Irreality of Reality

This world is not exactly real.  Oh, sure, it hurts if you run into a brick wall, but that wall is not really there –and neither are you.

Consider the electron, the tiny particle that orbits the nucleus of the atom.  We use electrons to provide power to our homes, shops and factories in the form of electricity.  Hundreds and thousands of electrons flow down the wire (usually copper, but sometimes aluminum) and flow into our computers, microwave ovens, blenders, heaters and more appliances that feed on those little particles.

But do electrons really travel down that wire?  No.  They actually bump each other.  Each electron moves from its own place to the next place in line, over and over, at something approaching the speed of light.  Electrons do not so much travel as play tag with each other.  And they have no real existence.  They travel around the nucleus of the atom in defined orbits, and they can move from one orbit to another without crossing the space in between.  Wouldn’t you like to travel from, say, New York to London without having to cross the ocean in between?  You can’t do it.  But the electron can.

The electron gives each element of the periodic table its ability or lack of ability to combine with other elements and form compounds.  Oh, sure, the number of protons in the nucleus will determine the identity of each element, but they can do nothing without the help of the electron, which forms chemical bonds.  More precisely, the electron forms electromagnetic bonds.  The electron can be shared between two nuclei, sort of holding hands, or it can actually get knocked off the nucleus, which turns the atom into an ion.  That is an anion, a positively charged ion.  If the nucleus gains an extra electron, it becomes a cation, a negatively charged ion.

What does all this have to do with reality?  Well, consider the simplest atom of all, the hydrogen atom.  It has one proton and one electron.  Let’s ignore neutrons for the moment, as they do add weight to the nucleus of an atom, but they do not add any electrical charge (that we know of).  Besides, the most common isotope of hydrogen does not have any neutrons.

The electron that orbits the proton in a hydrogen atom is actually what physicists call an “electron cloud”.  It does not have any specific shape or location.  If the hydrogen atom loses its electron, it becomes a positively charged isotope (anion) of hydrogen, consisting of one proton and nothing else.  This proton will seek out an electron to balance its positive electrical charge with an equal and opposite negative electrical charge.  But the electron, which seeks to bind its negative electrical charge with an equal and opposite positive electrical charge, is not any element on the periodic table.  It is simply a free particle, roaming without label or purpose.

Even when the proton captures that electron, the distance between them will be huge.  If we built a model of this simplest of atoms using a gold ball to represent the proton, the electron would be about three miles away.

Thus, the atom is more empty space than matter.  In short, our reality is made up of 99.99999% empty space and therefore is not real.