. From classical elementalism to medieval alchemy to enlightenment chemistry to modern cosmology, each age has been populated by intelligent men that believed they knew the materia prima at the bottom of causality. All of these men built theories that were not only logically consistent, but were also constrained by their technology. All of these theories were eventually improved when technology improved, and improvement in each case has meant defining smaller, more precise parts that compose the physical world around us.
This historical fact implies that unless we believe ourselves smarter than others, or we have invented perfect measurement technology, we should be very careful in our belief that we know the bottom end of causality. It means that future generations armed with better technology will continue to find smaller, more precise causal patterns. Quarks will be found to contain galaxies of smaller pattern, perhaps the miniscule ‘dimensions’ that string theories posit. Furthermore, there is no evidence that we know the top end of causality either. Every time we build a stronger telescope we see bigger, more distant patterns. Recently we discovered that the previously known universe is really just a tiny part of a vast universe of unknown dark matter and dark energy. Historically, there seems to be every reason to believe that the Big Bang universe we see now will soon be recognized as just another location within a far vaster ‘multiverse.’
The beliefs that everything is within the Big Bang and that nothing is smaller than quanta are probably wrong. We may or may not live in a scale free universe, but there is no reason to believe that the current measurable boundaries are the true boundaries. The history of science has consistently reminded us that there is no special place in space-time from which to measure scale. The discoverer of one of our current scale limits, Max Planck himself, “was warned by a professor of physics that his chosen subject (physics) was more or less finished and that nothing new could be expected to be discovered” (Kragh, 2002, p. 3). That was in the nineteenth century.
Humans have a natural inclination to limit their thought to within the paradigms that map their own location, size and time scales. Revolutionaries like Galileo, Newton, Planck, Einstein and Schrödinger proved these scale-limits wrong at every turn. Enlightened people should not believe in prejudice, whether it be against colour of skin, country of origin, or the fine graining of space-time.
For this reason, this investigation presumes a scale free universe. It takes Nobel Laureate Robert Laughlin’s position that the reason quanta are all ‘wave like’ is because they too are collective phenomena. They too are composed of many parts interacting in concert, like waves. Like everything else in this universe, quanta are communal. One of the longest running experiments known to science could be framed as, ‘Do we know the materia prima of the universe?’ Every century that scientists repeat this experiment the result is the same, a resounding ‘No.’ If a millennia of historical experiments are any indication, there is every expectation that quarks and electrons will soon be found to be the results of interactions at lower levels of causality. The quark itself will become understood as a “void for the greatest part, only interwoven by centers of energy” just as its antecedents were (Bertalanffy, General System Theory, 1968).
As our telescopes push the limits of our universe ever outward, our microscopes and particle accelerators push the limits ever inward. At every scale level we find pattern. There is no indication that the current level is special or definitive.