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  • The simple questions are the hardest ones to answer.

  • What is a thing?

  • Why do things happen?

  • And why DO they happen the way they do?

  • Let's try to approach this step by step.

  • What are you made of?

  • You are matter, which is made of molecules, which are made of atoms, and those are made of elementary particles.

  • But, if elementary particles are the smallest things that exist, What are THEY made of?

  • To answer a simple question, let's start simply.

  • Let's wipe the universe clean.

  • Away with matter, antimatter, radiation, particles, anything.

  • Now let's take a closer look at absolutely nothing.

  • What is empty space?

  • Is it what we call a vacuum?

  • There are no atoms, no matter, nothing!

  • Is it really all that empty?

  • Nothing gives us the building blocks for everything.

  • In a sense, empty space is a lot like a vast, calm ocean.

  • While the water is very still when nothing is happening, a stiff breeze can create some serious waves.

  • Our universe works a lot like this.

  • There are these oceans everywhere.

  • Physicists call them fields.

  • This might be strange and new, but think about radiation for example.

  • By exciting what's known as the electromagnetic field, a little kink is created which is the particle we call the photon.

  • The particle that carries radiation, we perceive it as light.

  • This isn't unique to light; every particle in the universe is made this way.

  • There are fields for every particle of matter all with their own rules.

  • For example, along with the electromagnetic field, there is an electron field everywhere in the universe and little kinks in that field are electrons.

  • All together, the fields of our universe can produce 17 particles which can be divided into 3 categories.

  • The leptons, and the quarks, and the bosons.

  • Leptons consist of the electron as well as its cousins: muon and tau particles.

  • Each has an associated neutrino.

  • Then, there are quarks.

  • The quarks are the nuclear family of particles.

  • They're always found bound together in groups and pairs and make up protons and neutrons, which make up the nuclei of atoms.

  • Together, the leptons and quarks are the matter particles.

  • They make up all the things you see.

  • The air you breathe, the sun that warms you, the computer you're using right now to distract yourself from the stuff you should be doing.

  • But things don't just exist, they also do stuff.

  • In some philosophical sense, the properties of a thing are just as much a part of it as existence itself.

  • This is where the bosons and the fields that makes them come in to play.

  • While the quarks and leptons are made by the matter fields, the bosons are made by force fields.

  • We call a rule of the universe a force.

  • And so far, 4 fundamental forces have been discovered:

  • Electromagnetism, gravity, and the strong and weak nuclear forces.

  • These forces are the rule book of a game where the pieces are the particles, and the game is the universe.

  • They tell particles what they can do and how they can do it.

  • Bishops move diagonally, massless particles move at the speed of light, knights can jump, gravity attracts.

  • The forces are the rules for how particles interact which ultimately make them the rules for how particles assemble into all the big things we see in the universe.

  • Gravity isn't just the rule for orbits around the sun or apples falling from trees.

  • As a rule, it says matter attracts, which builds planets and stars.

  • Electromagnetism isn't just the rule for magnets attracting or repelling, or electric currents in light bulbs.

  • It governs all atomic bonds, building every molecule.

  • Together, forces and particles are sort of like the Tinkertoys of existence.

  • The bosons are like messengers. Passed between, you could say, connecting the matter particles.

  • Which they use to tell each other how to move.

  • Each particle uses a certain set of the forces to interact with other particles.

  • Quarks, for example, can interact with each other with electromagnetism and the strong nuclear force,

  • but electrons don't use the strong force, just electromagnetism.

  • The quarks exchange strong force bosons, communicating the strong nuclear attraction to each other,

  • while the protons they build exchange the particles of electromagnetism, photons with the electrons.

  • Thus, the quarks end up locked up in nuclei, while the electrons remain attached by their electric attraction, building atoms.

  • Even though the universe has lots of big, messy phenomena like life, supernovas, and computers, that seem complex on the surface.

  • If you zoom in far enough on anything, you just get 17 particles emerging from underlying fields, playing a game with 4 rules.

  • To summarize, in the most basic form we know right now, this is what things are.

  • This theory is what physicists call the Standard Model of Particle Physics.

  • You are basically nothing more than disturbances on an ocean that's excited by energy and guided by forces that make up the rules of the universe.

  • But why? And what is a force?

  • We'll have to explore a few more simple questions to get to the bottom of this.

  • We made some wallpapers from some of the graphics in this video: You can get them on

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The simple questions are the hardest ones to answer.

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What Is Something?

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    mommy posted on 2021/06/04
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