The Magic of Ordinary Atoms

leptonic_event_in_gargamelle_bubble_chamber.jpg
A veritable cliché of our everyday experience: the leptonic event at Gargamelle.

Adam Becker, in What Is Real? The Unfinished Quest for the Meaning of Quantum Physics, includes among the introductory remarks to his book the following:

Your house keys are a temporary alliance of a trillion trillion atoms, each forged in a dying star eons ago, each falling to Earth in its earliest days. They have bathed in the light of a violent young sun. They have witnessed the entire history of life on our planet.

There is in this statement a paradoxical mix of the denial and subsequent assertion of the language of everyday metaphysics. On the one hand, your house keys are not the stable, unified objects that you take them to be. Rather, they are a mere collection of an unimaginably large number of incomprehensibly small objects, which objects are so remote from your experience that any attempt to describe them with reference to everyday things is a conceptual betrayal of reality of the highest order. Yet on the other hand, these incomprehensible objects possess a quaint and romantic life, one that is of heroic metrical proportions, as Becker next asserts: “Atoms are epic.”

Thus are atoms are invested with a unity and history in the familiar terms of our commonplace stock of deep meanings.

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