I love the intersection between the new sciences and the realm of spirit. Quantum physics often offers a scientific foundation and explanation for what we humans have considered the realm of spirit for as long as we’ve been expressing reverence.
I’ve just watched a provocative documentary by Werner Herzog called ”Encounters at the End of the World”, the end of the world being Antarctica and the rare breed of humans it attracts.
Saving the best for last, perhaps, Herzog interviews physicist Dr. Peter Gorham in the last scene. An engaging man, Gorham tries to explain the magnificence of the sub-atomic world. With helium balloons that look like long white strings when they’re still lying on the ice, the Neutrino Detection Project is trying to identify the highest energy subatomic particles known to humans. As I watch the string expand, it becomes a filmy white balloon that will eventually be a sphere 300 feet in diameter. Hard to imagine isn’t it? ( See related post about hot air balloons 9/9/2010 ) The project is based in Antarctica because once the balloon reaches the stratosphere the detector can scan thousands of square miles of ice without any electrical disturbances from habitation.
Gorham says that the project wants to be the first to identify the “ most ridiculous particle you can imagine.” To illustrate the extent of their smallness, he says matter of factly: “ A billion, a trillion just went through my nose as we were talking and they did nothing to me – they pass through all matter all the time with no effect. They almost exist in a separate universe but we know as physicists we can measure them, make predictions. They exist. But we can’t get our hands on them.”
I apologize if that quotation isn’t exactly exact. It’s close enough to give you the idea of how miraculously small are these sub-atomic particles.
Here is the gist of what Gorham says next. Without neutrinos, the universe wouldn’t exist… no elements, no thing, can exist without them. In the earliest seconds of the big bang, neutrinos were the dominant particle. They actually determine much of the kinetics of the production of everything we know. They seem to exist in their own world and we’re trying to make contact with them. Gorham says, “As a physicist, I understand it mathematically and intellectually but it still hits me in the gut that there is something here surrounding me, almost like a spirit or a god, that I can’t touch but I can make a measurement . . . it’s like measuring the spirit world or something . . .”
Herzog asks, “What would we see if we could see the impact of a neutrino.”
I don’t understand how Gorham can answer this question since we can’t really see these little guys, but he describes the effect as something like this: It would be like a lightning bolt ten meters long and about an inch thick and it would be the most beautiful blue light you’ve ever seen and the speed, the speed of the entire impulse would be in the range of one, one hundred billionth of a second.
I replayed that segment three times to make sure I got that speed correct.
One, one hundred billionth of a second.
Now doesn’t that give you pause? To imagine particles so small our technology still can’t show them to us, so fast that they move in billionths of a second, yet they are the foundation of our universe.