Quantum Oscillation and Existence
I just read that a proton is more like a cloud of
fundamental particles, that come in and out of existence (quarks).
So my question is, if all the fundamental particles come in and out
of existence, would that mean that although I am me, mentally and
physically the same, my matter is changing particles all the time?
You are correct. What we experience at our day-to-day level is an
average effect of all the little particles within us. Everything very
small (single particles, individual atoms) is always changing. The
constant change within a proton is what makes it a proton. Without
these constant changes, atoms would not work. Protons would fly apart
and neutrons would just float around doing nothing.
A larger scale example of constant change is a steel block setting on a
table. Every atom is vibrating. Electrons are flying around within the
block in every direction. Still, the block isn't moving. Each piece of
the block, each atom, is always moving always changing how it moves.
The whole block is going nowhere.
Some of that particle-changing is definitely true.
But maybe not as much as it sounds like to you.
Quantum mechanics shows us a picture of things being a slippery mess
at the smallest scale,
but at large scales virtually always averaging out to the usual
predictable classical behavior.
The key words are "scale" and "average".
What is the average rate of change of particles large enough to matter
to you body?
Really really slow. Your body does not care if inside the nucleus is a
squirming ghostly mess,
so long as this nucleus keeps having the same number of positive charges
99.999999999% of the time after a day of watching it.
Which it does. A proton hardly ever escapes from a nucleus, even though its
quarks may be doing a crazy dance.
Also, the electrons around the nucleus "delocalize",
making probability clouds instead of circular orbits,
but often they stay right on the same atom for a fairly long time.
The quantum-tunneling jumps which electrons occasionally do, from one molecule to
are the most fundamental part of chemical reactions.
The body is a chemical machine, evolved to live with chemical reactions,
so it is accustomed to most of the actions that electrons do,
even though explaining them is weird.
On the other hand, some of the small-percentage chaotic results
might be part of our aging process (which kills us in the long run),
and we just do not know all about it yet.
You only get to be you for a finite time...
Another thing: to see particles coming in and out of existence
usually requires looking for them in very very short time-spots,
kind of like what you see when a strobe-light flashes once.
Looking at one proton for a whole microsecond is too long.
Averaging happens in a time that long,
and then the proton proves to be present almost every time you look for it that way.
Sorry I do not remember off-hand just how short the time has to be
for a proton to seem temporarily absent or unpredictable.
I am sure that Plank's constant and the Heisenberg uncertainty formulas
are what you use to estimate that.
The relevant uncertainty formula is: dE * dt < [Plank_constant]
So, your dt < [Plank] / dE
"dt" for "delta time", means the passage of time while you look.
It is the time duration of your looking, in seconds.
"dE" for "delta-Energy", means the change of energy that can occur unpredictably.
dE for this question would be the mass-energy of the proton.
Physicsts say the mass of a proton is about 1 GeV (giga-electron-volt) but you
need to convert that into Joules.
And you would need look up the value of the Plank constant.
Anyway, dt for uncertain existence of a proton is many orders of magnitude smaller
than a microsecond.
Hope that helps.
A good analogy might be a crowded sporting event or concert hall. Even
though individual people come and go throughout the event, if you look
at the stadium is generally crowded throughout the event, and the
crowd makes a lot of noise even as people come and go. Even though one
person might leave, it does not make a significant impact the overall
crowd and its behavior.
With your example, if you look at a single particle that is inside you,
depending on how you measure it, can act in the strange ways you refer
to. However, when you consider a whole bunch of particles together
(e.g. "you"), those effects become insignificant. The 'bunch' of
particles acts in a more -- I will say "intuitive" -- way. That is why
you do not see objects "disappearing" -- and why you do not disappear
Hope this helps,
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Update: June 2012